The real reason for bicycle hate

I was reading this post about Scott Simon tweeting stereotypical things about bicyclists, and it got me wondering first why anyone cares what Scott Simon tweets and second why people hate bicyclists. They seem like a relatively harmless lot to me.

The author, Carl Alviani, presents several justifications for the ubiquitous Internet and talk radio bicycle hate (propagated in my hometown by the loudmouth Dan Barriero, whose show I enjoy, except when he gets going on bicyclists), and Mr. Alviani ably debunks them all, including

  • they’re a threat to pedestrian safety

  • they flout the law

  • they interfere with an otherwise smooth-flowing system

There’s also the occasional fourth—that they’re freeloading on roads that drivers paid for—but this has been debunked so many times that that particular red herring is, thankfully, starting to die off.

His point, which is almost too obvious to be repeated, is that bikes create a fraction of the damage of cars yet are the target of far more vitriol.

Full disclosure: I like to ride my 1960s Schwinn Speedster several times a year on the gravel roads around my house or better yet on the bike paths of the Twin Cities. I do run stop signs with impunity when it’s safe to do so, and I have no problem with other bikers who do the same, if they do it carefully.I admit that some bicyclists are assholes, just like some pedestrians, some drivers, some pilots, and most talk radio hosts.

I’m by no means an avid bicyclist, much less a “bike terrorist.” I am, however, something of a health-food-eating, co-op shopping, exercising, folk-music listening, bleeding heart liberal hippie type (without the hair), and I reckon the bike hate is related to the all-too-common hate directed at others in the wider green community.

It’s a mistake to look for a good reason explaining the bike hate. Bike hatred isn’t reasonable or rational, and like all irrational hatred, it’s founded on base feelings of jealousy and fear.

I’m often mystified by the strong reactions people have to health and fitness related news. One example was the recent court settlement involving the universally loathed Vibram Five Finger shoes.

More full disclosure: I have a pair, and I still wear them from time to time to run my trails around my property (and I wouldn’t dream of wearing them in public). I proudly admit to wearing them simply because it’s fun to run “barefoot” through the grass and they protect my feet from sticks and stones, and no, I didn’t buy into Vibram’s hype that barefoot running had been proven to reduce running injuries, any more than I’ve bought into the hype of pseudo-journalists who claim barefoot running is proven dangerous. The reality is that the jury is still out, and the general argument  — that a million years of evolution prepared us pretty well to go barefoot — is still compelling, as is the argument that we should be careful about going barefoot because we may have fouled up our feet beyond repair by wearing shoes.

Folks went into a feeding frenzy when they saw an icon of hippie fitness taken down a peg, even though the settlement was relatively small, and the facts of the case were completely obscured by the snarky tone of the authors and the Coliseum-like clamor of the masses.

The paleo-diet fad is another example of sticking it to the greens. Whenever some website posts a story about the health benefits of butter or bacon or other mainstream American comfort fare, you can count on the guys at the online water cooler to say “I told you so!” and unreflectively vow to eat more McDonald’s and KFC, even though the scientific reality is always far more complex than the pop-journalism of the web version, and even though there are many other good reasons for not eating meat, including climate change, water shortages, and animal cruelty. (And just this morning there’s this.)

Final full disclosure: I’m a meat eater, too, but I try to eat local meat that’s grass fed or raised in my own back yard. I eat butter (in moderation), and eggs from my chickens, and I’m worried about the environmental effects of industrial dairy and meat production. (And I know I’ll probably have a heart attack anyway, because my dad did…)

Climate-change denial comes from the same base instinct as bike-hate and hippie-hate. The denialists fear deep down that they’re wrong, but they don’t have the humility to admit it or the will power to change their ways, so they double down on their ignorant beliefs and unhealthy behaviors. (Putting smoke-spewing pipes or “Prius deterrents” on their pickups, known as “rolling coal,” is one recent manifestation.)

My point is basically this: Bike hate, hippie hate, fitness hate, and vegetarian hate all come from the same place: the irrational insecurities of people who are threatened when they see other folks trying to do something good. Unhealthy people watching others make healthy decisions are reminded of their own fears of a premature death (personal or global), and they transfer those negative feelings onto the folks who are doing what they know deep down they should be doing, while justifying their feelings by promoting falsehoods and stereotypes.

So next time you’re sitting in your car cursing that dude in the tight shorts who just ran a stoplight, remember this: He’s doing less harm to the planet that you are, he’s more likely to live a long and healthy life than you are, and he’s less likely to kill himself or someone else than you are.

Take heart, bicyclists, and take the hate for what it is: displaced jealousy from poor souls who are ignorant, unhealthy, and out-of-touch.

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