The white man’s burden

I was reading Exploded Hub’s post on bike theft when I considered how difficult it is to elevate the status of cycling in a society in which you can get by without a bicycle.

Horse theft was a capital offense in the Old West because the horse represented an individual’s lifeline in a setting in which there simply were no other transportation options.  Today, automobiles nearly fit that role.  If your bike dies, there’s a car to pick you up.

It seems that the ideological goal of cycling advocacy is to elevate cyclists to “separate but equal” status.  A problem (aside from the obvious) is that not all bicycle users wish to be “cyclists.”  Cyclists love bikes and will go to the mattress for their passion.  Or obsess over suspension pressures and custom paint jobs.  Then there are people who ride bikes because that’s what they have.  This leads to a bit of a perception problem:

If cycling advocates work their tails off to get dedicated cycling lanes and oblivious bicycle riders use them incorrectly, who ends up with pie on the face?  Clearly, infrastructure improvements are meant for the uninitiated as much as they are for enthusiasts.  But would there be justice in trying to self-police bicycling behavior?  Even the obvious differences in SES creates philosophical obstacles.  And what can we do about our gangs of BMX-equipped teens who swarm on sidewalks?  Or the hard-working bearded bike messenger who sprints through red lights?  Tough.

Tangential question – many wheels are stolen in Boston; where would one go to purchase a stolen beater wheel?    I imagine the total number of wheels to bikes that need them works out to nearly a zero-sum game.  It’s hard to imagine that there’s an inner-city cycling squad that requires replacements of beater wheels that are regularly ridden into oblivion.  And if this team exists, are they also cycling enthusiasts?  Hrmmm?

2 Responses to “The white man’s burden”

  1. explodedhub
    April 5th, 2009 | 1:09 am

    i too wonder where the market for stolen beat wheels is. I wonder if its a number of cases of passing the buck, hot potato, musical chairs, or whatever metaphor you what to use, where someone has their wheel stolen and then goes out to snatch a wheel from someone else. i guess thats unlikely, but whats the more likely scenario??

  2. huffypuffy
    April 5th, 2009 | 1:23 am

    i think you’ve probably described what happens. but the wheels need to actually disappear to prevent an inventory buildup at the very bottom. i think the bikes just might be decaying in the charles. one place you could go to stock up on shitty old wheels is harvard’s free furniture giveaway at 175 n. harvard st sometime in june. they give away junked stuff every thursday – in june, they clip abandoned bikes from around campus. but this was long ago; these bikes might now be diverted to the student-run bike shop in the radcliffe quad.

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