28 April 2008

Urban Assault Ride: Curb-hopping the shark?

JustFrank of Rapid Transit worries that urban cycling has become too trendy.
Chicago Bike Blog:
How to get more people on bikes?
"On the one hand, it was heartening to see the bike industry finally embracing bikes as transportation at last year's Interbike trade show. On the other hand, I couldn't help thinking, that with the exception of a few really forward-looking companies, bike commuting was being turned into one more 'trend.' The banners that once featured mud-spattered, tooth-baring mountain bikers were replaced by images of guys in peg-legged jeans weaving through traffic with huge messenger bags on their backs, and sunny women with willow baskets full of groceries on their handlebars.

"Well, these things aren't bad in and of themselves. They do create an image of cyclists that is more mainstream, and perhaps more acceptable as an urban presence. It's just that I think these are relatively shallow efforts. We don't want bike commuting to become fashionable, because fashions come and go. We want to evolve urban culture to embrace bike culture as its essential component."

My two cynical cents that no one ever appreciates are that, well, that's exactly what industries do: they spot a trend and then exploit it to death in order to sell stuff. This, of course, leads to the trend going mainstream, at which point the trendier-than-thou won't have anything at all to do with it anymore. In the case of urban "transportation" cycling, we may well be in danger of seeing trend-setting eco-hipsters joining car-sharing programs in such droves that every other construction project in certain neighborhoods will be a gigantic parking garage for iGo Prius storage. It's probably inevitable, so let's just enjoy the trend and brag about how we've all been bike commuting since before it was cool while we still can. Afterward when people see that many dorks are still riding bikes around town like it's 2007 and even still appear to be enjoying it, then maybe they'll finally realize that we've had an excellently practical point the whole time, and then we can quit the silly popularity contest and get back to the business of transforming transportation. And then yours truly will be "elected" benevolent dictator mayor of Chicago, and then stuff will really get done to make this city the bike-friendliest in the whole world. Or else.

I can dream, right?

Unfortunately, my short dream was interrupted by a very rude awakening:
Urban Assault Ride: Chicago, IL - 9/29

First thought: Wow, it is in very poor taste to promote something with the phrase "urban assault" in this town these days. Strike one.

But hey, clueless PR goons who have to keep up with trends all day can't possibly be expected to stay on top of the local news in the cities where they're trying to promote this or that, so let's see what this Urban Assault Ride is supposed to be all about:
"The Urban Assault Ride(TM) is a funky bike scavenger hunt that involves street-smart riding, obstacle courses, and a huge after party. Mental muscle is just as important as bike skills as teams of 2 choose their own course to checkpoints around the city."

So basically it's like an alleycat race, except with rules and corporate sponsorship, and presumably the potential liability issues have already been worked out beforehand. Oh, the hipsters are just gonna love that.

"The event is well known for its checkpoints where physical and mental obstacle courses must be completed before moving on."

Wait, if it's so well known, then why haven't I ever heard of it before? I guess I must be living under a rock because I'm ALREADY TOO BUSY RIDING MY BICYCLE to keep up with what's supposed to be well known.

"Kinda like American Gladiators with a demented cycling twist."

Well, I've just been turned off.

"The first team to hit all of the checkpoint and cross the finish line wins! Then the party begins with New Belgium beer and lots more two-wheeled shenanigans!"

Sorry, what? I was too busy thinking about how much American Gladiators sucks, even though that's another thing that's supposed to be making a trendy comeback lately. What's next, an entreaty to replace all my light bulbs and stop using plastic bags? Topical political humor? A link to your MySpace page or Facebook group?

"It is THE MOST FUN you will ever have on a bike."

How dare you presume to tell me what will be THE MOST FUN I've ever had on a bike, especially after telling me that it will be kinda like American Gladiators. Lame.

"We've received a ton of requests to bring the UAR to Chicago..."

From whom?

"and here we come! It's a BIG city and it's about time for bikes to descend in force."

Uh, seen Chicago Critical Mass lately? Or even Milwauke Ave. on any given day? Oh, I get it, you're being fashionably late to the party. Whatever.

"With all the traffic and people, bikes are a great way to get around Chi-town."

A noble sentiment expressed ungrammatically. Now I'm pissed.

"We have a SWEET start/finish venue - right next to Wrigley Field."

Someone else want to launch into a north side/south side commentary on this one?

"We'll bring the beer, obstacle courses, and big wheels. You come ready for the best time ever on two wheels."

Well, if that sounds like your cup of organic free-trade tea then don't let me stop you from signing up, although I have to admit that I probably won't let that stop me from feeling a bit sorry for you if it does turn out to be the best time you ever had on two wheels. There's just so much already out there to experience by bike. Such as Bike the Drive, for example. (Hey, I can't very well shirk on my nagging duties just because I'm experiencing a fit of sarcasm, can I?)

And of course I must add that the University of Chicago has already been doing the scavenger hunt thing for decades, so we're all automatically cooler than any of you. Oh, the irony.


At 28 April, 2008 12:33, Blogger Eric Allix Rogers said...

The word "demented" really did it for me. Why would anyone want to do something demented? And it's especially ironic because if it's an officially-sanctioned alleycat, it's probably somewhat LESS demented to ride in it than the ones where people get killed and stuff.

Who the hell wants to party in one of the Wrigley bleacher buildings on a day when there's no Cubs game, anyway? I guess they're trying to figure out how to make money that they don't have to share with Sam Zell.

At 28 April, 2008 16:57, Blogger Jennifer said...

Because it's a demented cycling twist, silly. Anything demented is fun so long as bikes are involved, because Bikes are Cool! Just like American Gladiators!

Or at least, that's what I thought, until I spent some more time browsing the Web site. Under What We're About:

"[litany of cycling benefits] We’d like to see you use your bike more for transportation and the event is designed to show you how to get around town efficiently on your bike. So, after you experience the event, we hope you’ll be more inclined to grab your bike lock and not your car keys when you cruise down to the store to pick up a 6-pack of Fat Tire."

(It's accompanied by a photo of a young lady so excited to ride her bike that she apparently forgot to put on pants.)

So the point is to show everyone that urban transportation cycling is not crazy and inefficent by... doing something crazy and inefficient.

I'm thinking now that the target audience for this thing is probably 18-35-yr-old male car owners in the suburbs who bought shiny new hybrids or MTBs last summer and tried the bike commuting thing once or twice but were so disappointed by its failure to magically attract swarms of beautiful women on Euro-style cruisers that they gave it up, but now that gas is closer to $4/gal they're having second thoughts about it.

Or maybe I'm just feeling bitter because I lost all the girl-cred I accumulated skipping a campus safety meeting for a haircut after I scattered greasy tools and bike parts all over my kitchen.

In other news, when people tell you to inspect your bike tires frequently for bits of debris embedded in the treads, they aren't kidding. Have some round toothpicks handy.


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