How Conservative Cyclists And Bicycling Environmentalists Talk Past Each Other

A few weeks ago I read How to Talk About Cycling to a Conservative, an article by Tom Bowden, a conservative corporate lawyer in Virginia who happens to be a bike commuter, and writes: " speaking as a right wing cyclist, here are some thoughts on how to talk to Republicans, Conservatives, TeaParty types, and even libertarians."

Now I never thought bike riding was particularly political, lots of people do it. Then John Boehner and friends started complaining about investments in bike infrastructure, and in my home town the new conservative right wing mayor started tearing up bike lanes, and I began to wonder if they think we are all like Che Guevera in spandex.

So I was intrigued by Bowden's article. He started off strong, with some very good points:

Cycling is an exercise (literally) of a fundamental freedom - freedom of movement. Although not explicitly defined in the Constitution, it is derived from the "privileges and immunities clause" as interpreted by the Supreme Court in United States v. Wheeler, 254 U.S. 281 (1920). (You were warned: I am in fact a lawyer). This is why you don't need a passport to enter New Jersey.


Ronald Reagan rode a bike.

But then he warned that over-the-top rhetoric turns off Conservatives, and immediately went completely over the top himself. I spiked the story, thinking that it would inflame both sides of the political divide, something that we never do on TreeHugger.

But UTNE editor Keith Goetzman does not have such tender apolitical sensitivities; he goes straight at'em in How Not to Talk to a Bicycling Environmentalist, listing some of the things that made him crazy:

"If you must meet a conservative face to face, wear a suit! It won't kill you. Think of it as camouflage--you may find them nodding their heads in agreement even before you open your mouth."

Goetzman responds:

Really? We should don business-world power attire simply to be taken seriously?.... I know plenty of liberal bikers who wear suits to their jobs and meet face to face with conservatives every day. We're not all clad in biker-hipster wear from sunup to sundown.


Richard Nixon rode a bike.

I don't know when wearing a suit made one conservative; it seems the liberal establishment wears them too. Bowden also suggests that you shouldn't bring up climate change;

If it's as bad as Al Gore says it is, it will take more than a few bike lanes to fix it. But more importantly, you don't need to win that fight (or even engage in it) to make your point. Cycling has plenty of merit without dragging in tangential and controversial issues like Global... whatever the heck they call it this week.

Goetzman responds appropriately:

OK, dude, you just shredded much of your credibility as a reasonable person. Here, for your information, is what turns off--all right, pisses off--bicycling environmentalists: First, portray well-established climate science solely as the pet theory of a Democratic ex-vice president. Second, trivialize the very real reduced emissions that millions of bicyclists bring about every day by avoiding car trips. Finally, insinuate that the very concept of climate change is wack because it goes by a few different terms depending on the context. Nice work: We're livid.


George Bush Seriously rode a bike.

Goetzman takes a pass on the one that got me angry:

Refrain from gushing praise of European cycling culture, e.g. the Dutch, the Danes, or whoever. Conservatives are not inclined to emulate pre-colonial imperialist has-beens - at least not consciously.

Right, the old cheese eating surrender monkey thing, American exceptionalism, xenophobia, Americans have nothing to learn from anyone anywhere else, unless their name is Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum. (Ayn Rand)

Bowden does make some good points, and I like his conclusion:

Bottom line (and that is what conservatives like to think they are all about): Cycling saves money, saves lives and makes us stronger as individuals and as a nation. Spending money to support cycling is like putting money in the bank-it pays big dividends at low risk. It's as all American as Mom's apple pie. How much more conservative can you get?

I just wish I hadn't had to work my way through so much of his over-the-top rhetoric to get to it.

More in the Utne Reader

More on Bikes and Politics
Can Political Opposition to Transit/Rail/Bikes be Explained by the Rural/Urban Divide?
Pedaling Revolution: Could There Be Such Thing As a Best-Selling Bicycle Book?

Follow me on Twitter! @lloydalter and friend me on Facebook

Tags: Bikes | Biking | Ride Your Bike

Best of TreeHugger