It is perhaps always a little dispiriting when you find that an idea or concept you've quietly nurtured and fostered with devotion suddenly becomes the center of a trend. It's hard not to feel a little bit envious of its success. After all, weren't you one of the reasons that the idea became so popular? And, don't you feel that the new people coming into the conversation somehow don't have as much right to speak on the topic as you do? Since they haven't gone to the school of hard knocks, like you have?
I was on the verge of saying, with my friend Kim, "I am so over you, bike commuting!" I stood by you when you were the ugly stepchild of the bike industry. I insisted that you were practical, viable, and good for our health. I maintained that you offered a way to take the road less traveled, that did not include a large financial commitment to a chunk of steel and its insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. It was an important job, and you did it well.
But lately, my sometime friend, you have become too big for your cycling knickers. No doubt, this has a lot to do with how popular you've become. Everyone wants to hang out with you. But will they still remember you when the trend passes? And then, will you turn to fall back on your old friends?
Wait a minute.
When the trend passes? Who says it's going to pass? Wasn't this what we, the quiet, relentless advocates of utilitarian cycling were hoping for? Now that cycling is enjoying the limelight, driving clothing design, appearing on bus-stands and billboards, and becoming part of our everyday vocabulary, there is a good chance that the "trend" will actually stick. That it will evolve seamlessly from a trend into an integral part of our culture.
Why, then, the pang of regret? If I'm honest with myself, I will admit that I fear being displaced by the new, exciting stuff, and maybe not be able to keep up. It is easier to say bah, humbug! to something new and unfamiliar, that to go out there and get to know it. It is an inevitable fact of life that new ideas flow over the old, and eventually displace them. But the important thing to keep in mind, I've realized, is that we are not talking about displacement of fundamental values. We're only talking about a radical makeover of their outward manifestations.
This realization came to me as I attended the industry bike fashion show at Interbike Expo last night. As the music pounded under my feet, cameras flashed all around, and models swooshed down the runway in an assortment of whimsical fashions and atop bicycles of every conceivable ilk, I realized that I must rejoice in the bike culture whose seeds have been sown and are now sprouting abundantly all around me. That I must throw aside my ideas of bike commuting being something that goes against the grain of society, and realize that society now has to go with the flow of the growing cycling culture. That I must make sure that my store, and I myself, reconcile the idea of bike commuting as serious business with all that is fun, offbeat, fresh, creative and inventive about it.
When I return to Chicago, I plan to get a helmet in a color I've never tried before. And bright, obnoxious panniers for my groceries. And pull on a flouncy dress for my cycling trips. And decorate my bike with daisies.
No, bike commuting, I'm not over you. I'm into you more than ever.