Thursday, May 10, 2007

Give up Lycra and my Helmet; not Bloody Likely

A British online magazine called City Cycling appears to be aimed at people commuting to work in large cities. It is encouraging that there are enough people doing this to show interest and support for such a website.

However, a recent article suggests that cyclists should abandon lycra and helmets. The author of this piece seems to think that cyclists dressed in such a style are seen as “not human” or are from another “tribe,” and consequently unworthy of attention.”

The idea is, dressed in street clothes, i.e. jeans and tee shirt or a suit and tie, other road users will see us as human beings just like them. As a result they will be a little more tolerant towards us. Somehow, I don’t think so.

If I ride down the middle of a traffic lane, take the lane so to speak, because I am attempting to turn left; the person behind me, delayed for a few seconds is not going to be any less pissed off if I look like I just stepped off the cover of GQ.

As for the idea that the driver doesn’t see me as human? He knows I’m human, otherwise he would run me down like a squirrel. I would like to think it is human decency that prevents him from doing so, but more than likely it is not wanting to deal with the consequences, that is the biggest deterrent.

In a few cases, I think it is the fact that they could run me down, but are not allowed to in a civilized society that makes them so mad. They will sit behind a farm tractor doing ten miles per hour for as long as it takes, and deal with it, but God forbid they should have to slow to fifteen or twenty miles per hour for a few seconds behind a cyclist.

When I go riding I put on my team jersey, not because I want to be seen as belonging to some other tribe; I just want to be seen, period. I choose a team jersey for its bright colors, not because I support that particular team.

The other reason I choose a genuine team jersey is the quality of the product. It is designed to give the wearer maximum comfort under extreme racing conditions. So I know during my modest exertions I can concentrate on riding my bike without being focused on how uncomfortable my clothes make me feel.

Designed to keep the wind off if it is a little chilly, or to keep me dry and comfortable if I am sweating like the proverbial pig. I can throw it in a cold wash when I’m through riding, and it is practically dry after the spin cycle.

Another quote from the article, “Normal people don't wear polystyrene hats.” Bicycle helmets don’t give total protection, and no one should be lulled into a false sense of security by wearing one.

I was wearing a helmet when I hit an SUV last December and still came away with a hairline skull fracture. But I was glad I had a little Styrofoam between my head and the very solid side of that vehicle, and I am sure without it I could have been injured more.

You don’t have to wear lycra and a helmet to enjoy cycling, and I am not advocating that everyone should dress thus. It is a sport that can give pleasure at any level. I just happen to be an ex-racing cyclist and still enjoy a road bike.

I cannot ride unless I am going balls out, as fast as I can. It is what I have done all my life; I try to maintain a level of fitness so I can continue to do so. I cannot ride in this fashion in a suit, or in blue jeans feeling like my nuts are in a tourniquet.

In spite of my earlier comments, when I’m on the road I try not to adopt an “us and them” attitude; it serves no useful purpose. Traffic is not going to get any lighter, so I must deal with it. However, I am going to exercise my right to ride on the public highway.

I try to be considerate and courteous at all times; if someone slows down and is cautious when passing, I will often give them a little thank you wave. My way of saying thank you for not passing at fifty miles an hour, missing me by inches.

Most road users don’t mind sharing the road with a cyclist if they are predictable and give clear signals of their intentions. They dislike cyclists who weave in an out of traffic for example.

If I wear lycra and a helmet at least I look like I know what I am doing. If I wear street clothes; I could be someone who just decided to “go green” the previous week, or someone who has just got their third DUI ticket.


Unknown said...

It's mildly stunning to hear someone recommend not to wear a helmet...the closest thing that you usually hear is that, in some circumstances, the author might elect not to do so - for themself...

Certainly, we all know someone who is otherwise intellegent, but cannot be convinced to wear a helmet. More power to 'em. Plus, there is the "overprotective parent" thing - you're basically telling a newcomer to the sport that they are engaging in dangerous activity and need appropriate safety gear.

But, I made my peace with helmets while racing mtb's in about 1984 - airborne for a long time, I had the concious thought if I got through the impending crash OK, I'd go get one. I did and I did.

You can't make the helmet decision for other folks, but to tell 'em not to is downright dingy.

Anonymous said...

Humanizing the other guy is important but not sufficient in receiving considerate-civil treatment. Anyway, how do cyclists (or pedestrians) give face to a 3000 kg aluminum can with tinted windows?

As you stated, the lack of consequences is a real problem. In our area, drivers are given hours of community service after negligently killing a cyclist. It's all about "perceived" power and the cyclist is always at a disadvantage, especially when cycling is not part of street design.

However, in dense traffic, cyclists are envied because of their versatility to ride in the "fast lane" instead of the fat lane. This gets the motorized nuts even nuttier.

Cycling enthisiasts should be inclusive to all those who want to ride whether they be in your "oh-so-sexy" lycra Dave or me occassionally in my business suit (although I prefer the lycra and high speed too!).

I too wave at motorists when I receive even the smallest gesture of consideration. However, I recognize the obvious and omipresent conflict between motorized vehicles and cyclists and pedestrians. That conflict, when properly addressed, may eventually lead to complete streets and a safer environment for all road users.

Meanwhile, we must deal with what we have and try to share without creating unnecessary ill will and conflicts. Stay safe... we need you out there!


phil varner said...

Well said, Dave.

Anonymous said...


Well said. I commute in downtown San Francisco five days a week, it bothers me most cyclists have the us vs them attitude. Most of them have the simple rules that says “Everyone follows the law, except me” I personally support police gives out tickets for cyclists who break the traffic laws, we cannot have anyone using the road “above the law”.

And helmets? Yes, my head worth more than $50.00 to $100.00.


Anonymous said...

Reminds me of an interaction I had with some kids from one of the neighborhoods I ride through during my daily commute. It's chilly so I'm wearing full length tights. I see these kids (age 10-12) taking turns riding down this hill and running the stop sign at the bottom and then coasting as far as they can. And of course it's dark.

I feel compelled to talk with them about what they are doing. So I tell them about what could happen to them, etc. - stuff they already know - and they probably hear "Blah, blah, blah."

When I'm done, I can tell they weren't really listening because one of them asks me immediately why I'm wearing "tights". And I happen to say the only thing that might help me retain some respect. "Because they make me go faster."

Gene from Tacoma

bmike said...

Street clothes to 'humanize' us? Sure, as soon as drivers get out of their cars - those big exoskeletons don't exactly reinforce 'human' interactions.

I wear street clothes often enough. Not sure if I've noticed a difference. Some folks are respectful, some not. The scarey ones are the ones who don't even know I'm there. At least the aggressive ones and the respectful ones are aware of their surroundings.


Yokota Fritz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hi folks, I'm the editor of .citycycling and it's nice to see something from our pages can prompt interesting responses. I bth agree and disagree with a lot of what is said here, and in the article itself (this isn't some vanity project where I'll only print those things I agree with), and would welcome anyone writing to to contest what is in the article.

I do understand the humanising aspect of dress - over here the general derogatory term for a cyclist is 'lycra lout' - but also that it goes further and as people have said giving a wave of thanks, or a thumbs up, is more than humanising, it's a true connection and a simple show of mutual respect.

As for helmets, pro-choice anti-compulsion is the name of the game as far as I'm concerned. I wear one on the trails on the MTB; but go without when commuting in the summer. One of those things which can be debated long and hard and still have entrenched positions at the end of it all.

Anyway, thanks for reading, I hope we can remain as provocative in the future! ;)


SiouxGeonz said...

Personally, I experience more hostility when I'm spandexing on my aluminum frame than when I'm commuting in sweats on my assorted commuter bikes. There are lots of other confounding factors, of course - I don't know if I ride the fast bike on different streets, etc. I get a fair amount of genuine positive interactions from people who think it's a good thing to be on a bicycle and my primary bicycle is noticeable enough so it renders me an individual human, even if people confuse me for the other 8 folks who have Xtracycles around here. On that thing, I've had people reverently show a peace sign, had families stand up on their porch and applaud as I went by... that doesn't happen on the Trek.
On the other hand, when a group of seven of us were rolling through Tolono and went by the ball field, I heard a wolf whistle and thought, "I'm the only woman in this group. It's been a while..." and then came the call, "Spaanndex!!!" and I knew it wasn't *me* being whistled at :) The very next day, I went by the same place with a group of all women... no whistle, but the same call-out: "SPANDEX!!!!"
And.. give face to the car? Our culture does, I believe, recognize the car as an extension of our personality, even if it's as a shell we encase ourselves in.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Dave. It's just sensible to wear clothing that works for one's activity. American drivers, having not much of either attention span or eyesight, can't see us without some bright stuff on. Helmets and loud colors are but a rational response to our cycling environment. And besides, like they used to say in the 60's, let your freak flag fly!