Honestly, racing is what cycling means to most Americans. The subject came up while I was on a ride over the weekend with a friend who is a devoted randonneur. While he was intent to document his ride with receipts from local merchants along the way, I was content to just enjoy a nice long ride and conversation. We have very little success getting other club members to join us on rides like this because most club members are "pretend racers." Most people in this country take up the sport as both a social and fitness activity and relegate their riding to brisk rides around a certain course a couple of times a week with their friends. Most buy road bikes built for speed rather than comfort, and take delight in tracking the improvement of their speed from week to week. Very few ever venture out to unknown places or search out strange sites because it's unknown, strange. They just aren't comfortable with that. The American rider likes to think of himself in competition, he wants to beat his friends, improve, get faster, and assert himself. There is nothing wrong with that, but unfortunately there is so much more the sport has to offer.
The American cyclist is a competitive consumer. We don't buy cars for transportation, we buy them as a social statement. They are sold for their sex appeal.
To most people, cars are a visible interpretation of their owners, a calling card which they very self consciously wash and meticulously maintain to provide a good impression of themselves. It is a rolling fashion accessory. There's nothing wrong with that, except that such a huge portion of middle class budgets are drained from the family and compromise so many other aspects of their lives. Bicycles are the same. It's socially acceptable to ride "the latest, greatest thing ever"
around in a circle with a few friends a couple times a week. It's a statement that we can not only afford expensive toys, we have the leisure time to enjoy them. Some people blame the racing industry, but they just have an entertainment product to sell, it's the American consumer who makes the decisions. A few years ago I was in an internet discussion on the subject and woman from Amsterdam chimed in with a question: "What is the deal with all the pregnant men over there riding racing bikes?" As Michael Coleville-Anderson pointed out, it's instructive to compare the Raleigh USA website to that of Raleigh Denmark, or Netherlands or UK. The difference is dramatic. The USA website merchandises racing gear and fitness equipment while the European versions focus on transportation and utilitarian goods.
Riding a bike for transportation has been considered an act of desperation. Why would one do it unless they had to? I get compliments for being environmentally conscious, conserving energy, saving money, and maintaining exercise, but never has anybody guessed that I enjoy it. Cyclists in this country look at the pleasure of the pretend race, not just the simple pleasure of riding their bikes and feeling the lie of the land beneath them rather than watching it through the windshield. The aggressive development of cycling infrastructure in cities like New York and Chicago indicates that it may be changing. People may be realizing that although they don't need to ride a bike, they don't need an automobile for most of their travel. If the trend develops, future generations may see the automobile as what it is, a failed experiment in urban transportation.
This is a shameless attempt to save the the most advanced civilization in
history from imminent self destruction by eliminating carbon emission,
dependence on foreign sources of fuel,obesity, hypertension and diabetes.
Cycling accomplishes all those things at once and helps us develop a better
understanding of ourselves, each other and our relationship to the cosmos.
Oh, horse puckey!
I like to ride bikes, have been doing it all my life.
The rest of that crap is just a fringe benefit,
and the blogosphere gives me a chance to share my interior
monologue with virtual rather than imaginary friends.