WSJ: Cycling for Millionaires

I was so happy the other day to find an interesting and informed article in the Wall Street Journal about cycling. No, not that one. I am referring to their handy guide to “Home Bases for Bicyclists.” Let’s take a look:

Along with the above home in Davis, CA, the article has brief profiles of homes in Minneapolis, MN and Boulder, CO (what? no Portland or Seattle?) As PJ O’Rourke knows, cycling is a hobby of the affluent. An elitist, limousine liberal affectation. These three homes would be perfect for just that kind of cyclist.

Well, reality doesn’t quite agree with O’Rourke’s view.  A recent study by the University Transportation Resource Center illustrates this well.

Graphic Illustration of data from sightline.org (click image for link)

As you can see, the poorest quartile is slightly over-represented among cyclists. Andy Cline of Carbon Trace makes a convincing argument that this data shows that cycling infrastructure should be supported because cycling is an affordable means of transportation.

I’ve held back on commenting on the P J O’Rourke essay in the Wall Street Journal. As usual, BikeSnobNYC does the best job of picking it apart. Many people have pointed out that O’Rourke is a satirist, and this essay must be taken in that spirit. However, I would disagree. Satire is most effective when it is used as a tool by the powerless to mock the powerful. O’Rourke seems to think that he is doing that: “We, the majority who do not ride bicycles, are being forced to sacrifice … so that an affluent elite can feel good about itself…” (Please check the data above. People of all income levels ride bikes.) For me, the best satire uses extreme examples to ridicule the opposing argument. O’Rourke just comes off as being whiny, ill-informed and mean-spirited. I expect that sort of writing from someone in the comment section of a small-town newspaper, but not from one of America’s largest newspapers.

Maybe I should I expect that from the Wall Street Journal. On the same page I found a link to this article of great importance:

My god, what is the world coming to where we need to start thinking about downsizing our second homes? The next thing you know, we’ll start downsizing our second cars.

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2 responses to “WSJ: Cycling for Millionaires

  1. That chart of income vs bike use is interesting. However, I’d argue that were you do see truth in O’Rourke’s piece is that a very large portion of recreational cyclists (eg: path users) and advocates for better bicycle conditions fall into the distinctly not-poor and predominantly White/European demographic.

    • Oh yeah, definitely. That does seem to be the segment of the cycling world that he’s picking on. Just to check my biases, I read some of his other satirical writings on other activities I enjoy. For example, on blogging:

      “Blogging is an abomination. To paraphrase Emily Dickinson: ‘How public, like a frog/To tell one’s name the livelong day/on a self-admiring blog.’ And I hold Twitter to be the lowest form of human communication, something between the front tooth thumb flick with which the Neapolitan tells you off and a Bedouin fart of satisfaction after a repast of lamb eyeballs.”

      I enjoy blogging, and I enjoy using twitter – and yet I still find the humor in the above paragraph. There was just something about how he wrote about cycling that seemed to be in a different voice that I can only describe as hateful.

      That study I referenced made the rounds of the bike blogging world and most people saw the trends as positive: cycling is well-distributed among income quartiles, becoming more evenly distributed among race & ethnicity. One thing I didn’t notice was a discussion of gender distribution among cyclists. It’s not hard to guess that it’s nowhere near 50/50!

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