Staying Together: Group Ride Etiquette, Conspicuous Bicycle Consumption, Institutional Memory of Small Groups

here may be snow on the ground, and the roads may still be narrow due to the plow-push along the sides, but there are still lots of people on bicycles commuting to work, doing errands, enjoying the sunshine even on days when the temperature is below freezing.

Times are truly changing.  And here are three short posts – the first two about bicycle culture and the last about the need for small groups to find ways to remember their own history so that they can build on past efforts.

Group Ride Etiquette

Conspicuous Bicycling Consumption

Institutional Memory of Small Groups


Group Ride Etiquette

I love group bike rides.  Being with others motivates and pleases me.  Being with people who are older, and younger, and stronger, and slower reminds me that this is a sport I share with huge numbers of all types of other people.  I love the flow of conversation followed by solitary sight-seeing as we pedal through the winding countryside.  I love the group solidarity, the calls of “slowing” and “clear” at intersections and the finger pointing at road hazards as we pass. I feel safer, go faster and longer. It’s a pleasure not having to constantly check a map or worry about loosing my way.  I feel like I’m having fun rather than exercising.

But what drives me crazy about group rides are the inevitable presence of one or two people who don’t seem to understand that good bike citizenship means accepting that we are sharing the road not only with each other but with pedestrians and cars as well.  Massachusetts’ law allows cyclists to ride two abreast where conditions allow.  But common curtesy says that if someone wants to pass – on a bike or in a car – you pull over into a single file.  In particular, when someone yells “car back” I’m flabbergasted by the people who don’t immediately pull over to the right so the car can pass.  I’m not talking about the narrow-road situations where it isn’t safe to pull over or for the car to pass.  I’m talking about situations where it would be safe for the car to pass if the bikes gave them room and not as safe if the cyclists don’t move over.

I understand that it sometimes takes a second or two to say “pulling in” and wait for a space to appear.  And sometimes it takes a while for the car to advance along the line. But that’s not an excuse to delay.  Maybe these idiots think that it’s their right as “vehicles” to block the lane.  Or maybe they’re trying somehow to make a “statement” about the superiority of bicycles to cars.

But what they don’t seem to realize is that they are endangering not only themselves but all the rest of us – and the car driver.  Many car drivers won’t pass a line of cyclists until they see a clear space not only during the passing period but also somewhere to pull back to the right should a car suddenly appear coming in the other direction.  So the driver lurks at the back of the line of cyclists, getting anxious and frustrated, and making all of us nervous, until finally they get tired of waiting and pull out to start passing – going too fast and not at all friendly.

It’s not a happy scenario.  If we want to be treated with respect as bicyclists we need to give it as well.

Related posts:

Warm Weather Cycling: On The Open Road Again


Time To Stop Behaving Badly On Bikes


In Praise of Just Enjoying the Ride




Conspicuous Bicycling Consumption

The brilliance of modern advertising is based on the realization that, beyond survival basics, consumption is driven as much (or even more) by emotional needs as by functional necessities.  We may not be told much about the nutritional content of the steak, but we are certainly encouraged to hear the sizzle and associate eating it with the kind of lifestyle we aspire to.

So it is a sign of bicycling’s movement into the American mainstream that we now have articles about bikes and fashion, about celebrity cyclists, about bike style and snobbery.  As one writer put it, “like that other mode of transportation, the car, they are becoming a means of expressing ourselves, for displaying who we are.” (“Two Wheels Are Becoming As Chic As Four” by Alex Marshall, 11/25/2010)

Given my daughter’s endless disparagement of my sense of style, I’m probably not a good person to carry that part of the discussion forward.  Still, I know enough to be able to point out that bike chic is different than gear obsession, but not entirely.

Gear heads are people who get excited about the latest crank set, or the details of welding, or the exact percentages of carbon and titanium.  Except for the extremely small numbers of actual racers, for whom grams really count, this is mostly about status and money – like driving a Jaguar rather than a Hyundai.  The reason is that most trips, by bike or car, are short.  And not only is the quality of the bike almost irrelevant to the speed of travel through city streets, it is actually safer and more comfortable to ride a fatter-tired, fender and basket-laden, soft seated and unremarkable bike than to go upscale.  In addition, the cheap bike is less likely to get stolen – someone would have to be really desperate to go after my $150 commuter clunker!  Gear heads are simply pursuing another type of chic-ness.

A British doctor recently tested this theory.  For six months he tossed a coin every morning to determine whether he’d commute using his $1,600 carbon-frame bike or his $80 clunker.  Then he recorded how long it took for his daily 27-mile round trip.  His study published in the British Medical Journal, found that “the average journey time using his heavy, old bike was 1 hour 47 minutes and the average journey for the new, lighter new bike was 1 hour 48 minutes.  ‘A reduction in the weight of the cyclist rather than that of the bicycle may deliver great benefit at reduced cost,’ the study says.”

It’s true that long distance and multi-day rides go easier with a smoother, light-weight machine.  On my most recent big bike tour, a wonderful 7-day ride around the NY Finger Lakes called the Bon Ton Roulet my companions all kept saying that I’d be doing better if I had a better bike; something like their $2,000 carbon-titanium speedsters.  But I think my slowness up those endless hills had more to do with my stake of fitness than with my $500 Bikes Not Bombs put-together-from-recycled parts road bike.

Still, I do occasionally borrow a friend’s fancy machine.  I pick it up and marvel at its light weight.  I get on and glide around the block and appreciate its smoothness.  Maybe when I win the lottery…

Related Posts:

Cycling and Cents:  The Bicycle’s ROI


Institutional Memory of Small Groups

My son could spend hours looking through our family photo albums.  Each picture triggers wonderful stories that help pass on to the next generation our memories of past events and remind my wife and I of how much old friends are still part of our lives.  But we are increasing frustrated by the unlabeled and undated pictures of people or events that we already don’t remember, and the many people and events for which we have no pictures at all.  Those represent blanks in our family history, gaps in the story of our lives.

Small organizations have the same problem.  Each time a member leaves, a chunk of institutional memory disappears.  It’s not about nostalgia.  Organizations, like every human grouping from individuals to societies, grow through experience – meaning that wisdom comes from memory.  Big organizations spend millions finding ways to collect and share experiences and evolving insights.  Every organization, big or small, needs an institutional memory.

History is also identity.  Our reputation, character, and connections are largely the result of past actions.  If we loose contact with our pasts we also loose both the advantages of our heritage and the strength of self-knowledge.  Knowing our own back story helps us position ourselves for effective action around new challenges.  It also helps us explain ourselves to others – those who we hope to influence as well as those whose support we seek.

So every group, especially small organizations, should keep an annotated scrap book.  Departing board members should be interviewed and the discussion recorded.  Old posters and petitions should be put up on office walls.  Every public event should include at least 3 minutes of back story explanation.  Every newsletter should have at least a couple paragraphs of “how we first got involved with this issue.”  We should create archives, not just for tax review but for issue and process understanding.  And we should regularly celebrate our anniversaries and growth, acknowledge and thank our founders and predecessors.

We need to act as if we are saving our stories for our children – and grandchildren.  If we don’t do it, who will?  If they don’t know, how can they build on what we’ve done?

Related Posts:

Bikes Not Bombs: Lessons About Sustainable Organizing for Progressive Change

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