Insightful Media Analysis

After enjoying the navel gazing of yesterday’s post, my navel took a beating from a one-two punch of lame cycling stories in the media. First, NPR’s Morning Edition had a soft-focus fuzzy piece about increased bike commuting in the U.S. Or at least, judging from the title (“Switching Gears: More Commuters Bike To Work“) you would think that is what the story is about. However, after listening again, I’m not really sure. Most of the story seemed to be about the CEO of National Geographic and how he encourages the staff there to join him on lunchtime rides so he can spy on the water cooler talk. Although it’s not on the written web edition, the intro to the piece mentioned bike commuting rates increasing by as much as a factor of 3 in some cities. They also mentioned that national correspondent (and NPR heartthrob), Ari Shapiro, often bikes through the night in order to get to his early morning hosting shift at NPR headquarters in Washington.

That's right, ladies, cycling is the secret to my washed out features

All right, so it wasn’t such a bad piece, just a little fluffy. It was nice to hear that the American Journal of Public Health “found that the U.S. cities with the highest rates of walking and cycling to work have obesity rates that are 20 percent lower and diabetes rates that are 23 percent lower — compared with U.S. cities with the lowest rates of walking and cycling.” There’s a little correlation vs. causation problem with that statistic, but let’s not quibble about that. Instead, let’s quibble about the pictures that accompanied the article:

Team Nat Geo prepares for an epic lunchtime ride

That's Nat Geo CEO John Fahey on the left

What’s wrong with these pictures? Everyone is wearing cycle-sport clothes and riding racing (or racing-like) bikes. Yes, I too don a ridiculous outfit for cycling on occasion, but this story is supposed to be about bike commuting (or lunchtime riding with your boss… or something). The audio story mentions a Nat Geo employee riding an ancient 10-speed and another on an old mountain bike, but evidently they didn’t make the cut for the photos. Also, it’s all dudes, while the audio piece includes some ladies including one who trades her heels for sneakers when she rides the afore-mentioned ancient 10-speed.

I was a little disappointed by the NPR piece, but the next day I got smacked in the face by the NY Times:

That’s right, “Fell off my bike and vowed never to get back on.” Ugh.

The article reads almost like one of the notorious NY Times “bogus trend” pieces. There are several tales of woe:

…last June, he was warming up for a race when he hit a squirrel, crashed into a telephone pole and broke his arm so badly he needed surgery.

I was drafting Bill when a slower rider meandered into his path. Bill swerved and I hit his wheel. Down I went.

My running friend Claire Brown, a triathlete, crashed a few years ago when she was riding fast on wet roads, getting in one last training ride before a race.

Then it’s time to cue up the expert:

“Control makes a big difference in whether we take risks,” Dr. Loewenstein said. “With biking, you feel in control until you have an accident. Then all of a sudden you realize you are not in control. That can have a dramatic effect — you can shift abruptly from excessive daring to exaggerated caution.”

Another annoying article about cycling. This time under the “personal best” series about fitness. Nothing about fun, nothing about transportation, nothing about the joy of riding in the fresh air. Just accidents and how they suck. How about this tidbit:

I remembered what Michael Berry, an exercise physiologist at Wake Forest University, once told me. With cycling, he said, it’s not if you crash, it’s when. He should know. He’s a competitive cyclist whose first serious injury — a broken hip — happened when he crashed taking a sharp turn riding down a mountain road. (emphasis mine)

Jeez, what a bummer. I’ll have to go back to the NPR story for something more uplifting.

Westergren’s commute is a combined 12 miles to and from home. And he says, given all the biking he does, he doesn’t need a gym membership to stay fit. “Really, to build it into your daily routine by commuting for me has just been the best thing,” he says.

That’s what I like to see! Our occupations used to be our exercise, but now that most of us sit in front of a screen all day, we need something else. We could ride racing bikes up and down mountains every weekend (and, if you are to believe the Times article, eventually crash), or we could ride a few miles to work every day. I’ll go with a hybrid of both (but I’ll stick to the mild hills of Rhode Island, and leave the mountains to other cyclists).

That’s all I’ve got for insightful media analysis for now.


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