Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Green Future, or a Black, Stretchy One?

Sally and I attended the Spokane City Council Meeting yesterday evening to express our support for the passage of Spokane's Master Bike Plan. Our Council representative had encouraged us to attend after Sally forwarded him my last two posts about bike parking and connectivity. Once at the Council Chambers, we were encouraged to sign up to speak in favor of the plan. Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, which is true for Sally, by the way, we signed up.

In her remarks Sally emphasized that she rides her bike for shopping as well as commuting, and that she makes decisions about where she shops in part by whether they have bike racks. I made the point that, unlike most of the other speakers, I was not an officer of any bicycle advocacy group. In the course of my statement I noted that I did not wear spandex, nor were my shoes permanently attached to my pedals. I stated my concern for bike facilities and plans that would allow everyone to be able to ride safely, including children, and amateurs like me.

Gauging by the response after the meeting, our remarks were well received. Members of the council and subsequent speakers made reference to our comments, which made us feel like the evening was well-spent.

After the meeting, however, a woman bedecked in black spandex pants, patterned jersey and reflective yellow vest approached me. Though she thanked me for my remarks, she vehemently stated that I really should get some spandex and proper clipless pedals and shoes. By the way, clipless pedals and shoes clip together, leaving me wondering why they are termed "clipless". The woman's disposition was reminiscent of brokers on the floor of a stock exchange or the two ladies who came to my door last week toting copies of The Watchtower. Yes, she was an enthusiast.

In response to the woman's stinging indictment I mumbled my usual excuses for being ill-equipped and underdressed while I ride. But I knew. In the depths of my being I knew that I stood convicted as a pretender, a would-be Ponce De Leon seeking to use my bike as a Fountain of Youth on two wheels, relishing the sensation of the wind blowing through my helmet and what's left of my hair.

After disentangling ourselves from my Inquisitor, Sally and I had a few moments to recover and debrief. Sally made an insightful comment about her support for bicycling as an alternative means of transportation for everyone, and not merely for enthusiasts. It was this broader notion that seemed important to us, and that also appeared to be in danger of being swept away in a sea of spandex and special interest advocacy. I wondered aloud, "In Amsterdam, did we see anyone among the throng of bicycle commuters wearing spandex?" The answer was no, though we saw cyclists there in business suits, dresses and high heels! We then tried to imagine people changing into "driving clothes" before getting into their Toyota or Land Rover. I guess some people do....

John Wiesner climbed down from the cab of his truck holding the remains of a six-pack of Diet Coke and wearing a motorcycle helmet. John stated that he viewed all roads as unsafe, and that he never drove anywhere without his helmet. He was never without a Diet Coke either, though I can't recall whether he considered that particular libation to be a safety component. My hunch is that he did.

John Wiesner and his helmet came to mind as I thought about "driving clothes".  In the past, automobile driving gloves and coats were employed, following in the tradition of jodhpurs and long boots worn by equestrians. I imagine that my agrarian ancestors were less likely to don such finery than they were to wear their work clothes, whether driving the milk wagon or astride a horse, as they went about their daily lives. Like my workaday predecessors, we moderns have given up the practice of cladding ourselves for travel, instead jumping into our cars for the commute to work, a quick run to the grocery store, or a trip across the country wearing whatever we are wearing. 

I fear that bicycling will not be accepted as a viable transportation alternative for the masses in this country as long as clothing protocols reminiscent of the showy habits of the aristocracy persist. I further wonder if it is possible for Americans to embrace any simple activity or pursuit -- biking, hiking, camping, cooking, gardening, to name a few -- without it becoming justification for a flurry of shopping activity. If we are ever to move toward a simpler, greener future, we'll need to take a route that does not commence with a side trip to REI, Williams-Sonoma, or L.L. Bean. 


  1. Sometimes those "special clothes" are fun but I'm not getting spandex so I can ride my bike. I didn't even look at the new bikes when I bought my new bike pump (a necessity...oh yes it was!) Even though I want a new bike, I'm making my 18 year old one work just fine.

  2. Oh yeah...I do have to wear my "gardening shoes" so I can fit my foot into the straps...not clips.