My morning began with a slap in the face.
In my previous post, I had imprudently revealed myself as eagerly awaiting the arrival of spring, and being tired of the trudge of winter. A reader took advantage of this weak moment, and accused me of having a "delicate constitution".
I jumped up from the computer and took a few indignant paces across the living room. I must defend myself. I must protest and set the record straight. After all, not only do I have years of all weather commuting under my belt, I also have a proven track record of turning other people into...
But then the coffee kicked in and my brain started working again.
Where is it written that cycling is something that can only be practiced by people with strong constitutions?
Like it or not, the majority of people in this country still view cycling as a fair-weather activity whose purpose is primarily recreation, rather than transportation. There are many reasons for this, chief among them perhaps the long tradition of cheap, accessible and abundant fossil fuels, resulting in extravagant urban sprawl. Because of deeply ingrained habits and social conditioning, changing people's views to accept the bicycle as a viable form of transportation has been a bit of an uphill battle.
This battle has been fought on several different fronts, through advocacy, street happenings such as Critical Mass, even fashion. It has also been fought day in and day out in forward thinking urban bike shops, such as my own Rapid Transit in Chicago.
For the past fifteen years, we have been engaged in the battle for the hearts and minds of cyclists young and old, would-be and practicing, new and experienced, timid and die-hard, fair-weather and all-weather. And we have come to the conclusion that you can't win that battle with shock and awe. Chances are you will not entice a new cyclist by painting visions of snot icicles, foggy goggles, blue fingertips and admonitions about the importance of layers. You will not smooth the way for him by describing the joys of your 40-mile daily commute. I do not mean to deny that there is a contingent of folks who do find this appealing and fun. But if the point is to create more cyclists, than this is not a winning strategy.
The truth is that few people are warriors, and even fewer are warriors every day.
Most of us (including myself, my earlier indignation notwithstanding) are wimps. Different things is our lives make us wimps: habits, children, distance, weather, aches and pains, fear, sometimes age, sometimes youth, winter colds, whims, moods, barometric pressure, stress. And frankly, while the heroic feats of others may sometimes inspire us, they probably won't motivate us on a daily basis. If the bar is set too high, we won't even make an attempt to reach it.
So I make allowances. Bike a little. Bike when the weather is nice. Bike when you feel like it. I would rather have a million wimps rejoicing in biking one mile, than feeling guilty about not biking at all.