Friday, October 28, 2011

Different Blog News, Same Blog Channel

So I've decided to start a bicycle blog. What, you mean this isn't already one? Well, it's sort of turned out that way, but originally I just planned to have this be a blog about my writing, my zines, general life updates, and the occasional poorly rendered MS Paint comic. However, my new-found love of transportation cycling has gradually taken over this blog until I feel like that's all I talk about here! And then, I feel like that's all I CAN talk about here, because blogs are supposed to be about one topic and I feel like I would be boring my, uh, "fanbase" if I talk about things other than bikes.

But I still want to blog about bicycle stuff! Hence, splitting the blog in twain, and since it makes a lot more sense to keep the zine/writing stuff under my zine's title, and give the bikey blog a bikey title, so it is written that Speeding Pedalcycle is where you want to go from now on to read my bikey updates. Of course, you can still read both blogs! But I feel like splitting in two will "maximize my search engine potential" and "expose my readership to startling new ideas" and "synergy." Really, it's just so I can customize my blog headers to hell and back without feeling like I have to cram too much in there. Even though I know that everyone only reads on RSS feeders now, I still feel the need to tinker with my damn layout every two weeks.

Look for content on Speeding Pedalcycle pretty soon. Maybe even today! I want to update at least twice a week, maybe three times. I have a bad tendency to forget about blogging for weeks at a time, but I think if I set a goal to update on certain days, it will get done. And I'll still be updating here, although probably not as often, because as I've mentioned my writing process is highly idiosyncratic and doesn't make for good blogging. But still, probably once a week or so, or whenever I have a project I'm really excited about (which, right now, I do!).

It worked for Netflix, and by gum, it will work for me.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Reality Doesn't Have to Suck: That GM Ad

There was some predictable outcry over the above General Motors ad a few days ago. Basically, the ad is terrible and so is GM (for a much bigger reason than this). But, IDK, I can't get as fired up about this as others.

I think my take on it was a little skewed compared to the rest of the bikeysphere. The "Reality Sucks" line struck me at hopelessly nihilistic, and definitely connected to the car (as it's a car ad) instead of the bike. As Rob likes to tell me when I go on about hating cars and driving, driving is a reality, and it's not going away, and yes, for most people it does suck. Yet, why a company would want the term "sucks" to come anywhere near their product baffles me. Fast food is often a necessity in our modern lives, but would you see Burger King running a commercial where a family is sitting down to a nice home-cooked meal, and then there's a cutaway to a dad rushing home with a bag of Whoppers? "Reality sucks, stop cooking, eat BK." No, because it's insane to compare your product to a slower, yet far more fulfilling alternative. Likewise, cars are a tool, ones that are often a necessity in our modern lives, but being reminded of this "reality"... does not strike me as the best way to go. If anything, it might cause someone to think "Hey, yeah, driving DOES suck! Wait, you can ride a bike to work, like it's a car? Does that suck as much as driving does?" Putting your competitor's product in your ad is a risky venture, and should only be done if you're absolutely certain your product is superior. It isn't at all clear that driving in areas that allow for transportation cycling is superior (in fact, proving that it's inferior is sort of the point of bicycle advocacy, right?), so really, the main thing I take away from this is GM is a self-hating corporation which is secretly engineering its own downfall.

The pictures further fuel this interpretaton. For one thing, the cyclist is attractive! He's not really my own type, but he's definitely got that generic advertising-model look going on. And while he's not smiling, he also doesn't have a doomed expression on his face saying "oh, man, I wish I had a truck right about now." He looks like he's concentrating, which I can understand, as my own face tends to scrunch up when I cycle, to the point that I look like I'm probably not enjoying myself very much. The girl in the picture, meanwhile, is smiling at him. Not sneering, or rolling her eyes, but genuinely smiling at him, even if she's WAY too close. Meanwhile, she's not watching the road. Does this mean GM customers are bad drivers?

So, really, my deconstruction of the ad would have to be: "The reality of our current transportation infrastructure is sub-par and often requires the use of a car, which we provide. However, there are alternatives, and these alternatives may not 'suck' as much as our product or others like it. Have we said 'suck' enough? Suck suck suck, our products suck." Awesome pitch for my side, GM! Here, have another bailout.

Of course, that's not what GM was going for by a long shot, I know that. I realize that my interpretation of this ad is influenced by my own hatred of cars (despite their "reality"). Still, I wonder just what they were going for. Nobody who currently has the privilege of being able to ride for transportation is going to "make the switch" after seeing this ad. I guess it makes GM truck owners feel a little better about themselves and their choice to carry around a 3000-pound steel cage. And of course, it got us all talking about GM, which is the ultimate goal of any and all advertising.

The below response ad by Giant is pretty awesome:

Basically, the fact that a major car company even deigns to "attack" transportation cycling means just one thing to me: they're scared and we're winning. Even ten years ago, you wouldn't have seen an ad like this, because cycling was so on the margins that this ad would have been a waste of GM's ad money. Call me an optimist, but I count this as a victory.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Wrong Kind of Smugness

Cycling community, I am disappoint.

Image credit: Peter Drew.

I'd seen the above image once or twice online, but I hadn't really thought about the social implications of it until I read Lovely Bicycle's post on the "fit/fat" controversy as it relates to drivers vs. cyclists. (I also didn't know the graffiti was as widespread as it apparently is.)

Look, people, I'm not against smugness. Lord knows, I take great pride in my tiny carbon footprint, even as I consume my roughly ten pounds of meat per day and take care of my three cats, whose combined non-biodegradable "leavings" for 2011 could probably build a structure the size of Angkor Wat. Yes, I have even been known to wear a T-shirt proclaiming my transportation method's lack of fossil fuel use for all to see. But something about trumpeting your smugness over weight and/or fitness just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

To state the most obvious problem with signs like this, not all drivers are fat and not all cyclists are fit. Some of those drivers are dedicated gym rats, and some of those cyclists (like me!) don't partake in any exercise other than transportation cycling. Some drivers are vegan raw-foodists who carefully analyze every calorie that comes into their body, some cyclists (me again!) would subsist on a diet entirely composed of candy necklaces and peanut butter if their spouses would let them. And I see a lot of cyclists (when you are one, you pay attention), and aside from the spandexed athletes, cyclists come in all colors, genders, and yes, sizes. True, you don't see many 300+ pound people on bikes, but that's likely more of a structural issue with the bikes themselves.

To state the second most obvious problem, cycling isn't great exercise. Oh, it's better than sitting in a car, of course. Most activities are. But compared to other sports like swimming and running, and especially when you consider the reduced speeds and mileage of transportation cycling vs. sport cycling, there's just no comparison. According to Dave's Bike Blog (which cites a bunch of science-y folks), "riding a bicycle 20 miles at an average 15 miles per hour is equal to running 5.6 miles at any speed." Considering that most commuters/everyday riders don't clock nearly 20 miles per trip, and also ride somewhere around 8-10 mph, it becomes clear that transportation cycling is only a marginally more effective exercise than working a slot machine. At least that will tone your arms.

At 10 MPH, I don't even burn off the bugs I swallow whilst riding.

I even think these measurements are too generous to cycling, because they don't factor in coasting, which you don't do in a paceline or athletic event but which takes up at least a quarter of your time when everyday cycling on a non-fixed-gear bike. Nothing feels as good as coasting down a gentle hill, it's the closest thing to human flight that isn't hang-gliding (and far more accessible), but calories burned? Somewhere between zero and one, I reckon, and less than that if you're eating a candy necklace while you coast.

Think about it: The bicycle was invented because people were too lazy/impatient to walk everywhere and horses are a PITA. (Also, they have an annoying tendency to die off during global cataclysms.) The same impulse to save time and energy underlie the choices of both transportation bicyclists and SUV drivers, and while I can rail against the driver for contributing to global warming and suburban sprawl and the death of untold millions, I can't rightly claim to be less lazy than him or her. Let whosoever among us is the least lazy cast the first stone, and man, casting stones is work. As is finding parking spaces, which is something that I almost never have to worry about. (See, it's perfectly possible to be smug over things besides weight!)

Image credit: Peter Drew.
To state yet another obvious problem, signs like these further prop up the falsehood that fatness is always unfit, and that thinness is always healthy. Anyone who's struggled with an eating disorder knows that the latter is definitely untrue, and there's quite a bit of anecdotal evidence on the Lovely Bicycle post re: larger, fit commuters that invalidates the former. I'm not too keen on the martyr-type attitude that often comes with fitness advocates, anyway. You see it in Cathy-level jokes about foregoing dessert or boasting about how many hours you've plugged away at the gym, with no hints that fitness can be fun or fulfilling. What does "fitness" mean, anyway? Wikipedia (always a trusted source!) defines physical fitness as "a measure of the body’s ability to function efficiently and effectively in work and leisure activities, to be healthy, to resist hypokinetic diseases, and to meet emergency situations." Nothing about this definition relates to weight specifically, and it's not a state that requires intense training (or dessert skipping) to achieve. Personally, I would like to see the concept of "fitness" dumped, to be replaced with a more holistic view of physical activity that doesn't require setting aside time for exercise. For 95% of people, daily transportation cycling or walking combined with smaller activities like climbing stairs instead of taking elevators is all you need to achieve a level of fitness that is perfectly adequate for any of your needs. Anything else is just gravy.

In closing, you have the right to feel smug over the person who drives a mile to the gym. But not because you're fitter than them, because you might not be, and it doesn't matter anyway! There are so many reasons to champion bikes for short-haul urban transportation, ones that don't require shaming a large (no pun intended) segment of Americans who are likely going to be put off by your exclusionary slogans.