Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sport vs Transport: a Polarisation

Bella Ciao with House of Talents Basket
When I write about topics such as cycling clothing, fixed gear, bike handling skills, etc., someone will inevitably chime in to point out that these things are not necessary for "everyday" cycling. This is rather ironic given that my blog started precisely because I felt such things were not necessary for everyday cycling. It is also ironic, because I still very much agree. This here above is a transportation bicycle. It is my "everyday bike" - that is, the bicycle I ride to get around. In a skirt and blouse. In a 3/4 length overcoat. In office shoes. With my laptop bag strapped to the rear rack. It is the exact same type of bicycle I rode for transportation when I first started this blog. My preferences in this regard have not changed over time; they have only solidified.

Francesco Moser 2.0
Now this here is a roadbike. This type of bicycle is designed for sport, and it is meant to go fast over long distances. I love riding this thing. I ride is as fast as I can, because that's the point - to get an intense workout and to see how well I can do. As with other athletic activities (jogging, aerobics, skiing), it is more comfortable and also customary to wear special clothing for roadcycling. That is why on my roadbike I wear padded shorts, a cycling jersey, padded gloves and dorky sunglasses. Sometimes even a helmet. Over time, I have come to enjoy the sport of roadcycling more and more, and while I am not very good at it yet, I hope that some day I might be. I've recently joined a local club. Maybe in a couple of years I can even race. But all of this has as little to do with me as a transportational cyclist, as a newfound interest in running would have with my being a pedestrian. 

P-Town Bike Walking
It is an unfortunate fact that in some countries today, including the US, cycling for sport and cycling for transportation are often confounded. It is also true that when some people get into road cycling, athletic sensibilities end up colouring their view of what transportation cycling should be like as well: They grow impatient with the slower speed of upright bikes, and find it strange to wear everyday clothes on a bicycle at all. For these reasons, I do understand why it makes some nervous when roadcycling topics appear on this blog. Will I eventually be lost to this mentality? I have good reason to believe that no. I am not willing to change the way I dress in order to accommodate the bike, and I cannot ride a roadbike comfortably in my regular clothing. There have been situations where I've ridden diamond frame bikes with drop bars for transportation out of necessity, and I can certainly do it. But inevitably I am miserable, and I long for my upright step-through bike. 

Van Nicholas, Art Supplies
Aside from the clothing issue, I just feel safer and more relaxed cycling through traffic in an upright position. And since I control my speed in an urban environment anyhow, my upright bike is more than good enough for me in that respect.  Step-through frames have the additional advantage in that they are easy to hop on and off, especially with packages on the rear rack. No matter how nicely a bicycle handles, unless it has a step-through frame I ultimately find it impractical for me in an everyday context.  I have very clear ideas at this point of what works for me as a transportation bicycle, and being involved in roadcycling has only made me appreciate the differences between sport and transport more. I have no desire to blend the two activities. When I ride a roadbike, I basically look like this and I am not bothered by that in the least. Speed over style, to be sure. But for getting around in everyday life, I want to retain my identity, and I want to feel comfortable in every way. 

Test Riding a Bobbin Birdie
To me, thinking of roadcycling and transportation cycling as two radically different things just seems like common sense. In Europe I know many people who race for sport, but get around town on a traditional upright bicycle, and this is considered entirely normal. Why even Henry of Workcycles used to race, and still enjoys riding his track bike on the velodrome on a regular basis. Perhaps some day this dichotomy will be better understood in the US as well. Some do believe that road and transportational cycling can overlap, or at least inform each other, and I am not threatened by that point of view. Also, sometimes it's just fun or funny to combine the two: There are, after all, cargo bike races, Brompton races, and no doubt someone out there has held an omafiets race. Steven Fleming of cycle-space wrote a post on how racing for sport and riding a cargo bike for transportation figure into his identity, which I certainly found interesting. Me, I simply see the road vs transportation cycling dichotomy as the 2-wheeled version of walking vs jogging. The more I cycle for transportation, and the more involved I get in roadcycling as a sport, the more I appreciate them as two distinct and separate realms. 

82 comments:

  1. I'm a transportation cyclist who commutes at "road cycling" speeds in everyday clothes.

    I know that makes some category-people's head explode.

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    1. Doesn't make my head explode. It's just different from what I prefer.

      Out of curiosity:
      1. what do you consider road-cycling speed?
      2. how long and through what kind of an environment is your commute?

      I can go 17mph easy on the bike in the first picture when there are no hills. But I usually do not, because I don't feel it's safe to do so in the city.

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    2. Robert: The categorization is helpful, especially when infrastructure is involved. Cyclists who ride at "road cycling" speeds in the city, in bike lanes and on cycle tracks are a menace.

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    3. That is precisely why in some countries (Austria being one example), roadbikes - which are defined as bikes that exceed a certain speed limit (possibly 20km/h?) - are not allowed in the cycle paths and are required to use the road. I think that's pretty fair.

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  2. To this day I still remember Miss Commuter's MakeOver Tips:

    Many readers, weekend warriors all, have written me saying they would love to commute by bicycle, but feel entirely out of sorts when riding from Monday to Friday in their usual sporty garb.

    Well of course, boys and girls! There are some hard and fast rules to commuter dressing that you simply must know before you can consider biking to work.

    We'll start with my favorite category, Don'ts:

    1. Don't wear tight-fitting garments. Not only inappropriate for public traffic situations, but anything tight or lycra simply screams recreational rider.

    2. Don't wear anything with the brand name showing. Dears, this is ostentatious, especially early in the morning.

    3. Don't use a bicycle with all those silly gears. Three speeds is all a proper lady or gentleman needs for riding about town.

    4. Consider your facial expressions as fashion accessories. Don't adopt your aggressive, weekend riding manner. This attitude will serve you poorly amongst the hired drivers careering about the avenues.

    5. If you are inclined to wear a helmet, Do spend some time in the better second-hand shops searching for suitable antique head gear.

    Good luck, and remember, ride friendly!

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  3. Fine points.

    Sometimes perhaps the disconnect between road and transport cyclists is made more acute by the disconnect between suburban and urban transportation choices and ways of living.

    The majority of people live in places with big roads and fast traffic, out of town. The majority of avid cyclists are road cyclists who ride long distances at speed, and due to the above, many likely live somewhere where they don't want to do their daily errands by bike because it's unpleasant.

    Makes for lots of people that can't imagine how going slower and riding in town are tolerable at all.

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  4. By the way are the threaded comments working for everyone now? Does the Reply button work for you? It works for me as a moderator, but yesterday it was not working for others.

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    1. Consider this a test. I am using the Reply link.

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    2. Thanks. I understand it works for sure in Forefox and Explorer. Could someone try this is Safari and in Chrome plz?

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    3. Test from Safari :) Works on this end!

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    4. I like threaded replies, so thing it works great!

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    5. Works from iPhone with a few more clicks than normal. But it does work.
      Matt K

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  5. I really appreciate that you offer perspectives on both sides of the cycling coin. Seeing you transition into someone who embraces & enjoys both disciplines encourages me to believe that someday I too could become a road cyclist if so inclined, while retaining my love of an upright, leisurely ride. Thank you so much for sharing your cycling experiences & thoughts with the world - finding your blog has been a great help in guiding me through my own learning curve as a novice cyclist.

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  6. Thank you for that clarity. I assume you even bring up this subject because some folks were wondering whether your blog was going to contain more on road cycling in the future vs. transportation cycling. We know that you have a strong interest in pursuing sport riding. Go for it!

    It's just like I love transportation cycling and touring. I own two distinctly different bikes for those loves. I also wear different clothing and use bags unique to their purpose.

    I, for one, enjoy your transport riding and reviews. Now about that cool wicker basket... Are we still waiting for that review?

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    1. The roadcycling posts may very well outnumber the transportation cycling posts, who knows. Or I may get sick of it and turn to reenactment penny farthings. Lovely bicycles abound in every category!

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  7. We'll see...

    I was playing w/my Kindle while browsing the precise moment the comments went kablooie. Thought the Kindle's reformatting power was a little too strong.

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  8. OK, allow me to make the most ham-fisted car analogy possible.

    In the U.S., almost everyone drives a car, but relatively few people take their cars out on a track. Even fewer people race their cars. Most people own cars that skew towards practicality, with back seats and room for luggage. Some own impractical sports cars as their everyday driver. Some do so purely for effect, some others take these cars to the track on weekends. Still others have dedicated track cars that don't even get driven on the road.

    I think the analogy holds up pretty well for bikes. Can't wait for the day that I can say, "In the U.S., almost everyone rides a bike."

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  9. My 11:04 comment was in response to the reply question, so no it doesn't work for me in Chrome.

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    1. Thanks. I will keep your comment here as evidence for the blogger people to see if you don't mind. Later when the issues are fixed I will clear all the comments not related to the post.

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    2. Of course it's too much to ask for the Google failboat to make things work with their own browser.

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  10. Re: testing in other browsers
    It seems to sort of work in Chrome, but it sure is ugly--the type is justified and the font is not very legible. Also hard to follow the thread, but I guess I've always been uncomfortable with this type of layout. I'm having trouble in Explorer--goes to the post for a second, then a big blank white nothing.

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  11. you're blessed with several cool bikes to choose from, but i'm one of those who merge several ideas together to make my one bike work. previous life as a racer means i'm somewhat wired to move as quick as bike and road conditions allow. a commute of twenty miles means the bike must have gears and positioning to get me over the hills and through the valley at a decent pace, and daily runs of errands means lot's of carrying capacity required. all this is done with regular street clothes on a road bike. works great and i prefer it. just because a bike is designed for one kind of activity does not mean it's not capable of other types of activities. to me there is no polarization or dichotomy and it's easier to ride slow on the road bike as opposed to riding fast on the upright 'transportation' bike.

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    1. If I could only afford one proper bike, it would be a good road-racing bike. Then I would pick up a $100 Raleigh Sports step-through on C-List and make do with it for transportation, gradually getting new parts for it as finances allowed.

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    2. And see, my Raleigh Sports *is* my transportation bike. I don't think of it as "making do" at all.

      Of course...I do want a fancier city transportation bicycle. But I'm never satisfied, so there you are.

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    3. Oh I did not mean to suggest there was anything wrong with a Raleigh Sports. Only that I would try to spend as little $$ as possible on one, and therefore it would probably not be in good shape. Hence the "make do" while gradually replacing parts.

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    4. Ah! That makes more sense then.

      Sorry I was defensive. I love my Raleigh Sports more than is strictly reasonable.

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  12. "To me, thinking of roadcycling and transportation cycling as two radically different things just seems like common sense."

    I see a lot of your blog topics as differentiation. After all, with that there would be only one message and the well would dry up pretty quickly.

    This post strikes me as a defense against or conciliatory towards transpo apologists, who seem to need a totem to follow if you're getting behind-the-scenes "pressure".

    "I want to retain my identity, and I want to feel comfortable in every way. "

    It's important for one's own self-image to retain it, but it's mostly the boxes that society places that force this kind of, not compromise, but socialization, I guess.

    BTW what's the etiquette here - am I allowed to respond to a question threaded in Robert's comment?

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    1. Sorry I didn't mean for this post to strike you! Bad post, bad.

      You certainly may reply to others' comments. But can you? Who knows! Blogger is really acting up. Try it?

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  13. Ditto for me on IE9 - The main page works fine, but if you go into a specific post or try to comment, white page of death.

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  14. This is a great post. In my area (suburban NJ), there is literally NO subset of the biking population that follows the stereotypical trends of urban bike culture as seen on LovelyBike, LGRAB, and other blogs. Here, it's all about being a roadie: the bibs, the carbon, the "HTFU" mantra, and so on.

    While I got into cycling as a sport to lose weight and get healthy, I find myself reading these blogs wistfully because I wish we had an alternative bike culture for me to take part in occasionally.

    When I ride even my quirky singlespeed, which has dropbars but also has a Brooks saddle, deep V wheels, and is bright orange... The roadies give me a quick dismissive glance and avert their eyes. It's really annoying. If I showed up on a Pashley like what the Co-Hab rides, I think they'd try to have me arrested. They could probably catch me easily, though.

    Just once, I'd like to ride helmet-less on a vintage 3 speed with mustache bars, and meet up with like-minded quirky friends to sip espresso at a cafe on a brick-paved street. No kidding! I envy you Boston and Chicago denizens. :)

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    1. I think (based on past posts) that Velouria isn't a fan of Critical Mass rides (at least as a way of promoting cycling) but you can't beat them for every kind of cyclists coming together nonjudgmentally and enjoying companionship and RIDING.

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  15. I think it depends on the versatility of the bike and rider preferences. Recently, I find I've been riding my folding bike for commuting/around town and for longer rides. I do agree with what you say about liking to be more upright in the city, but it's really easy to adjust the height of the handlebars on my bike, so I raise them up when I'm riding in traffic. Then on the weekend, when I'm on the bike path and going a little faster with fewer stops, I lower them down. I also take the rack off for that too. It also seems that transportation turns into a race sometimes, just because people are in a rush to get where they are going, no?

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    1. A folding bike could in theory be versatile enough for almost anything, because it also has a low enough step-over for skirts and for carrying packages in the back.

      However, I think very few if any folding bikes could approach the speeds necessary to participate in club or training rides, let alone race (unless with other folding bikes). I also think that few real-life owners would be handy enough to remove racks (and fenders?) every time they wanted to use the bike for sport.

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    2. Hi Velouria,
      My folding bike actually isn't a step-through, and I can keep up pretty well on group rides etc. since it has full-size wheels (also, 27-speeds, with standard - insofar as I may say that - gearing...perhaps "standard" gearing, with scare quotes). The rack is not such a big deal to remove, really just a couple of hex nuts (it attaches just to the seatpost, but is sturdy enough for most of my needs). But the fenders are quick release, so just flicking a little switch, and they come right off - no fussing with the bolt on the caliper every time, which I have to say is pretty sweet. I don't mind stepping over the frame either, even in my regular clothes, but then again, I don't have the clothing consideration (or should I say, the skirt consideration), since I don't wear too many skirts.

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  16. "Now this here is a roadbike. ... I love riding this thing. I ride is as fast as I can, because that's the point"

    Prior to road cycling and after transport cycling, I recall you writing some about cycle touring. Rarely does one cycle as fast as one can while touring. Cycle touring is clearly recreational, yet not sport (as in competitive with others or oneself). It typically relies on more utilitarian aspects such as carrying stuff, comfort at a more leisurely pace and dressing more presentable in public. And it often includes non-cycling specific pursuits (visiting new places, viewing the countryside, attending regional attractions, etc.). Might cycle touring be considered a separate category (I tend to dislike dichotomies)?

    BTW the reply link does not function from the iOS version of Safari.

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    1. It's sometimes a separate category, sometimes not. Some approach touring as you describe, while others approach it as a type of roadcycling - meaning, you go as fast as your luggage allows basically. For that reason, I just figured it would be too complicated a concept to introduce.

      Based on my experiences thus far, I do not think that classic loaded touring is for me. Somewhat to my surprise, I've found that I do not enjoy riding with considerable luggage over long distances with hills; it just feels tedious. And if I do not enjoy it for 50 miles then I doubt I will enjoy it for 500. I can see myself cycling cross country on a lightweight randonneur with a change of clothes and my camera in the handlebar bag, and a credit card for staying in cheap motels. But I would definitely see that as a variation of roadcycling more than anything else. Who knows though, in a year I might change my mind.

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  17. I like your line of reasoning here. It's refreshing when someone reevaluates established wisdom and finds something that works for them.

    For myself, my commute is kinda long so I feel compelled to put on a little speed and keep the duration within reason. But doing that on an upright bike just sucks the life out of me. So, I ride a road bike with clipless pedals. But it's a single speed or fixed (depending on my mood) and I'm always in jeans.

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  18. I don't own a transportation bike. I have a fixie for commuting and pootling out to the pub. I have an audax bike for commuting and longer rides to more distant pubs. I have a race bike to get to the pub a bit faster. We have a touring tandem to get to pubs a long way away. I have a mountain bike to get to pubs cross country.

    PS I don't like the threaded comments, I prefer new comments at the end and a ref back if required. Otherwise I have to scan the whole comments to find what's new. Or is there some technique to finding the new comments?

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    1. Tim, how clever! You have every aspect of reaching your favourite watering holes covered . . . and isn't that everyone's major cycling concern! :)

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  19. "BTW what's the etiquette here - am I allowed to respond to a question threaded in Robert's comment?"

    I'll take that as a no.

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  20. It makes perfect sense to have different bikes and clothes for different applications. Does a cyclist have to? Of course not, but it usually makes the task easier or more pleasant.

    What gets me is that often the two groups don't overlap. Rec. cyclists can't imagine riding a bike on an errand w/out lycra and cleats (generalization). Here in SoCal, utility cycling isn't widespread at all, but recreational cycling is huge. I wish all the weekend warriors I see would also ride to the market or picking up their spawn. If someone likes bikes and riding them, it seems like they would try to it at every opportunity.

    /end rant

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    1. "If someone likes bikes and riding them, it seems like they would try to it at every opportunity."

      Although I feel this way, I sort of disagree when it comes to people in general. In Austria I know loads, loads of people who are no more likely to cycle recreationally just because they ride their bike to work than they would ride in trains recreationally in their spare time just because they take the train to work. For some the bike really is merely a convenient way to get from A to B, that is all.

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    2. Those people may not really like bikes and riding them :-) If bikes are just a tool to them, then sure, it's not something they go out of their way to do in their spare time.

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  21. V, I was initially thinking that cycle touring might be a very broad category that spans from almost transport cycling (Dutch style bike path touring) to almost sport cycling (French style competitive randanneuring). It could be considered a transitional category between the two.

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    1. Transitional category, I like it. When I rode 100 miles along the Danube (with a heavy saddlebag and wearing a winter coat and heeled shoes), it felt nothing like cycling 65 miles on Cape Cod on a touring bike. So there are indeed different ways to experience it.

      I was also thinking that touring is sort of like the hiking/backpacking of cycling.

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    2. Indeed. Did a little town-to-town touring in NL on their cyclepaths, riding a fairly transporty bike (upright, IGH). Worked well, though slightly too much weight on saddle for slightly too long. Would also have been fine on a sport tourer with rack, or probably a randonneur with hbar bag...

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  22. Totally grok you. While I haven't had time or energy to invest in it, I Loved riding a road bike when I trained for that tri. I can't wait to have the time to put more energy into it sometime soon.

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  23. More irrelevant rants:

    Hmm. Blogger needs to introduce a flatten button. Google just loves fixing what's not broken.

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  24. I do agree that there should be less snobbery in both directions--that neither transportation riding nor sport riding has the right to say that they're the only "real" cyclists.

    On the other hand...I think it's silly to overemphasize the differences between the kinds of riding. Yeah, I've done rides on my road bike in my fancy Showers Pass jacket, and then come home and taken them off, put on my dressy wool coat and got on my three-speed. But I've also worn my dressy wool coat and a skirt on my road bike, and my Showers Pass jacket and wool knickers on my three-speed.

    I think I might come at this from a different angle because of touring. When I'm touring I want all my clothes to be both practical for riding, and to look as normal as possible off the bike. Which means I might wear wool short-sleeved jerseys, but I also have a nicer wool tshirt in my bag. And I have padded shorts, but I wear pants or a skirt over them. And I wore sneakers and Chacos both on and off the bike.

    Or maybe it's a Portland thing...many of my cycling friends do both "recreational" road riding (as in training-style rides) and touring and ride their bicycles for transportation. So all of us tend to have wardrobes that are heavy on practicality while still looking reasonably normal, with lots of variations and exceptions.

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  25. I've been trying to comment from my iPhone in Safari and the Reply feature is not working. I will switch to an outside system like Disquss(sp?) if these probs continue.

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  26. very sweet to see the moser and our bella ciao so close together. very sweet. - i told you that our framebuilder used to do the mosers, didn't i? - so road and transport bikes not such different worlds after all. - actually much from the same hands in this case.

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    1. I have it on good authority that he made my specific Moser frame; didn't know whether I was "allowed" to reveal this but I guess this is a yes : )

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  27. I think the line does blur a bit more in the suburbs, where a commute to work may easily be 20 miles each way.
    Of course, while my commute in one direction is 20 miles of pavement, band practice is 10 miles in the other direction on a dirt towpath, which sometimes involves hopping logs and today involved riding through water up to my bottom bracket.
    Nothing wrong with some overlap, especially when you've only got the one bike.

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    1. True about the suburbs, though I think this is not because of them being suburbs in of themselves, but because there is usually hilly terrain involved. I regularly travel 10+ miles each way through the suburbs and back on the bike in the first pic, but I have relatively flat routes figured out. If I lived in some of the hilly areas in those same suburbs? No way, I would have to figure out a different bike solution.

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  28. What about the variations of bikes for different weather conditions? Would you use your Bella Ciao in the snow? There are so many considerations for transportation now, I guess it boils down to personal taste. Great post, thanks!

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  29. I used to blur the lines and wear jeans on my racing bike, and I still do when the pub is farther afield and I am with fast friends, but I just recently built a bike with a chainguard. What a difference! I don't know what it is, but somehow not having to roll up my pants leg is incredibly liberating. I recommend it to everyone who ever rides 10 miles or less. It is a fantastic feeling to get off of your bike and look completely "normal." (Or as close to it as I ever get).

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  30. I just want to chime in as someone who rides for transportation and as a sport. To me, the joy of riding a bike is that it takes you places, sometimes places you'd never stop to see in a car, and it allows you to bond with people. Also, there's just a magical feeling of peace when your legs are spinning and you're taking in the world around you. Riding for transportation, there are tons of lovely (and not-so-lovely) moments to be found almost every time I swing my leg over my bike. To be able to live and breathe the city in all it's glory is the best way I can imagine starting and ending my day. On the other hand, cycling as a sport takes me up into the mountains on hardly-ridden roads. Most rides are literally mini-adventures; I travel with friends up into places that are both exciting and dangerous. In that sense, recreational cycling is the most fun I have on a bike. Where I start to feel alienated is the really sporty aspect of it, when people start to worry about the lightest components, wear the flashiest clothing imaginable, and turn cycling into one big competition. Of course I don't think less of people who do any of that stuff, it's just that for me, personally, it removes some of the magic I associate with a bike ride.

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  31. I agree with Tim D about the threaded comments. I don't like having to go through the entire thread to find new comments. Much, much easier when the newest comments are at the end.

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    1. I do not have an option to unthread the comments. Blogger just did this, without announcing it, without providing a way to turn threading on/off and without even ironing out the glitches first. I am trying to decide what to do about it. Let's give it a few days and see; they don't appear to have finished working on this yet.

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  32. First, let me say, I love your site. Second, I appreciate nearly every type of cycling/bike riding. I ride a road bike 98% of the time, and I wear the goofy clothes, AND a helmet. But that's because I think the technical clothing makes sense, and is comfortable for the type of riding I do. I wave and smile at every bike rider I pass. My acknowledgement rate is about 50%. That's discouraging, but common in a society that thrives on titles, categories, class distinctions and the like. I wish it were different.

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    1. I smile and wave too. Have to say the acknowledgment rate is well under 50%. From the hardcore racerboys not even 10%. This is compensated for by the times I fall in with a group and someone says "Hey! It's the guy who waves!" and then we have a nice ride together.

      Racers used to have a saying "Talk to me with your legs" and if you could speak legs you were in. Fast legs was just one mode of speech. In fact speed w/o grace was sort of like grunting. And we all respected those who were non-race or baby race bikers so long as they looked good and pedalled well. Of course there were fewer of us and the self-referential world woulda been pretty small.

      I used to be able to deal with the snobbery and foolishness by quietly riding away from the front. These days when the BS is thick I slide off the back.

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  33. Who is making all these distinctions? It seems juvenile. You do what you do, in the clothes and on the bike you do it in. What's the problem exactly?

    Your walking/jogging analogy is good and should silence this silly hang up.

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  34. A heavy upright, or 'sit up and beg' bike as they used to be called, is no good for long urban commutes like the 12 mile one I do at the moment, and neither are everyday clothes.

    So it is my trusty Dawes Ultra Galaxy tourer which gets the job, and I wear cycling clothes.

    Most cyclists just do what suits them without worrying about trends or what others do, though of course some riders, especially new and affluent converts to cycling do go a bit overboard with spending on both bikes and clothing.

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  35. Really, who cares whether someone else's bike is a commuter or a racer, whether the bike is made from steel or aluminum, whether the rider is dressed in cotton or lycra? What matters is keeping our eyes on the road.































































































    Really, who cares whether someone else's bike is a commuter or racer, whether it's made from steel or aluminum, whether it's welded or lugged? We need to be keep our eyes on the road, not someone else's ride.

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  36. If one views bicycling as a reflection of identity--i.e., as a fashion statement--then the dichotomy between road and transportation cycling is a newsworthy topic.

    But is that truly the best way to view bicycling? From a purely functional perspective, there would seem to be much gray between the black and white, depending on where one rides, where one is able to keep a bicycle etc.

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    1. Actually, I think it is extremely important to stress transportation cycling as a distinct category. The reason is political. In countries like the US there is a huge tendency to think of cycling as inherently recreational, and that undermines cyclists' rights, decisions to build infrastructure, etc. If cycling as a transportation option were taken more seriously, conditions would improve. But it's hard when transportational cycling is insistently confounded with recreation and sport. That is my take on it.

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  37. In the urban area where I live the "avid" cyclists (to use a term of the replier from suburban NJ) are predominantly transportation and touring cyclists. I see a dichotomy not between transportation cycling and what you call "roadcycling," rather between cycling as a way of life and cycling as a hobby. Among those in the latter group, athletic consciousness and clothes from the bike shops are important signifiers of being cyclists. I do not say that everybody is one way or another, all the time. Or, to put it another way, that this dichotomy defines everyone - only that these are two broad categories which many years of observation and participation suggest to me. I have friends who commute in normal clothes but don the full racing kit for long weekend rides. I have friends who go on the same long rides in the normal town clothes they commute in, ride in comfort, and have no trouble keeping up. These are all fit, car-free cyclists and they do not talk much about what clothes they wear on bikes.

    For me there are certain comfort issues (e.g. knits vs. wovens, and padded shorts) to consider depending on what kind of handlebar is used, or length of ride. However all that stuff was worked out decades before the invention of lycra. I think lycra is great for cycling shorts and liners, but liners are the only clothing I buy in bike shops.

    I have ridden long days in both cycling-specific clothes and in what used to be called sportswear, such as knickers and Shetland sweaters (parts of the Twenties Himalayan expeditions' kit which recently were tried again on Everest and proven to work just as well for climbing as modern synthetics do). I like a wool knit top if I am riding drop bars, but really even trousers and dungarees are perfectly comfortable below the waist. I have observed that it is the people who ride in cycling specific clothes and shoes who speak most about troubles keeping warm in winter.

    Cycling for me is life, not a hobby. I do not distinguish between riding to work or riding all day on the weekend. There is no discontinuity between commuting and touring, between cycling and birding or hiking, or even between cycling and politics. The bike I use on weekdays is almost identical to the one I ride on weekends, except for having an upright bar instead of drops and the teeth ground off the outside chain ring. Both bikes have saddlebags. I used to ride a 3-speed with a rack to work and shops, but realized a lightweight bike was more fun (for me), so why use one only on weekends? An upright position is more comfortable and practical (for me) in city traffic.

    There is a lot more to touring than loaded touring. I am not interested in carrying camping gear or sleeping in tents. However on every weekend I enjoy a day tour, usually mixing paved roads, dirt roads, and singletrack. My "road bike" has little in common with the roadies' beyond drop bars and multiple gears. Yet by using a saddlebag large enough for an overnight stay at an inn, I jettison the racks required for panniers and the more fashionable kinds of handlebar bag. There is nothing about my bike or kit that would prevent my going fast, if that were something that interested me.

    I think the more embedded cycling is in one's psyche, the more matter of fact he is about the activity, and the less important clothing and style (including style of bike) become. Recall what you wrote earlier about Austrian hikers and American high-tech gear. Most car-free commuting and touring cyclists I know do not require cycling-specific, "technical" clothing for comfort on the bike. That is not to say such things are not required for social comfort among "roadcyclists."

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  38. I'm not a fan of black and white distinctions either, though I agree that bicyclists need a voice with regard to sharing the road whether for commuting or sport. It seems when you speak of transportation you're thinking of a certain kind of bike and clothing....same with sport. But for me and my tribe it's just called commuting and it doesn't matter the bike or the clothes. The issue is being safe, responsible, and friendly.

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  39. Velouria, I agree that rec vs trans is used as that sort of club, but that's a cover for one more reason to beat on a minority group of road users. Motorists don't like cyclists riding on their recreational roads any more than on their commute routes. Conveniently enough, this approach also picks on less powerful people as one can easily see from what is parked around the rear of many restaurants.

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  40. Does anyone here do a hilly 10+ mile commute (each way) on an upright 3 speed? I would love to hear people's experiences, and the type of clothing they use. My expectation (but not on the ground knowledge) is that it wouldn't be practical in ordinary clothes. I would love to be proved wrong on this...anyone?

    What about a 4 mile commute each way in a VERY hilly area. Do you think it could be comfortably done with an upright?

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  41. I love my road bike, and have for a few years now. I became a convert after much trepidation. But the road bike wasn't my first introduction to sporty clothes, particularly lycra. I love wearing lycra, but ON my road bike for riding fast, or under skirts at times when it is super hot out (keeps sweat issues down) ~ there are so many benefits in certain situations. I think a book could be written in defense of biking how and when one chooses, but the simple summary is - like what you like, when you like it, how you like it - no apologies, no defense ~ to anyone. It's about what makes one happy, not what makes others happy. The critical change for women in the US in the last 5 years is that they are realizing they CAN ride a bike in lycra, but they don't HAVE to wear lycra to ride a bike. That's the key mindset change. Kudos to anyone who rides a bike period, however you choose to do it.

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  42. @Kyklos - can you provide some numbers for "hilly"? When I'm not sick, at least twice per week (more in the summer) I ride 10 miles to/from work. The first 8 are nice, the last two suck because of traffic.

    I ride an extra mile to avoid a 300 foot relatively steep hill (Belmont Hill and the Park Ave water tower, I think it is 8% in many places, less than that on average). The last two miles also include a few small climbs that are steep enough, but not that long.

    I've done the commute on a bike with as little as a 304% gear range (Shimano Alfine 8), and the bike weighs 65-70lbs, plus cargo, and I weigh 220 lbs. Right now, I have more gear range (520%, I think) but unless I am hauling serious cargo up a hill or feeling tired up a hill, the lowest gears don't get used. The bike is pretty much upright, too.

    It helps if you can describe "ordinary clothes". In the winter, I ride in "ordinary clothes", except for the helmet. In the summer, I tend to ride in shorts and a shirt, and change the shirt when I get to the office. Riding shoes in the summer are flip-flops, in the winter are boots. (Yes, I often work in shorts and flip-flops.)

    One missing variable in your question is the weather; this is New England. In the south in the summer, I'd be a blob-O-sweat riding my bike to work at any pace at all. People up here think it gets hot in the summer, but they have no idea.

    I have ridden a 3-speed up a similar hill in town (Common St up to Cushing Square), and it would have been not-so-bad, except that the hub kept popping out of 1st gear. I need to fix that.

    My worry/problem with recreational cyclists is that they often sound a bit like audiophiles, especially at the higher (more dollars) end. Unless you're racing, it's a bike. Yes, there are stiffer frames and softer frames, and there's upright and dropped bars, and skinny tires and fat tires, but overall there's a few knobs that you turn to a few standard positions and that gives you most of the variation in bicycles. Beyond that, there's some nuance and some special cases, but there's also a huge pile of nonsense.

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  43. Hi, in the very hilly area where I live, for the shorter commutes of between 3 to $ miles, in order to get from A to B, I have to traverse points of elevation which are between 400 to almost 500 feet above sea level. I couldn't tell you about precise gradients, some are very steep, and others have a long gradual incline, which are just as challenging! I would love to switch to a loop frame 3 or 5 speed so that I can wear skirts and dresses. Like Velouria, I number amongst those that find it difficult to ride a diamond frame bike in anything but trousers or the like.

    With the longer commute of 10 miles or so each way, I would still hit hilly areas, but these are are around the 300-400ft range. Most of it would not be hilly, and all of it is in traffic. (We are talking London here).

    I haven't done this 10+ mile commute yet, but I worry that ordinary trousers, jumpers, or even dresses (if I use a loop frame) and so on might either chafe or overheat over this distance. All my merino wool clothes are sporty looking and not really appropriate/elegant enough for general urban wear.

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  44. People all over the world rode in hilly areas for decades and decades - on regular bikes and in regular clothes. What has changed is perception, nothing more. Time to change it back.

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    1. Yeah, people used to do a lot of things, including walking uphill to school in the snow in both directions, and they were grateful for it.

      To each his/her own, I say.

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    2. I used to walk twenty miles to school wearing burlap underwear. The pain let you know you were alive. These modern day foo-foo city slickers with their fancy-pants designer labels (well ooh-la-la, aren’t you special) wouldn’t last a minute in the real world. Hell, just getting more than a hundred feet away from a boutique or coffee shop makes those Bicycle Chic ™ ® (Pat. Pending) fashionistas all flustered.

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    3. I am pretty sure Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie has a new line of burlap lingerie out. Looks like I need to check it out!

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  45. I don't think that loop/diamond or upright/dropped is going to make a huge difference to you with all that hill climbing. You'd like your seat to not be set too far back, that's about it. Otherwise, you're just weight-lifting. You would probably be better off in a skirt than trousers, for the ventilation. But on a 300-foot hill, you'll almost certainly sweat. One thing -- standard gearing on the old Raleigh 3-speeds was usually set too high. I don't know what they were thinking. Swapping in a larger rear cog can be a big help, both in general, and for hill-climbing.

    As far as chafing goes, I'm often in blue jeans or flannel-lined pants in the winter, I do okay. It may be a matter of calluses, who knows.

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  46. I agree. My very upright, heavy duty about-town bike got me back into cycling. It's OK for short trips around the countryside but it's not much fun for the longer ones. I know, I've tried.
    So now I have two very different cycling personalities: one is for when I'm commuting and getting about, the other is for when I'm out ticking off the miles in the country. They both rely on my legs going round and round but that's pretty much where the resemblance ends.
    I love them both, they are both "cycling" to me. And I love both bikes; I probably need more.

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  47. Bicycles are, in any form, from practicable to recreational, enjoyable, freeing and in many cases a vehicle that can mitigate stress.


    In any form bikes extend the efficiencies of our human form while providing low impact aerobic exercise. They allow speeds higher than can be attained by walking or running.

    In our polluted environment they are a mostly clean alternative to spewing petro chemicals and greenhouse gasses.

    So what’s the difference between the “serious cyclist” and “other” cyclist; NONE. What’s the difference between the “grocery getter”, mountain, track, road, touring… bikes? There is NO difference; they are enjoyable for all the reasons we ride.

    Lew

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  48. It is a fact of time that cycling is not just a way to exercise, when children take a ride of cycle they tend to compete with each other by doing racing, while matured people use it as a exercise module.

    thanks and regards.

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  49. Just wanted to say that this was a very interesting and great read!

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