Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bike Commuters: Come As You Are

In Seattle, bikers form a continuum anchored by two poles: the slackers and the racers.The slackers are hipsters, hardcore urbanites, and other folks who just don't give a fuck. Their bikes are cheap, environmentally friendly means of getting from Point A to Point B; when they need to go somewhere, they hop on and go.The racers are to the 21st century what yuppies were to the 80s: trendy professionals with money to blow - except instead of blowing it on cocaine, they're blowing it on bike shorts that "wick away" their sweat. Racers look, not like they're headed to work, but like they're competing for a slot on the Tour.

Now, settle down, racers. I'm not belittling you (much). It's not your fault you work in a culture where no one is supposed to see you sweat. In modern society the Puritan work ethic has melded with the aesthetic of the leisure classes: the beauty model of our culture is the person who works her brains out, but looks like she's barely twiddled her pinky. Cross that with the (healthy) trend towards bike commuting, and you get the ridiculous spectacle of people biking to work in get-up that says more about their access to lines of easy credit than it does about their dedication to sustainable transit.

As Tim Grahl laid out in The Slacker's Guide to Bike Commuting, it's all so unnecessary. Don't be intimidated by the Lycra cult; come to work as you are. If your work is tyrannized by strict dress codes, throw your "work" clothes in your backpack or pannier. If your work gives you hell about pulling in wearing jeans or shorts, given them hell right back for destroying the planet. If you're worried about sweating and stinking, bring deodorant. Bottom line: no one should feel they can't commute to work because they can't afford to sweat.

(P.S. I won't endorse Tim's calls to replace your patch kit and spare tube with a cell phone, because there's nothing so frustrating as waiting an hour for someone to pick you up when you could be back on the road in 20 minutes. Besides, if part of your motivation for biking is sustainability, calling for a ride defeats the purpose. I have puncture resistant tubes, but also have a spare and a bike pump just in case.)