08 March 2011

Am I an "avid cyclist"?

I suppose so.

Mine was an active childhood. I participated in Girl Scouts (the outdoorsy kind of Girl Scouts), was indirectly involved in Boy Scouts (by default; it's a long story), and played a whole bunch of different sports. I was never any good at any of those sports, but I still enjoyed them. My spare time (if I had any) was spent bike riding, inline skating, and/or crashing through the woods with the neighborhood kids. Oh, and I used to swim a lot. Not well enough to be on the swim team, but adequately enough to be able to help teach basic swim lessons to toddlers. It was my go-to community service activity.

In high school I would have called myself an avid inline skater, but I also had a mountain-style bike (a kid's toy, really) that saw regular enough use, particularly in the summer. I upgraded to a better mountain-style bike for college and set about exploring every last inch of the Chicago Lakefront Trail. I became more of a "cyclist" and less of a "skater" as I discovered the hard way what charming cobblestones and vast quantities of sand will do to your bearings. The mountain-style bike (I called it Chris), on the other hand, was less of a pain in the ass to maintain, plus I could go faster by bike than by skating. Then I broke my coccyx trying unsuccessfully to skate across the 51st St. overpass, and my inline skating days were pretty much over.

I didn't really consider myself a "transportation cyclist" until, well, probably about the time that I started this blog. By then I'd already been "bike commuting" for nearly two years without really thinking anything special about it, although as I did start to think more about it, I started to amass my formidable collection of special "bike stuff"---which was, in those days, basic to intermediate commuting gear, but it was incredibly dorky and lame commuting gear, because Cycle Chic hadn't really caught on yet, but highly specialized and completely weird-looking accessories didn't deter me at all because, well, I was already a sporty-outdoorsy kind of person, and to me it was just a given that "serious" cycling, my latest favorite sporty-outdoorsy activity, would naturally have a special wardrobe and milk crate full of crap to go along with it.

Sure, I was discovering "practical urban cycling," but I was discovering it primarily as a way to maintain my active, outdoorsy personality even though I now lived in the big city and there wasn't any natural Nature(TM) to be found for dozens of miles. Then I discovered "bicycle touring," which, for me, took the "recreational" aspect of bicycling (which, recall, had always been my personal baseline for the activity) and raised it to a whole new level of EPIC FUN! with a enough excitement and adventure [and Nature(TM)!] for an actual, honest-to-god vacation instead of just a regular weekend activity to stave off boredom. Could life get any better?

In theory, yes, but then mine started taking successive turns for the worst. I often felt like the bike was the only thing I had left that was still mine, still me. It was a comfort---no, it was my very identity---during those extended times of trouble. I became "avid."

So when Cycle Chic began to take off during that time, I felt... confused and hurt, I think. Confused as to why in the world people would, on the one hand, want to ride a bike but, on the other hand, not have EPIC FUN! while doing so; hurt by the implication that I myself, as a sporty-outdoorsy person with a chip on my shoulder and a milk crate full of crap, who had sort of accidentally stumbled upon "practical urban cycling" as a natural extension of "frivolous recreational cycling," was actually considered by some people to be part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Can't we all just ride along? Well, no---I already have the wrong wardrobe, the wrong gear, even the wrong bike. I felt like all the popular kids had taken the thing that I loved and had taken such pride in discovering for myself during that time and turned it into an exclusive club that I wasn't allowed to join.

I mean, it took me so long on my personal journey to really become an "avid cyclist"---and here's a whole movement dedicated to the singular goal of making people like me obsolete. So there, perhaps, is another reason for the resentment.

Perhaps it was just a case of bad timing: if I'd turned into an "avid cyclist" any earlier, I wouldn't have cared; any later, and I'd have been swept up in the trend of stylish utility cycling for normal people anyway and still not cared. Perhaps it's only that I take things too personally when I feel strongly about them. Or perhaps I was just single and bitter and it was easy to blame the dorkmobile for not getting me laid even though bikes were supposed to be sexy. Who knows anymore.

5 Comments:

At 08 March, 2011 19:40, Blogger David Johnsen said...

Just wait another decade or two. Then you can be the curmudgeonly cyclist who doesn't give a rip what anybody else thinks. It still won't get you laid, though.

 
At 09 March, 2011 08:53, Blogger Cuttlefish said...

Cycle chic has not yet hit here--I am still the one biking to work on my mountain bike, with lumpy outfits in winter and grease-splotched pants in summer, with homemade backpack protector (with lots of reflective surface) in rain, snow, or dark.

I'll never be trendy, but it gets me to work.

Wait, I think maybe I *am* old enough to be the curmudgeonly cyclist who doesn't give a rip what anybody else thinks.

Meh. Works for me.

 
At 09 March, 2011 08:54, Blogger Cuttlefish said...

Cycle chic has not yet hit here--I am still the one biking to work on my mountain bike, with lumpy outfits in winter and grease-splotched pants in summer, with homemade backpack protector (with lots of reflective surface) in rain, snow, or dark.

I'll never be trendy, but it gets me to work.

Wait, I think maybe I *am* old enough to be the curmudgeonly cyclist who doesn't give a rip what anybody else thinks.

Meh. Works for me.

 
At 17 March, 2011 14:31, Anonymous Jami said...

I really liked what you said here and quoted you in my post here: goo.gl/7MOq9

Being functional is more important than being practicle.

 
At 17 March, 2011 15:21, Blogger Jennifer said...

Thanks! I feel sort of guilty, I feel like I was just typing to myself all night to procrastinate my work assignment.

Actually, that night, I think I was thinking more about philosophy than clothes. I was just pondering that if the Cycle Chic philosophy is that you don't have to be an avid cyclist in order to get around by bike, then why does it so often turn into a criticism of avid cyclists? Some of us commute and run errands, too, just... avidly, that's all. I could have just as well turned into an actual competitive cyclist and never considered the transportation angle. In that case, would the Cycle Chic philosophy have been the appropriate kind of motivation for me to consider bike commuting?

 

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