Riding through the smug cloud

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October 31, 2013

Kristin Butcher

In these tumultuous times, it’s nice to have a few things I can always count on. I know the sun will rise in the east, just as I know my one-year-old will wake up well before that happens – unless I have to get up extremely early anyway, at which point he will sleep in painfully late. I know my cat will manipulate me into believing I’m a crazy person who only thinks I already fed him and that my hound dog will be the most wonderfully uncomfortable pillow I’ll ever have.

I also know that for every article that mentions bicycling on the local news site, there will a handful of comments belittling anyone who chooses to ride a bike out of anything but necessity. Each time I read these comments, I will promise not to read them anymore.

And I will break that promise.

Even though the most insulting comments are often down-voted into oblivion, they are still there, chastising bicyclists for being arrogant and selfish. And although you can always count on Internet trolls to make rude comments, I understand where they are coming from.

I’ve seen people on bikes do all sorts of crazy things. I’ve watched them blow through red lights and weave in and out of bike lanes, distractedly chatting up a buddy next to them. I even had a guy bang on the hood of my car for being too far forward – in his anti-car zeal, he didn’t notice the overgrown shrub blocking the view of oncoming traffic, or the fact that my car is plastered in bike stickers.

So how does watching the guy who wears a helmet grocery shopping drone on about his reduced carbon footprint negate all of the good bicyclists do?

It doesn’t. Not by a long shot.

In any given area, mountain bikers are often the user group with the most volunteer trail work hours. Each year, road riders raise millions riding for good causes through events like the MS 150 and the AIDS/Lifecycle ride. Urban commuters and garage tinkerers have long helped bring bikes and bike repair skills to under-privileged communities across the country through bike co-ops.

As people interested in making bicycling a socially accepted mode of transit and recreation, does it become our responsibility to make up for the fact that every group will have jerks?

No. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to try.

There will always be people who perceive bike riders as arrogant for riding on the road instead of on the sidewalk “where they belong” or for riding around in spandex thinking they’re “in the Tour de France or something.” But, just as with the jerks on bikes, these folks likely aren’t the best representations of their groups either.

Though the shrill ring of one negative experience can resonate louder than the gentle hum of many pleasant experiences, but it doesn’t outweigh the good. I’d like to believe that people can and will see past their assumptions about those who are different.

I’ll see you on the road. I’ll be the one smiling on my bike. You may not notice me, because when you look around, it turns out there are a lot of smiling faces out there on bikes.

Kristin Butcher is a freelance writer based out of Boulder, Colorado, she spends her time writing about people, the outdoors and, of course, bikes. You can read her column, Butcher Paper, in BIKE Magazine.

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