November 4, 2010
The privilege of biking in the rain
On my drizzly bike ride to work this morning, this sage wisdom occurred to me: If you want to feel like you can conquer anything, take a bike ride in the rain. There’s something about that feeling of perseverance in unpleasant conditions, all with the end result of transportation from Point A to Point B, that just makes me feel virtuous. (I think you would feel even more special if you were in the bike taxi pictured above, though perhaps a bit less virtuous.)
But then I had a second thought. That’s easy for me to say, realizing that I was wearing waterproof pants and jacket, using waterproof panniers to carry my change of clothes and lunch, and riding a nice bike, which I purchased new from my favorite local bike shop.
Perhaps I am not so virtuous after all. I’ve written before about the notion of bike commuting as privilege. It seems strange to think of it that way, but really, bike commuting is relatively easy for me simply because I do have a level of privilege. I don’t have family members requiring child, elder, or illness-related care. I have a level of formal education that has helped me have more opportunities for work, including the ability to choose to work near my home. I don’t have to worry about getting to multiple appointments for services, medical care, or to search for a job. Any of those circumstances could, of course, change in an instant.
And if they did, and I did not have a car, my daily life would become much more complicated. My mid-size city does not have convenient and reliable public transportation. I do utilize the city bus at times, but more than once it has failed to show at the appointed time.
If we are to have communities which truly promote bike commuting for transportation, we have to address the needs of those who don’t have some of the privileges which I enjoy. That includes efficient multimodal transportation, for one thing.
But it also means making safe bikes and bike repairs accessible to everyone. One group in my city, R Community Bikes, has given away over 1,810 bikes this year alone, to help meet the basic transportation needs of those in need. All an individual needs is a signed letter from an employer, doctor, school, church, or social services agency stating why she needs a bike. They also go out to events at communities in need to repair bikes.
Programs like this are a great start, and I would love to hear about other such efforts to make bike commuting accessible to all. Perhaps donations of waterproof gear, or a bike taxi service like the one in Malaysia, floral plastic covering included?
p.s. Cycling in the rain requires some extra care. Here's what the League of American Bicyclist recommends.