Hippies, bike advocacy and redemption



Yesterday afternoon a couple of the work lads and I decided to hop on our bikes and go to Kramarczuk’s, an awesome Ukrainian deli in Minneapolis, for lunch. Our beautiful sunny ride was rudely interrupted by a self-righteous hippie (also on a bike) who proceeded to scold me for riding on the sidewalk of the Hennepin Avenue bridge (where there are no bike lanes whatsoever and heavy trafcic) and accused me of not knowing the law. It’s a common misconception but biking on sidewalks is in fact not illegal in Minnesota except in business districts. I attempted to reason with him, telling him that in fact it was he who did not know the law. He then digressed into some incomprehensible dribble about how internally I was flawed and that I needed to look within to fix my miscomprehensions…blah blah blah. In a very uncivil fashion I told him to go f*ck himself along with some other colorful expletives. Yelling at him, I figured, was still better than beating him up and throwing his bike into the Mississippi. I’m not proud of the fact that I yelled at a stranger in public, and the whole altercation has me thinking about my relationship with bikes and bicycle advocacy.

It’s no secret that I wish America would follow a Northern European model of bike infrastructure. Helmets, fixies, and bike trailers all offend my core belief that biking is safe and should be encouraged amongst the masses. Since I restarted bike commuting daily back in October, my zeal and passion for such topics has grown into a somewhat unhealthy obsession. Not a day goes by that I don’t rail on America’s infantile and misguided bike culture.

Uh oh. I’ve become just like that hippie I yelled at on the bridge…trying to jam my beliefs down everybody’s throats. Furthermore I’m in denial. I don’t live in Holland, Germany, or Denmark. I live in the USA where lycra, Hummers, and funny Styrofoam hats are the norm. If I really want to embody the Dutch or Danish riding tradition, I need to lower my blood pressure, chill out, and simply do my own thing. My outspoken opinions on biking and this blog are shining example of my hypocrisy.

I was ready to give up the blog and sign off for the last time.

As I was locking my bike and taking Marek out of his seat for drop off at daycare another parent getting out of her car proclaimed “oh I haven’t seen one of those in such a long time! A Dutch bike with a seat on the back! I love it, they are so comfortable!” She had a Germanic accent and it turns out that she was from Eindhoven. For one fleeting moment I was speaking with somebody who understood where I was coming from.

Redemption comes in many forms. What the past two days have taught me is that I can’t change my country. I need not convince the masses about the superiority of “my way.” I should simply be thankful that I’m free to live my life the way  I see fit. That, after all, is the most important liberty of all.

Life is too short to obsess about bike helmets and infrastructure. I’m through with advocacy and just want to ride for as many years as I can with my beautiful little boy. That’s what it’s really all about.


9 responses to “Hippies, bike advocacy and redemption

  1. Thanks for your post. I feel your pain. I haven’t had any trouble yet with hippies. But, I frequently get infuriated over other matters – mainly, drivers and other cyclists disregarding traffic rules. Often their recklessness and disregard for others makes me want to scream and toss something in their direction.

    As far as advocacy goes, I think you’re still in the game. There are all kinds of advocates. Not everyone needs to persuade with words, you can do so by example. When people see you ride with civility, when they see you and your son on the Opa having a blast, it’s great marketing. They may join in, and, in numbers, more things (like infrastructure) can get done.

  2. Funny about the cycling on the sidewalks. In the area I live it is illegal..period. And there is no cycling infrastructure to speak of unless you consider the all but useless “Share the Road” signs. I am currently on temporary assignment in an area where sidewalk riding is actually encouraged in some areas. Hard for me to accept, but when in Rome…

    I have to do most of my riding on narrow two lane roads when at home, so I have had to adopt a VC style of riding to survive. I too long for a proper cycling infrastructure similar to what exists in other countries, I don’t believe we would be able to adopt in its entirety due to cultural differences, but we could certainly learn from it and implement the parts that would work in this country.

    As far as your hippie, being confrontational is not the best method for getting a point across. Sometimes it is necessary, but many zealots don’t realize it isn’t the only way nor the best way.


  3. Well, just go on as you always do. It’s impossible to convert everybody, but you may succeed to at least impress some people with your cycling and get them to rethink their lifestyle.

    As for the Hippie, I can’t say much. But only a few days ago an old lady in a electro car (these small ones for old and disabled people) drove towards me on a one-way bike paths. I’m not quite sure if driving there is allowed for such vehicles (because it’s actually allowed for people in wheelchairs), but certainly not in the wrong direction. I gave her the bird and she did the same. I think she didn’t quite get what I was on about. And I wasn’t really happy with that interaction afterwards. Maybe the next time I just block her and tell her.

  4. Didn’t realize that trailers were an evil U.S. contraption…What’s wrong with a bike trailer, again? It’s sort of a “bakfiets” solution…but without the closeness of having your child in a place where you can actually hear him/her. Other than that, it sure doesn’t seem bad to me…at least it gives parents another option for reducing the need of a car, right?

  5. Ride on, man. Ride on. Look, the U.S. will never be Northern Europe in terms of bike culture.
    Right now advocacy is just getting enough infrastructure for people who have the inclination to be able to bike a little more safely. That’s it.
    The powers in charge of allocating funding for that infrastructure don’t care if cyclists are chic or wearing styro hats or racing gear–they just count the number of two wheeled machines on the paths and lanes. When I realized that, I stopped thinking about the extraneous crap–I embrace the chic, the poor, the DUI guys, the greenies, the racers in their ridiculous mini pelotons and even the crazy hippies…
    Just ride for yourself–but please keep riding (and writing).

  6. Devil's Lettuce

    As one of the work Lads riding with Tad during said incident, I didn’t really see what all the fuss was about. I was riding on the road next to the sidewalk. Aforementioned Hippie was also riding on the road in front of me. The three of us we’re riding a bit faster than him, and the whole thing started after I passed him.

    As a recent convert to bike commuting (Tad’s advocacy got me out of my car and onto a really nice Electra Amsterdam), I confess I’m not totally up to speed on all of the finer points of navigating through a congested urban area with limited bike infrastructure. That said, I’ve found the experience gratifying, nerve-wracking and exhilarating. I’ve only had a couple incidents where I’ve been somewhat tweaked at other travelers on the road, but if you let them, they gnaw at you. I’ve just decided that the best way to deal with such nonsense is to have a short memory and let it go.

    Anyway, I’m enjoying riding. My car has now become a bird dropping repository, but the money I’m saving is more than enough to pay for a few car washes. I’m also getting a kick out of the bemused looks I get from people while riding around town on my Dutch-style bike with a suit on… priceless.

  7. I just hope you’ll continue with this blog… I really enjoy reading it!

  8. Hippie. Fixies don’t hurt anything and you know it. Still, you write pretty so keep it up.

  9. In Columbia SC, where I currently live, there is one section of downtown where riding on the sidewalks is banned. It’s eight blocks by two blocks. But apparently the police are taught that it’s illegal anywhere in the downtown area. There is one section of road (not in the illegal section) where I ride on the sidewalk to cross a bridge. In four years I have been “pulled over” five times by the police while on my bicycle, and four of them were while riding on that 150 feet of sidewalk. I tell them what the law actually says, and they let me go.

    Even the local bicycle shops don’t bother learning what the law says — they just believe what the cops tell them and pass along erroneous information. I don’t get it.

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