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Fred Clements: Are bikes the new gay marriage?

Published January 3, 2014
A blog by NBDA executive director Fred Clements.

Editor's note: This blog post was written by Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association. Clements' previous blog posts can be read on bikedealerblog.wordpress.com.

A Dec. 15 Boston Globe article declared that bicycles are emerging as a new target for conservatives in the ongoing "culture wars" in America.

Bikes, it seems, have finally become visible enough to receive the kind of colorful and aggressive comments more frequently reserved for hot-button issues like abortion rights, school prayer and gay marriage.

In the article, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is quoted as comparing cycling to swimming with sharks, "sooner or later you're going to get bitten." He then summed up his statesmanlike thinking with the comment, "cyclists are a pain in the ass to motorists." He then backed it up by having some bike lanes removed at a cost of about $300,000.

The Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz was then quoted as calling bicyclists "the most important danger in the city" of New York. She added that New York is a "city whose best neighborhoods are absolutely – begrimed, is the word – by these blazing blue Citibank bikes."

Dan Maes, a failed Republican candidate for governor in Colorado in 2010, opined that a local bike-sharing program "could threaten our personal freedoms." He added that efforts to boost cycling are "part of a greater strategy to rein in American cities under a United Nations treaty."

A unnamed conservative Washington Times columnist declared bike sharing to be "broken down socialism." Another declared that bike sharing is favored by "commune enthusiasts that are suitable only for "these so-called 'metrosexual' males everybody keeps talking about."

Never-shy conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh even jumped in, saying he "won't care" if his car door hits a passing cyclist. He also reportedly suggested that injured cyclists deserve what they get because they're victimizing auto drivers by forcing them to yield to others.

Admittedly these comments are few, and may not portend a true tidal wave of conservative anger towards bikes, but it is in the bicycle industry's best interest to head off any momentum that may get started.

There are a lot of people of all political stripes who ride and love bikes. We owe it to each of them, and to America, to fight for cycling and to do it in a strategic way.

So, in the spirit of getting 2014 off to a great start, let's create a new industry initiative: Adopt-A-Conservative™.

The idea would be for each member of the U.S. bicycle industry to identify, adopt, and convert one conservative non-cycling person to cycling in 2014. Take them on some rides. Do not talk politics unless you're a conservative as well. Refer to the self-sufficiency, patriotism, and money saved while riding a bike. Stress the fact that the bicycle industry is dominated by small businesses, the cornerstone of the global economy. Note that George W. Bush is an outstanding cyclist, that Republican Presidents Reagan and Nixon were both photographed on bicycles, and that there are many conservative members of Congress who are cyclists. Note that bike paths and roads routinely accommodate bikes at a fraction of the cost of what it costs to build a road for cars. Position bikes as something that can bring people together without compromising anyone's principles, whether they're liberal, conservative, independent, apathetic or BC (Beyond Category).

If Adopt-A-Conservative™ is successful, the sheer numbers would not be huge. There are approximately 772,146 people with jobs supported by bicycling in the U.S., according to Outdoor Industries Association. If each one of us converted one non-cycling conservative, what would be a modest 1.6 percent increase in cycling participation. But, the strategic benefit could be huge in positioning bikes as bipartisan, above politics, benefiting everyone.

The Globe article notes that this conservative attack on bikes is actually a result of the cycling movement's success and momentum. As the author writes, "In politics, you get attacked because you matter." The corollary is that you also get supported because you matter.

So let's each resolve to Adopt-A-Conservative™ in 2014 and pave (or map) the way for a great future for cycling in this country.

If successful, this could be a precursor for a much more ambitious campaign in 2015, Adopt-An-Apathetic™. The numbers would be much larger, though the success rate might be smaller because, after all, apathetics are apathetic.

But let's take it one step at a time. Adopt-A-Conservative™ today and plant the seeds for a powerful future for cycling in America.

(For the record, readers are urged to adopt liberals as well. We support equal opportunity adoption policies. The above suggestions should not be taken as being 100% serious. Happy New Year to all.)

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