TDU - a reason to ride, but a missed opportunity?

TDU – a reason to ride, but a missed opportunity?

 

The TDU (Tour Down Under) is less than a week away now, which means that in Adelaide, cycling is in full effect. It’s great for the city, it’s vibrancy, it’s economy, and presumably, for cycling.

Something you can’t help but to notice when living here is that for the two or three weeks leading up to the TDU, it suddenly seems like everyone is really into cycling. There are bikes everywhere. People are walking around in their cycling t-shirts and their little caps. Facebook is awash with “today I rode with (insert pro-team here) and here is a picture of the back of their bunch where I was the entire time because I wasn’t riding with them as much as riding behind them for a while, but that’s cool because they were totally stoked to have me there” posts. There are pro-sightings everywhere, which, to be honest, is pretty cool if you’re into cycling. And, of course, everyone is riding all of the time.

But not just the roadies. I mean, it’s mainly roadies, but it’s also everyone. I might be wrong, of course, but it seems like the TDU is a big enough event that the general public actually gets a little excited about it, dusts the old treadly off, and heads out for a bit of a spin. It’s pretty great.

So in that respect, and many others, the TDU is a great event for cycling as opposed to merely being good for racing or road bikes. It’s Adelaide’s Tour de France, where people with no interest in cycling discover they have a fleeting interest in cycling that lasts for about a week, but hey, it’s something. And something is a step in the right direction. That small window of interest chips away at the resistance to cycling for more and more people each year. It’s certainly better than nothing, but I can’t help but feeling like it’s a bit of a missed opportunity to make something more of it for the promotion of practical cycling rather than recreational cycling.

And of course, because I’m a cynical prick, I can’t help but to ponder and then dwell on the dark underbelly that waddles in with this cash-cow: the hubbards, the poseurs, the wankers, and the dickheads.

I’m exaggerating a little, of course, but the usual selection of regular cyclists you see day-to-day become lost in a sea of the sometimes-cycling locals caught up in the excitement, along with a few thousand inter-state fans, proudly displaying their brightest kit and shiniest parts.

All of this is good, of course. It’s cute, all of those grown adults dressing up like their favourite stars riding their little bikes around! Really, I’m not kidding – it is a bit cute, but in a far less patronizing way than I am making it sound. It’s great that Adelaide has an event that can get so many people excited about cycling for a time, and everybody wins.

Right?

Well, I don’t think anybody actually looses, per-se. The closest thing I can think of that would be an actual negative would be the effect that a few thousand extra cyclists who aren’t terribly familiar with the city, who may not be terribly familiar with cycling etiquette, who may not even be terribly skilled at riding a bike, and the intensified perception that I’m sure many locals have: that “their” roads are being taken over by these bloody cyclists!

Now, to be sure, those people – the ones who arc up about cyclists – are probably of the same opinion for the rest of the year and it’s just amplified during the Tour. They’re probably not going to get caught up in the excitement of the Tour so much as the opportunity to rail against the public menace that cyclists surely are.

So while tourism wins, retail wins, the food and beverage industry wins, and cycling wins for a few weeks, the only lasting effect that cycling seems to have on the general public in Australia is: the war for our roads!

So of the influx of hubbards, poseurs, wankers, and dickheads that the TDU brings, only two of these are a real problem. Hubbards and poseurs, aside from being comprised of different people depending on who is doing the labeling, are not a problem so much as a cause for prolonged eye-rolling and guffawing from those a little too pretentious to remain completely innocent. A source of mild amusement and moral indignation, respectively, and classic in-group/out-group/”we’re so much better than them” thinking.

It’s the wankers and dickheads that are the problem. Again, who is included in these categories is debatable depending on who you ask, but I think we all have a clear image in our heads when someone mentions dickhead cyclists. This is not a new problem, of course. They will always exist wherever cycling does, so the TDU doesn’t create this problem so much as intensifies the effect. Concentrates the effluence of wankery and dickheadery cycling through the streets of Adelaide. It’s more of a people problem, of course. Some people are dickheads, some people cycle, therefore some cyclists are dickheads (I know that isn’t strictly a valid argument, philosophy nerds, but it works for our purposes here).

So, I guess the only downside of the TDU is that Adelaide has to deal with an excess of wanky dickheads. There’s worse things and it’s temporary, and I don’t think that this would outweigh the good that the TDU does for cycling in Adelaide, but it’s perhaps something worth considering for considerations sake, and that’s mainly because of how easily (the media in) Adelaide and other places in Australia freak out about even the most minor infringements that cycling (doesn’t) have on their roads. You know, the one’s for cars.

So on the one hand, the TDU gets loads of people excited about cycling. That’s good. It get’s people interested in and out on bikes. That’s better. More bikes is good. On the other hand, cyclists will behave like buffoons at the usual rate, but in much higher numbers when there are so many of them. Some just get a little caught up in all of the excitement and forget that the roads are still a shared space. Bravado increases. The bunch rides get a whole lot bunchier. People are out to prove themselves.

I think that perhaps because it is primarily a celebration of road cycling rather than practical cycling, the kind that really needs encouraging in Australia, that this is way out on the periphery of people’s minds during the TDU. People aren’t thinking about using a bike to ride to the shops. They are thinking about Lyca, shaved legs, looking pro, and riding hard. On the road, then, motorists who are less than enthused about having to deal with reality are provided with a gluttony of “examples” of bloody Lycra-louts, some of which who will inevitably do the wrong thing, and then, of course, “all cyclists are reckless scoff-laws”, etc, etc.

And eventually we arrive at the point:

I guess what I’m saying is that while the TDU is good for Adelaide as a whole and for cycling in certain respects, it could perhaps make more of an effort (or rather, other groups or indeed the government could use it as a massive launch pad for their efforts) to promote cycling as the every-day, normal, practical, and increasingly essential activity that it is.

Thoughts?

 

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