Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bikes are NOT Red, White and Blue

Commute by Bike’s own Refugee From the Radical Right, Tom Bowden, wrote a great article about adopting a strategy of Bike Advocacy from the NRA Playbook. His thought is that we might be more successful if we paint bicycling as a normal, flag-waving, patriotic AMERICAN activity rather than dwell on the logical, intelligent and environmental reasons Americans should start riding bikes.

Like most Republicans, Tom begins by accurately describing the nature of the situation, and then flies off on a tangent with ideas for solutions which simply do not reflect what would work in the REAL world of the average American.

Tom is right that the NRA has found a very visceral way of promoting gun rights. I, too, find myself tearing up as I open that eagle-and-flag filled snail-mail spam they send whenever they figure they need more money than just my yearly dues (that’s right folks: the BluesCat is a card-carrying member of the NRA; for reasons much too complicated to go into here). The Ol’ Patriotic Cat chokes up just before he tosses the stuff into the recycle bin.

Tom is also absolutely spot-on when he explains the incredible mixed message of those promoting bicycles: "You’re going to have a lot of fun, and get really healthy, BUT YOU ALSO MAY DIE when you’re run over by that big, AMERICAN SUV!"

Trying to use the NRA’s heartstring tugging method for bicycling will not work, and the reason is really simple: Bicycles are NOT AMERICAN TRANSPORTATION. Take a look at the League of American Bicyclists Trash Talk web site. That page is full of bad-mouthing by Republicans and right-wing media about how unimportant and Third World the bicycle is. Bicycles are just not considered serious, valid transportation for America. Heck, even some bike commuters of a more liberal bent than Tom have said they do not think we should be spending federal highway transportation money on bike and pedestrian infrastructure; even your own FEET aren’t considered a "serious mode of transportation!"

The pulse quickening, swashbuckling road tool that is The Automobile is what IS American Transportation. Take a look at any television commercial that advertises a full-sized pickup truck. It is a tour de force collection of images of trucks sloughing through mud as deep as the tops of the wheel wells, of trucks climbing near vertical rocky grades, and of trucks shrugging off elephantine quantities of stuff dropped into their beds by backhoes. Even CADILLAC commercials don’t present genteel women being escorted over to the passenger side, but show a CTS shrieking around a race track ahead of a Ferrari!

So, we need to take another tack to find a consistent, heart-attack inducing, macho, gut-grabbing PR campaign for bike riding. I suggest we get one of the current movie action heroes, like Jason Statham or Daniel Craig, to ride an exotic, pure-rolling-bike-porn like the Velokraft No-Com down a long hill with about an 18% grade. As the jittering image of the bike computer shows our hero topping 70 mph, in the background you’ll hear the gravelly voice of Sam Elliott (of Dodge truck commercial fame) order you to "Get real. Get your butt on a bike."


  1. Blues Cat: I partly agree w/ Tom in that trying to sell bicycling as a legitimate transport for reasons of being green and reducing our carbon footprint is in effective. Worse yet, it is dull and tedious. I am an obsessive recycler but I don't lecture others about recycling because if I did my husband would divorce me, my friends would fall asleep and my family would scold me for being rude and overbearing. With respect to his patriotic argument, I'm afraid that nationalistism rants frighten me almost as much as religiousity. I do, however think that bicycling can be sold as a means of taking control of and expanding our personal transportation choices. As a former GOPer myself, don't conservatives love the whole personal responsibility thing? I mean I could whine to my boss or Paul Gosar that I can't come to work because I can't afford the price of car or to have my "broke down" truck fixed or I can hop on my bike and get to work. It's a choice.

    I also agree that Jason Statham and Daniel Craig would be fantastic salesmen. I'd follow them anywhere. Does Jason make bald sexy? Quite a bit. I asked my husband to have his hair cut like Daniel and it looks good. Is it anti-feminist of me to acknowledge that sex sells?? Well it does. Gloria sure found that out when she put on that bunny costume and people are so much nicer and acommodating to me when I'm wearing my best on my bike. It's not fair but it is reality. I get a lot of attention when I'm pedaling in my high heels and prompted some of my female friends and family to bike more for short trips and errands for not other reason than it "looks cute". My cousin now bike commutes and combines it w/ public transit most days of the week now and has her own set of converts. She's very green, by the way, but doesn't lecture people about it.

  2. You inspired an additional post on the subject:
    She is SO Right.

    Thanks, Karen!