Beyond Spandex: Where is the traditional cyclist in this movement?

The League of American Bicyclists posted a recent entry titled “Beyond Spandex, Toward Social Justice: Women Redefining the Movement“. Men, who have made up the statistical vanguard of ridership in the past, are relegated to an acronym, MAMIL, i.e., Middle Aged Men In Lycra. We subsequently learn of the efforts to be more inclusive, making sure that womyn (League’s spelling in one instance, not mine) and minorities are included in cycling.

I think it is great to have more people on bicycles, as long as it is not a politically-driven desire for more butts on bikes. Cycling should not be a class or gender based activity. Nor should cycling be restricted to those wealthy enough to afford something picked from the Bicycling Magazine Annual Review of Outlandishly Expensive Bikes pages. If that had been the case decades ago, I would not have been riding. Likewise, infrastructure, whether in the gentrified or rough side of town, should be examined to ensure it is not unduly impeding people from using a bicycle as either transportation or avocation should they want to do so. Bicycling should be a choice available to anyone who really wants to ride, but should not be something we hit people over the heads with as a moral statement of a greater good. Certainly there are a lot of good things to say about bicycling, but when it is reduced to a recipe for saving the earth, saving the individual from cardiac care, or saving the world (all of which the simple bicycle can play a role in doing), it becomes hopelessly entangled in weird politics.

Certainly, women have their own needs, whether it be bicycles designed for the female anatomy or cycling activities that fit into very busy and complicated lives. Not that the men I know don’t have similar time constraints. We have a woman who works in my group who has been trying to find time to ride competitively between work demands and the demands of a single mom with two small children. Being a new rider, she wanted company on the road. That’s being worked on, including me occasionally changing my riding schedule so I can coach her. Surely, to be inclusive, we all need to look inside ourselves as cyclists, ask what we can do to encourage others who don’t look like the guy in the mirror and who have different situations, and reach out to them. That’s advocacy up close and personal.

What worries me about that post, as well as other stuff on the League web site, is whether there is more between the lines, i.e., a sea change in the League’s agenda. Has the League entirely stopped being an organization of avid bicyclists and instead thrown its heft behind current trends in urban planning, anti-car advocacy, and the purported advocacy needs of non-cyclists, i.e., those things we are told to do so someone who has not been riding changes their mind? As a card-carrying MAMIL, I can’t say I can speak for anyone else, so they need to speak for themselves, both within and outside of LAB. But who speaks for me? Do we need a League of American MAMILs? Jusk kidding….

About Khal

I am a staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), where I have worked for nine years after having spent 10 years on the graduate faculty of the University of Hawaii School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology and four previous years on its technical staff. I started to "ride lots" (to quote Eddy Merckx) at SUNY, Stony Brook, Long Island. I've been actively engaged in bicycling and bicycling advocacy, and in transportation planning as a citizen volunteer for most of twenty years. For the past five years, I have been the chair or vice-chair of the Los Alamos County Transportation Board, which advises county government on surface and air transportation policy. During that period, I have also served as the chair of the LANL Traffic Safety Committee, which works with the institution under 10CFR851 to improve the safety of the Laboratory's traffic systems. I served several years on the Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico Board of Directors. I am an LCI. Prior to moving to New Mexico, I was active as a Board member, vice President, and President of the Hawaii Bicycling League, sat on the Honolulu Mayor's Advisory Committee on Bicycling, and on the U of Hawaii at Manoa Bicycle Planning Committee. I was a contributor to the 1999 Honolulu Bicycle Master Plan (as VP of the Hawaii Bicycling League, which coordinated cyclist input) and a co-author, with our county traffic manager, of the 2005 Los Alamos County Bike Plan. Back when I dreamed I was fast, I raced USCF. It was only a dream. I remain committed to a strong and effective League of American Bicyclists, but demand that membership be given a much more meaningful role in League governance. That, after all, is the only way to ensure that members have meaningful control over the direction of their League. All comments I make here or on my own blog are my personal opinions alone. Others are welcome to agree or laugh. Aloha, Khal Spencer
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9 Responses to Beyond Spandex: Where is the traditional cyclist in this movement?

  1. Khalil, this may be the best thing you’ve ever written.
    Of _course_ I have a nit to pick…..
    You write, “Has the League entirely stopped being an organization of avid bicyclists?”
    You have to ask? Let’s get beyond pondering that question and go to the next question: “Since the League stopped representing bicyclists a decade ago, and started instead representing the political agenda of some utopians, and the financial agenda of planning consultants, what do we do now?”
    The women-in-bicycling question has some easy answers, not all of which people want to hear.
    — The League has joined with Bikes Belong in portraying bicycling as dangerous, on the grounds that fear mongering will help sell more separate facilities. The facilities are a whole ‘nuther issue, but the portrayal of cycling is a big turnoff to people who aren’t 18-28 males. Empowering all people, novice or expert, young or old, through cyclingsavvy.org will put an end to the fearmongering. Of course, it also eliminates that particular sales pitch for the separate facilities.
    — As you point out, working women everywhere have tight schedules. Cycling is a time consuming activity. I don’t have an answer for that. Answers come, one at a time, with help from friends who help the cyclist work cycling into her own schedule.
    — Every non-cyclist needs some education to become safe and proficient. From changing flats to locking the bike securely to making left turns in heavy traffic, none of us was born with the knowledge. Women are more receptive to being taught than men.
    — The cycling culture is not always female-friendly. There are still plenty of bike shops that are boys-club enclaves. This is also a tough nut to crack: each shop owner has to cultivate shop staff who are friendly to everyone who walks in the door, and sometimes that’s not as easy to do as it is for me to preach about it.

  2. “Womyn”?!!!! Really, the League seeks to win friends and influence people by taking several steps beyond car-hate to embrace 1970s man-hate radical feminism? On a personal note, I’m recalling the Bicycle Repair Collective in Cambridge, my local fix-your-own-bike shop, founded by my friend Sheldon Brown and three other male expert bicycle mechanics, who invited in some womyn who established Maoist consensus rule and carried out a purge against the founders when they would not toe the line.
    Sheldon went on to better things, as is well-known in the cycling community, and I’m happy to report also that the Collective eventually mellowed out and renamed itself the Broadway Bicycle School. I still go in there when I need parts for my Sturmey-Archer internal-gear hubs…

  3. Khal says:

    Thank you, John (Schubert). Excellent criticisms and additions.

  4. Khal says:

    In response to John Allen, the sentence reads “…Ovarian Psycos is an all-womyn bicycle brigade, cycling for the purpose of healing communities physically, emotionally, and spiritually by addressing pertinent issues through cycling…”

    Recalls to me that Monty Python skit about splitters:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iS-0Az7dgRY

  5. Another quote, seen on a sign on the wall of the Bicycle Repair Collective during its Maoist phase:

    “More than bicycles will be free, when we eject the bourgeoisie.”

    Which, taken literally, would have required booting most of their customers — largely, students and ex-students of the local colleges and universities (mea culpa!) — out the door.

  6. Khal Spencer says:

    Sometimes I wonder if the folks making up these slogans even know the definition of the words.

    “The only people we hate more than the Romans is the Judean People’s Front
    …And the People’s Front of Judea”

    “We ARE the People’s Front of Judea…”

  7. I thought we were the Popular Front.

    To be fair, the League doesn’t spell women ‘womyn’ in the article. In fact it uses the standard spelling throughout, except where it lists a particular group, where the ‘womyn’ spelling is obviously used as a kind of quote from that group’s own blurb.

    Other than that, I echo some of the other posts here, in that it’s been clear to me, ever since I first heard of the LAB, that its goal is purely to get more butts on bikes, at any cost (even if it kills some of the people with the embikened butts).

  8. Khal says:

    The spelling is carried over from the referenced site, where all matter of non-standard spellings are used. Perhaps the author could have put it in quotes to make clear she was using their own definitions, rather than endorsing them.

  9. Fred says:

    I agree that this is a great post Khal. Also good comments from John & John.

    Regarding the League’s abandonment of serious cyclists in favor of uninformed novices, note figure 2 in the article Bicycle Fiendish Communities — Mis-education — Perpetuates Cycle of Misinformation. This shows an old lady riding the wrong way. She seems to be the kind of cyclist the League wants.

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