We Need a Practical Cycling Club

19 Sep 2020

I’d like to see more cyclists out on the road. Specifically, I’d like to see more practical cyclists. The more of us there are out there, the safer we will be and the more likely we will be to receive funding for infrastructure. That led me to thinking about the barriers to cycling. Here’s what came to mind (I’m sure there are more):

  • safety (and perceived safety)
  • rain & snow
  • I don’t want to show up to work all sweaty
  • security
  • bikes can be expensive
  • bike culture (but what if I’m not a middle-aged white guy in spandex?)
  • gotta get the kids to school/practice/etc
  • I can’t carry my groceries
  • it takes longer / I don’t have time in my schedule

Although a lot of these things might seem to be out of control of the individual at first glance, most of them can be dealt with if you want to use your bike for practical transportation. The one that stuck out to me, however, was ‘bike culture’. I mean, sure, you can just ignore what people think of you, but we are social animals and at the very least you want to not feel alone.

This is where a practical cycling club comes in. What if instead of worrying about the culture, you tried to make your own culture? What if you had a supportive community to help you figure things out? What if you relied on your bike to get to work/school/wherever and you were able to borrow a part from someone you knew?

So what would it look like? I’m not quite sure, but here is what comes to mind:

  • It should be local. Sure, a state or national organization sounds neat, but what I really want is people with intimate knowledge of my area, who can make suggestions about where to ride or even come pick me up if something goes horribly wrong on a ride.
  • It should be inclusive. By this I don’t mean “everyone is welcome to join” (though they would be), but rather that the club should focus on actively removing barriers and onboarding new practical cyclists. It is sad that a vehicle so enmeshed with women’s rights is now dominated by men. Likewise, in a country in which wealth is so unequally distributed by ethnicity, reducing or removing the $2,500 annual cost of owning a car (which doesn’t include car payments, by the way) could make a huge difference for a lot of families. A practical cycling club would actively reach out to underrepresented communities and help them start cycling.
  • It should be easy. You shouldn’t need special equipment to join (not even a bicycle, actually, the club should help people get started, even if they aren’t members, see above point). No group rides with minimum speeds.

Okay, but what would the club do? Again, not sure, but here’s what comes to mind:

  • Probably something really simple for online presence, maybe a webpage with information and a discord server. Things like suggested bike shops, a map, and other resources. Again, it should be easy, so not a website that requires a lot of work.
  • Periodic meetups. Online if there happens to be a pandemic or something, but otherwise ride to a place and grab a bite to eat with some friendly folks.
  • Mutual aid. Maybe have a channel on the discord where folks can post if they are taking a longer ride (similar to logging a flight plan when hiking). A place to ask for help if you get a flat and don’t have a spare.
  • Other activities, such as attending city council meetings (and maybe advocating for bicycle stuff), volunteering at a build-a-bike.

Of course, I also wonder if a practical transportation club would be better. Would the benefits of a bigger tent including walkers and transit outweigh the loss in specificity? These are questions for another day (or another post), so I’ll leave them for now.

Anyway, I’m not sure if this is even a good idea (I like it, but I’m a demographic of one). For now I’m going to continue to work on the practical cycling maps that I’ve started. However, if you also think that this is something that should exist, let me know (I’m assuming that most people who are reading this know me personally, otherwise my email is my first name @ this domain).