Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Who Is An Invisible Bicyclist?

"For the hard-pedaling day laborers of Los Angeles, bicycling isn't exercise, a hobby, or a statement. It's a way to get to work-if there's work to be found" --Dan Koeppel, Invisible Riders

"...One guy's significant other was riding side-saddle on the top tube, in a hotel maid's uniform, while he pedaled along Paradise, a cigarette drooping from his lips. You won't see them in a Trek ad anytime soon, but they probably spend more time on two wheels than most of Bicycling's readers..." --Patrick O'Grady, "Stuff You Wouldn't Ride: An Interbiker Among the Outerbikers

Is anyone in Albuquerque or Santa Fe (or any of our other cities or places in the middle of nowhere) looking at this idea of analyzing the concept of the invisible cyclist (a term coined by Dan Koeppel in a 2006 Bicycling article) and developing ideas for those people who use bicycles but are not in the traditional camp of "bicyclists" (I think Jennifer Buntz and the Duke City Wheelmen do some)?  I found the LAB webinar on the topic a little too diffuse to concentrate on (or maybe it seemed scattered because I was multitasking while listening to it).

It is not clear to me whether, by self identifying as a bicyclist, one is therefore part of the problem rather than part of the solution because in the eyes of some of the thinkers, self identifying as a bicyclist borders on elitism (dare I say narcissism?) rather than inclusiveness. Indeed, the more traditional LAB member probably does somewhat relish iconoclasm and elitism rather than political inclusiveness, at least when it comes to bicycling. Some on the LAB panel objected to the term invisible bicyclist as demeaning and politically incorrect. Well, when Dan Koeppel and Patrick O'Grady delve into it, it has a human face, something occasionally lacking when a human topic falls into the realm of policy wonks (and I fall into that wonk pit at times). Then again, are all bicyclists invisible because motorists, politicians, and some DOTs don't see us? Can one be well off and be invisible? Does advocacy confer visibility?  Can one wear loud lycra and be invisible?

Interesting ideas on Zavestoski's Invisiblecyclist site. By concentrating on infrastructure, one falls into the power trap, i.e., money follows power and that means it follows the already empowered. Note the fight between hipsters and Hasidic Jews in NYC regarding cycletracks. Are there nice green cycletracks going up in Skid Row? Then again, where does one begin? Social outreach is one option, it would seem. Or as someone in the LAB webinar mentioned, if you need to, bring an interpreter. As Dan Koeppel found out, you may be a little uncomfortable on that 5k titanium steed.

Seems to me the problem is not that the cyclist is invisible, but that the rest of society has its eyes and mind closed as long as the invisible cyclists hunker down in the shadows. We only notice them when they get mowed down, i.e.,  Neil Smith, or when they don't give up their seat on that great transportation bus to a motorist, i.e., Cherokee Schill.

As a card-carrying MAMIL, or maybe now an out of the closet S-O-B in the making (Santa Fe Seniors on Bikes) I've not paid much attention to this movement, but its an important thing to think about in many parts-as both Dan and Patrick make clear. Lost Almost probably not a leader among them, but one can be invisible in LA. Ask the cyclist, a colleague of mine, who was right hooked and seriously injured by an oblivious motorist in front of Metzger's gas station while riding in the bike lane. He was then ticketed for jaywalking by an investigating officer oblivious to bike law! My colleague only became visible when he put up a fight in court. And he prevailed.

But this is a poor, backward state, and I've seen some pretty lonely looking people riding beater bikes up that hellish thing called Cerrillos Road. Does anyone speak for them? I'm sure there is plenty of invisibility in New Mexico, once you open your eyes to it.

If you want to see an Invisible Cyclist, here was one: the late Neil Allen Smith. Longtime readers of this blog may remember this picture. Full story here.

Have at it:


Original Dan Koeppel article "Invisible Riders" and Patrick O'Grady's "Outerbikers at Interbike"


Steve A said...

You'll often see the bikes of invisible cyclists parked such as at http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_q6ikqYdf96s/S2eHJ8cjfDI/AAAAAAAABC4/Wr2lkjYxxlQ/utility.jpg

Little Jimmy said...

Strangely enough, I consider myself an "invisible cyclist."

The other day out on the trails a walking couple made a pantomimed panting noise as we stepped aside on the trail to let them by.

"Where are the motors on those things?" the man asked jovially. "If I can't hear you, how can I see you? Thanks for stopping for us, though."

"Whew! That looks like hard work," his companion chimed in as they looked incredulously at us over their shoulders. "My husband's right about the engine!"

People who ride bicycles anywhere are nuts, apparently, and maybe that's why so many people are loathe to acknowledge our existence?