Yesterday I went on a six- or seven-mile ride with my stepdaughter. The destination was a local health club with an indoor pool. Before jumping into the pool, I ran two miles on a treadmill. I watched the first 20 minutes of a Harry Potter film. (Do the math. Yes, that’s how fast I run these days.) Outside it was a gloriously beautiful day. I felt like one of those people who drive a car to a spinning class.
But the victory was that when my 13-year-old stepdaughter asked to go to the pool, I offered to accompany her on bike, and she agreed without any attempt at negotiation. She has a cruiser bike with the seat too low. She knows I think it’s too low. I decided to leave that be.
We had fun in the pool. Determined to make this bike-trip as fun as I could, we stopped for pizza on the way home. Then, for the most unpleasant two-mile stretch of the entire ride, we took the bike lane along Route 66 (even though there’s a fantastic segregated multi-use path on the opposite side of the street).
In spite of any quaint notions you may have about Historic Route 66, there are parts of it that are really icky. Cars were whizzing by. If I’d been by myself, it wouldn’t have bothered me. But I kept an eye on her in my rear-view mirror. She goes sooo slow on that cruiser bike, with her knees up in her face from low seat height. Her slow speed only prolonged her exposure to the traffic on Route 66. But she wasn’t complaining, so neither would I.
In the final mile of the home stretch, she shot ahead of me with a burst of speed. And I thought, My god, is she actually having fun!?
Then she stopped abruptly and announced, “My butt is so sore!”
It was a very fragile moment. If I mishandled it, the experience could have been tainted (pun intended) by focusing on the negative aspects of the ride. So we pushed the bikes the rest of the way home. (Have I ever mentioned how much I dislike pushing my bike?) This allowed us to arrive at the house triumphant.
President Lyndon Johnson’s view of the Vietnam war is often characterized as, “Withdraw and declare victory.” After escalating the war in order to achieve a clear and decisive victory, the death toll and the political price became too high, and victory unattainable.
My preferred definition of victory at the end of my bike ride would have been a bit more ideal — my stepdaughter joyfully riding with her seat properly adjusted, and climbing that final hill with no problems. Unattainable.
I can’t speak for other bike advocates, but I harbor an idealized vision of the world where bikes are mainstream, cars are used sparingly, and the transportation infrastructure reflects this cultural change. I also want to see this change in my lifetime — as much as I would have liked to see my stepdaughter arrive home in the saddle. Because advocacy overreach leads to a backlash, sometimes we need to know when to walk home and declare victory.Â Somebody once said, “For every activist there is an equal and opposite reactionary.” Case in point: The efforts across the country to remove bike lanes after advocates and municipalities had put them in place.
I think my ride with my stepdaughter makes a template for how advocacy can work. Make it fun. Buy some pizza. Stop when someone’s butt is hurting.
Speaking of butthurt…
Lovingthebike.com has a poll asking readers to vote for their favorite cycling blogs in six categories.
I try not to feel slighted when Commute by Bike doesn’t appear at the top of lists like this. It’s when we don’t appear on these lists at all that I get really butthurt. It’s not that I feel entitled, it’s that we try really hard to be the best resource for information, advocacy, and articles relevant to bike commuters. If you think we’re doing a good job, get on over there and vote.