The Problem With Bike Kulture

I’ve tried my best to tolerate this new bike Kulture that has made camp in LA, attempted to see the positive aspects it can contribute to our city, but more and more I just can’t stand the way it manifests itself. And it saddens me to see how such a great idea can turn into shit so quickly: a practical and healthy option that challenges the car culture devolves into a sanctimonious act of liberal defiance, doused with a heavy dose of machismo. I’m pretty sure I’ll regret writing this but fuck it; the unnecessary baggage of an otherwise worthy goal needs to be called out.

Before you conclude I hate bike riders, let me just say that even though I’m mostly a pedestrian and car driver, I also ride a bike. Some of my friends are bike riders, so I can’t be a bikeist! And when I was around 12, I built my own chrome and red GT Pro Series BMX that I pieced together from parts I bought at the Rosemead Swap Meet. It was my pride and joy, up until the day it got stolen. I even contributed to an art installation that dealt with this very issue. So yeah, I understand the love one can have for a bike.

But this bike Kulture stuff and the attitudes they bring to the city is just beyond me: why is a form of transportation being elevated to an ideology? How did the simple pleasure of bike riding become an excuse for kids to get all moralistic against cars? Is the world so bereft of positive values that the notion of bike riding can take on such a significant role as an identity marker? It must be lean times in the marketplace of meaning when you so deeply identify with the way you get from point A to point B, even at the expense of the rest of the people around you.

Though there are a few reasons to critique this new bike Kulture in LA, the one thing that really puzzles me is the way the bike ideologues have taken on the worst traits of the rude FTW driver and the cocky yes-I-am-immortal Jr. High School pedestrian. If you’re trying to get people out of their cars, doesn’t it make sense to play nice and share the road with the rest of us?

This weekend I encountered one of the worst examples of the rude bike rider, a young and hip Latina seemingly buoyed on her sense of two wheel superiority. Even though Monte Vista in HLP is wide enough to fit both cars and bikes, she chose to stay in the traffic lane. Fair enough, “you are traffic”. But then she proceeded to reach into her backpack to look for something, slowing down to a crawl as she pretended to rummage through her stuff for that one thing she needed immediately . Even though she could have easily pulled over to the right (there weren’t even any cars parked on this stretch) she stayed in the middle of the traffic lane as if to prove some point, and never pulled anything out. Yeah, I get it, I’m the chump going 5 mph because you hate my transportation. This went on for a little bit, her fellow bike rider had already pulled over and I think was trying to get her to stop being a jerk, to no avail. At the 4 way stop sign ahead, she suddenly sped up -without stopping- to force a left-turning truck to hit the brakes so as to not hit her. While other drivers were taken aback by the potential disaster that had just been averted, she was laughing at how much power her bike riding body was wielding. She ran the next stop sign as well, this time holding her hand out to a braking car. It would be easy to say this was just a solitary example of a jerk but I think there’s something about the bike Kulture that encourages this sort of anti-everyone else behavior.

If this were the first time I’ve encountered this animosity towards car drivers, that would be one thing. But I’ve had my fair number of encounters with these young bike punks to know its not isolated. It’s odd mostly because there are some good and thoughtful projects within the biking scene, like the great resources of the Bike Kitchen and the Bike Oven that (at least to my knowledge) don’t encourage this sort of behavior. If you wanted to block my car in for some protest or action ala Critical Mass, I would understand. Why not prove your pro-bike point like that one rider I usually see passing up all the cars stuck in a traffic jam? But to deliberately increase the level of messed-uped-ness in the city, and become just like all the other thoughtless car driving fools that hate on bike riders, now that’s just wrong.

PS. For the record, I took a picture of this person when we finally managed to get by, and she responded by saying “Hey don’t do that.” I wanted to post the picture, but in the interest of not contributing to messed-up-ness and since my friend thought that would be pretty mean, I’m keeping it offline.

112 thoughts on “The Problem With Bike Kulture

  1. I just stumbled into this thread and boy is it loaded. I think everyone needs to take a few deep breaths. Yes there are ass hat cyclists who don’t give a fuck about other people, there is a handful of such types in any gathering of people. However community cycling rides also help foster, well a community, and developing friendships with other cyclists creates a reinforcement to persevere and keep riding even if drivers run us off the road, throw objects at us or open their door into us. Feeling apart of a community inspired me to ride more and get involved in things like encouraging bike commuting at work.

    I don’t think anyone in the cycling community is trying to say oppression on the road is somehow like racial oppression, it’s a different issue, but oppression on the road is very real. I ride everywhere, sometimes for a destination, sometimes because I just want to ride. I sold my car a while ago after it went without use for a long time and I realized for me it was no longer necessary. I ride by the book, proper to the right side of the lane position except when hazards are present, I hand signal lane changes, I use lights, lots of them, yet I am still harassed often enough that it’s not a fluke occurrence. The most frightening time was riding in West Hollywood a car pulled up next to me, slowed down and a rear passenger grabbed my bag and shook me while I was riding and smashed egg into my bag. I was doing nothing but riding along minding my own business on the way to my girlfriends house, and thankfully I held my own and did not fall over in the middle of traffic.

    So while yes there are far worse forms of oppression and harassment that have been used and still exist against people of color, oppression on the road is not some make believe that cyclists have devised to get indignant about. I drove for quite a while and never encountered so many people who routinely cut me off, honk at me, yell at me, throw things at me, as when I am just riding my bike in a law abiding fashion down the road. Luckily I live in an area that is pretty chill for cyclists, Santa Monica, but as soon as I roll into every other part of L.A., I am immediately made to feel not welcome on the road. The other day I was riding down a long two lane stretch of road with almost no traffic at all to the right of a lane with no shoulder next to a small cliff drop, and a motorist comes up right behind me, lays a loud honk as though I should move for him (off the cliff I’m guessing was what they would prefer) then swerves around close enough to buzz me with the displacement of air, and speeds off, when he had all the room in the world to get over.

    For the most part cyclists have just dealt with these kind of issues on the sidelines, just take it, it’s an expected part of riding. I found an old book on 70’s cycling touring, and it has a whole section on how to diffuse and deal with unprovoked road rage when touring in America. Now on the opposite extreme of just take it, we do have some people blatantly taking entitlement to the road and rubbing motorists sometimes intentionally it seems. I try to promote taking the middle or reasonable path of being assertive without being arrogant because too meek turns you into a push over, and being overly assertive to the point of it stepping out of being legally reasonable, just pisses people off.

    I’m not trying to excuse bad behavior by cyclists, I make a point of highlighting dumb cycling things I see as I did on my blog this morning. I encounter unpleasant and rude people on the bus too, yes I ride the bus sometimes as well, but I don’t try and lump all bus riders into some category or stereotype.

  2. I just found this thread, so I’ll chime in.

    I’m not sure where this notion that cyclists and bus riders are in opposition comes from. Is it because once in a while a bus has to pass a bike riding in the right lane? Or is it because a bus might get corked by riders during a big group ride? These things happen inadvertently but I don’t think cyclists are out there picking fights with huge vehicles that most of them also ride. Most cyclists I know who rides for transport in L.A. also use public transit to augment their riding.

    I think the two modes complement each other. The bike allows you to get to bus stops and to your destination faster. The bus extends the range of bikes and allows you to ride less if you’re really tired from a long day at work or if your body isn’t up to it.

    Usually I do half my commute on bike and half on bus. I ride on small streets to major bus lines . This allows me to go wherever I want quickly without having to transfer lines. It’s faster than taking a car during rush hour, and I can ride as much or as little as I want.

  3. omg, some of you posters!! i can’t believe there’s really people in this world still carrying on with the message that the system be down on the minorities.get over that nonsense!! that’s the reason i don’t watch much of this ‘help my peeps’ if they’re still being enslaved..good gawd!!!

    while i thought many posts here were being real and others ridiculous,it’s the ‘woe is the minority’ posts that really suck frost!!

  4. I can’t believe there are people in the world understand these concepts:

    1. Alt transit is not embraced by the US gov’t and needs alot more support.
    2. Homophobia is real.
    3. Sexism exist.

    But at the same time these seemingly sane invidiuals think racism is this imaginary thing.

    Hey this country killed lots of Native Americans, enslaved black people, then did the Jim Crow thing, interned Japanese Americans, put limits on the amount of Chinese people who could come here, and get freaked out currently when anyone speaks Spanish, so it’s not like this is totally out of line or like there isn’t some dividing line between the races in this country. Should we visit the topic of immigration, the bracero program, the zoot suit riots and this is just in California. California the place that pretends to be liberal though if you look at the schools and the atttitudes is just a backwoods hick town with better looking people and tans.

    Why is it that these same vegan, bike riding, Obama voting fucks think that racism is just the figment of someone’s imagination. What the fuck? What is the fucking deal with that kind of fucked up thought pattern and why do you annoying people keep coming back to this post.

    You need to stop being such chicken shits and deal with the very real issue of race in this country and don’t use the fucking Obama is president excuse to not do so. Margaret Thatcher was prime minister of the UK for quite sometime and that didn’t make sexism go away in the UK.


  5. There are 2 reasons these spoiled pricks talk down racism so much, they are:
    Personal guilt for coming from the side of privelege and not wanting to admit that others live harder and have genuine issues that you dont, I call it martyrdom penis envy. Lots of chicano pride men do the same thing to women, which was horrible to encounter when Hillary was running for president. Somehow this jealousy for another’s oppression morphs into animosity towards the oppressed and their plight, and a disregard for another’s struggles. Instead of realizing “hey, Im in a position of power so Ill use it to fix things” these types tend to create some kind of oppression/cause they champion that directly affects them and diregard all others (see neocons right now, huero zapatistas who skip helping out eastlos and jump right in to guatamalan bag country, and the homeowner no tax community).

    Secondly (and I know Ill catch flack) is the fact of whiny minorities/etc. who call anything racist at the drop of a hat. As a chicano man who actually works for the betterment of my community and a more level playing field, there is nothing more devastating to the equality movment than nonwhites who claim everything is racist. Of course white America latches on to these types and presents them as the epitome of ethnic empowerment in order to undermine the genuine causes (causes whose leaders are either killed imprisoned or harassed), but on the flip side this kind of overvictimization has become too prevalent in our barrios and communities and the idiotic bullhorns of this nonsense are what America sees the equality movement embodying. When i work with kids I constantly have to check them about saying “thats racist” nonstop or being racist towards whites fo no reason. Right now Rush Limbaugh is making conservatives look really bad, these overvictimization bullhorns are like hundreds of limbaughs for the equality movement, except they dont galvanize their constituency like the neocons.

    These people give whites an excuse to roll their eyes at genuine inequality, although if that wasnt around they’d find another reason to dismiss our plight. Because of this people genuinely fighting for equality have a much harder battle to endure.

    Im not saying this is only why folks act the way they do on both sides, in social terms nothing is black or white. But both of these issues are major factors in why discussions like this play out the way they do, and why people act the way they do regarding racism. The concept of racial inequality is f’d up on both sides, which is obviously done with a purpose because education on race and american history and culture is so crappy and non critical thinking in our education system.

    Browne is one of the few people I know who can throw out the inequality bomb constantly while not being a whiny minority (I hate to use that term, but you know what I mean), despite peoples’ diligence in trying to paint her that way. She dont sugar coat it, and people try to steroetype her and others like her in this stereotypical Al Sharpton BS because they otherwise dont have a valid position in a debate with her.

  6. White people in denial of the fact that the system is still white controlled are so stupid they deserve to be accused of racism at every turn.

  7. I would like to know what bike harassers are thinking when they holler shit at bicyclists.

  8. Since I’m in a carFREE household and 90% of the “cyclist” commenters on this thread have cars (which I think bothers me more than anything else, if it was real movement with some real dedication I might be a bit more tolerant of certain people and their asshole vibe) in their household or own a car, that question of car harrassers should probably be presented on a Midnight Ridazz Thread, since they are more likely to be friends with people with cars (or have cars themselves) than people on this blog.

    I think this blog has a higher percentage of people that are carFRee and are in carFREE households than on “alt transit blogs”.

    That’s pretty ironic.

    Yeah I’m being a butt, but you know I’m just saying…

    Hey if we’re going to all pull out the self-righteous card I got alot of people beat on being dedicated and keeping it real and wasting way too much time on a lifestyle that in general does nothing.

    Ride your bike to work everyone and remember even driving your car a little bit is murdering the planet a little bit so you probably shouldn’t be so self-righteous about your bicycle if your wife has a car.

    Hey do what you can, but don’t smack people in the face with your bullshit if you’re the kind of person that thinks chicken and fish aren’t meat and your s/o is driving a car doesn’t really count, because it so does and chicken and fish are meat.


  9. “Did you just try to compare bike kulture with being an ethnic minority and to having a vagina?”

    no but the idiot who wrote this article did and the point of the posting was to show the irony of it all. guess it went over your head. haha

  10. Why is it that those who too often resort to name-calling while offering no argument (and always with grammar and spelling that is nothing short of reprehensible) are are always anonymous? If they believed in what they stated, one might imagine they would state a name/link. Then again, I suppose that they are cowards in life and blogs are the only way they can imagine having a backbone.

  11. Randall, I agree. I’m a commuter rider who has been on a number of group rides but has grown disillusioned with the culture, which puts a premium on youth, hipness, fixies, blocking intersections, and so on. I see kids on bikes but not much reforma.

  12. I’m surprised how long this bike culture has persisted. Back in the early days of Critical Mass, there was a lot of attitude, but it seemed less hostile… at least at “mass”. The messenger folks were pretty elitist though.

    Now, if one is a messgenger, and being elistist, that’s kind of OK to me. They’re professionals. It’s like some cabbies or truckers who act they they own the road — they kind of do, because they work on it. Someone else, who is a recreational rider or commuter, being elitist or rude, is lame.

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