Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Why do these images bother me?

Recently, the owner of Lovely Bicycle, a 'bike pron' blog I enjoy as a sort of guilty pleasure, posted a set of images on Flickr (including the above).

I have to say, there's something I find deeply unsettling in images like this. Yuppies in faux-corporate-endorsed lycra and cleated bike shoes sipping energy drinks in a coffee shop during their weekend ride. It just seems so decadent and elitist. There's a level of almost imperialist wealth and arrogance on display here that is hard to ignore. Hard to get beyond the thousands of dollars of equipment on display in these images to the place where I can appreciate the simple freedom and enjoyment that cycling should encompass. I'd be willing to bet that none of these guys cycles to work at a coal pit or works on the shop floor at a clothing factory or in a machine shop. Every stitch and every bit of polymer and alloy on and around these guys yells: "Look at me! I'm wealthy enough to spend thousands on my toys!"

Here's a similar example from another site which somehow doesn't seem quite so bothersome to me (maybe it's the bad haircut that indicates a hint of humility that's not in evidence in the above images):

What's missing from pictures of expensively decked out cyclists, in my view, is the pure simplicity of getting on a bike and pedaling. Here we have the art of cycling, corrupted, complicated and turned into a pursuit of the moneyed elite (or more precisely the upper middle class). Here we have the modern equivalent of Marie Antoinette declaring contemptuously: "Let them eat cake!"

Would such cyclists happily mix with the sort of cyclist who rides a Schwinn he bought for $150 at Target, who doesn't just cycle on fair weather weekends, who (like me) commutes to work every weekday, rain or shine, in jeans and a cotton T-shirt, and who celebrates the end of the week, not with a glass of Chardonnay at a wine bar, but with a beer at his local pub?

In other words, would they be seen with someone like this guy:

Somehow I don't think so.

Maybe it's just that I'm an angry pinko commie who is jealous of these guys and their loot. Maybe, like many folks, lycra just pisses me off for some weird reason. Does any of this make others unsettled, as it does me, or am I being crazy/stupid/bigoted?


  1. Makes sense to me. Actually, it helps explain why some of the folks that piss you off also piss me off.

  2. PS. Great blog. I just discovered you via a comment at http://isocrates.us/bike/

  3. What unsettles me, aside from the continued efforts to divide bicycling along political lines, is that I suspect you are right about that top picture--these guys, statistically speaking, probably drive the SUV to work (if they were Yanks) and save the fancy trappings of lycra and carbon fiber for weekend playtime, thus ensuring those bicycles functionally emit as much CO2 as any car since they probably ride on top of one. I'd be less unsettled if they were sitting around that table in fancy kit on the bike to work day that we are planning at my employer. But I digress. Perhaps we are reading our own political demons into these photos.

    Back in graduate school, none of us had much money, some had their own car, but those of us who biked as more than simple transportation somehow found the means to scrape together enough shekels for one decent road bike and a couple sets of togs, which were wool back in the day. We rode for fun, not to show off our social status. I am sure that is true today for many riders (perhaps the guy in the second photo) and frankly, I wish there was a more powerful alternate universe to the Buycycling mentality aimed at those who just like to ride their bikes rather than aimed at marketing the latest and greatest meaningless gadget.

    Thanks for making us think, Mr. Cooper. I too found you from Andy Cline's blog.

  4. I'm told that these folks are "bike shop mechanics, framebuilders, racers who support themselves by working days in coffee shops, teachers, anything really".

    So maybe there's an interesting disconnect between what the image suggests to me and the reality. Or is there? I am a picture framer by trade, which puts me squarely in the $12/hour or less bracket. Yet that's not the whole story. My wife makes a very good salary in the investment field, and we pool our resources, so I am by no means operating at the level of 'barely meeting a living wage' that my trade might suggest. Do these folks have similar complexities in their lives that sets them outside of the stereotype of the overworked and underpaid bike mechanic? Or are they all scrimping and saving to afford the gear and getting a bum rap from me?

    Images can be deceptive and there's always layers of complexity in any story that can turn one's view of it around.

    Still, I can't get over the fact that, even given the assurance that these guys are not the latte-sipping yuppies that I assumed, something about the overwhelming amount of bike gear bothers me. Maybe it's more what I said earlier - about the difficulty of getting past "the thousands of dollars of equipment on display... to the place where I can appreciate the simple freedom and enjoyment that [I think] cycling should encompass."