(There’s nothing more pathetic than a mid or post race cycle fight)
The Wall Street Journal published Five Health Reasons to Take Up Bicycling a few days ago, but I’m not sure why.
It appeared in the Health section of the website, and it was written by a professor of psychiatry and medicine. That’s perfectly fine, and I should be expecting an article telling me of the health benefits of cycling, right? You sort of get a little about that, but mostly you get a weird mix of other random reasons that you should take up cycling, like, for example, that it will make the roads safer for those driving cars. Hmmm, ok… I’m not sure she really understands the issues cycling has to deal with. Looks like someone brought a doctor to a cycle fight.
Now, I was expecting the health reasons to be limited to physical health, as that is almost exclusively what we get when “health reasons” comes up, but the author is a professor of psychiatry, so I guess I should have noted that and expected this to be a little more broad than that. Still…
This is a thoroughly confusing article. It starts with this:
What would it take for the average person in an affluent nation, like the U.S., to want to bike? Experience in Denmark shows that a good infrastructure alone is not enough to induce people to bike–it has to become an aspirational symbol of freedom and social consciousness.
In other words, we need to make biking sexy.
Lets unpack this mess a little. The assertion is that people living in an affluent nation, like the U.S., obviously, don’t want to cycle. Judging by mode share, that’s probably true, though that is changing. However, let’s have a look at countries that have a preeeety good level of affluence: Norway, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. These countries rank higher than the US of A on the Human Development Index, Switzerland and Norway are in front and Netherlands one spot behind in terms of GDP, the USA is not even close when it comes to healthcare, and, well, what do you know? They all happen to have a somewhat more impressive rate of cycling!
So affluence is out the door, but cycling still needs to be “an aspirational symbol of freedom and social consciousness”, right? Well… no.
Did the hugely long list of North-Western-ish European countries, and more recently, Seville, Bogota, and even New York City simply put out a big PR campaign to make cycling cool in the hopes that this would get the nation cycling? I don’t think so. They put in cycling infrastructure. Decent cycling infrastructure. They made driving more difficult. They made cycling easier, and safer. People who take up cycling because it is trendy only do so because it’s not all that difficult to do so. That’s why it’s trendy. Trends aren’t difficult to take up, otherwise they wouldn’t catch on enough to be trendy. The people who start trends have initiative, the people who follow them have none (or at least less).
So, health reasons.
Ok, you are writing an article for a major newspaper, and you choose to title it Five Health Reasons to Take Up Bicycling. Hot tip: get five (5) health reasons before committing to the title.
Alright, so past the first reason, cleverly titled, Health, we’re already out of health reasons, strictly speaking. Next is that regular commuting by bike may cause you to be less likely to “indulge in other bad habits”. First of all, other bad habits?!? Secondly, well, secondly, that’s fine. Getting healthier tends to make you want to get even more healthy, so that’s true.
Next up is more productivity at work and less likely to call in sick. Boring. Honestly, that’s supposed to get me excited about taking up cycling in traffic that often wants me dead if I’m not already pumped about that?
Cool factor. Health reason?
Safety. Ah, ok, if I get to stay alive, that’s pretty good for my health, right? Safety in numbers and all that, yeah? “Greater use of bikes may reduce motor vehicle accidents, which in the U.S. is the leading cause of death in young adults. The uber-chic Hovding 2.0, an “invisible” bicycle helmet which comes with an air bag, can protect your head while making sure your hairdo never gets mussed up!” Ugggghhh. Right. It makes people in cars safer. And as for you cyclists, here’s another helmet to protect your well-styled coiffures. Go forth and stay alive.
And we’re done.
Haven’t wasted enough time yet? Well, just head on over to the comment section! Here you will find a fine selection of the usual tales of cycling near-death experiences, someone worrying about skin cancer if they cycle lots, someone admonishing the WSJ for picturing a cyclist who is neither wearing a helmet nor shoes (while she is stationary on an empty beach), someone claiming that cyclist deaths will “skyrocket” if there are more of them on the roads, and that cycling will give you prostate cancer. Sounds about right. Write an article with no real argument: expect totally random comments (although, that’s nothing new when it comes to comments).
All this article says to me is that cycling is a hot topic right now and that the WSJ merely wanted someone to write something about it. Box ticked. It is neither informative nor thought-provoking, and before you accuse me of doing the same (I don’t think I’ve yet to make an actual point!), I’ll say that this article may be representative of too much of the piecemeal approach of those who are supposed to be responsible for providing the resources to encourage cycling, but who aren’t really invested or all that interested in it generally, and we get bits and pieces of cycling infrastructure and policy that doesn’t work, and then we have to hear, “we built you that one cycle lane that isn’t connected to anything, and no one is using it! Bloody cyclists!!!”.
Let’s leave it to people who are informed, interested, and invested in cycling to write about cycling (and comment on cycling articles), and let’s put the same kind of people in positions where they can inform those who are responsible for deciding how our communities develop, and/or be those people directly. Deal?
You want to talk about health? Bring a doctor. You want to talk about getting more people to use a bicycle for transportation? You might want to bring someone in who knows the issues. At the Wall Street Journal, someone brought a doctor to a cycle fight.
Header image: source