Had an interesting conversation via email with an acquaintance yesterday regarding the fallen demi-god of professional cycling. He opined that
More people own bicycles because of lance, more people ride their bikes because of lance and there are more bike lanes nationally because of lance. He has increased the awareness of cycling more than any other single person in the U.S.
The context of the conversation was whether the Lance Armstrong
Sidewalk Bikeway should be renamed.
I offered some skeptical contrariness, in my usual snarky demeanor, and our conversation devolved from there. Might be true, might not. Certainly he has had some influence on fitness culture and I have no doubt a lot of people bought bicycles because of him. I will confess to a little adulation of his exploits. And then there is the whole cancer thing. Whatever the motivation for creating LiveStrong, I applaud that effort and will continue to support it. I’m particularly pleased that LiveStrong focuses on health and fitness, despite the fact that the organization’s namesake did some very unhealthy and, dare I say, unsafe things in his pursuit of greatness.
His “confessions” of the last two days has me wondering about the rest of the professional peloton, particularly my personal hero Jens Voigt.
Positive effects? Probably. But there are also troubling negatives.
The increased awareness of “cycling” is on a narrow segment of the bicycle world. Racing has it’s place. I enjoy watching. I applaud all the amateurs who strive to better themselves. But it is not the alpha-and-omega of cycling.
I believe that professional racing has had a negative effect on the U.S. bicycle industry. The silly pursuit of ever more light weight, and very expensive bicycles with throwaway components that can’t be repaired and require professional mechanics to keep in working order. Do we need carbon fiber, electronic shifting 11 speed racing and time trial bikes? For those involved in that sport, maybe. For the vast majority of people who want to ride, even for fitness, do not. Racing’s influence has even found it’s way into mountain biking and trail riding, where the entry level price of a bike makes most people choke. Ridiculously expensive bikes, that cost more than my first year of college, are seen on the bike racks of cars everywhere.
Exaggeration? Probably. But I would love to walk into a mainstream bicycle shop and see racks full of affordable, reliable transportation bikes. I would love to open a bicycle magazine and not see insane advertisements for $10,000 bikes and $150 cycling jerseys. I would love to see the bicycle industry stop selling bicycles without lights.
Culture of Fitness
Then there is the cult of fitness. Driving to the gym to get on a stationary bicycle for a spin session. Driving 50 or more miles with a bike on the rack just to go on a bike ride. Fitness as fashion instead of healthy living. Lance is not to blame for that. But he certainly hasn’t helped.
I tire of hearing some dolt in a motor vehicle yell at me
“Hey Lance! Get off the road!”
I’m guilty of donning the lycra and heading out on a road bike for hill repeats, intervals and long rides in the country. And truth be told I would rather be confused for him than most other sports “heroes.” But it also happens on city streets when I’m dragging groceries home on the cargo bike or on the folding bike heading to a meeting. Only time will tell if these exhortations by fat lazy people will cease. Or will this latest drama cause a resurgence?
I have a sense that Lance probably doesn’t care one whit about normal people on bicycles. His is an insulated world of SAG vehicles, police escort and spare bicycles. As for true bicycle advocacy — bike lanes, trails, traffic calming, complete streets, etc — can’t say. He might have said something sometime. It just doesn’t come to mind. Certainly there was glaring silence from him when a fitness cyclist was killed on 360 last year. A highway segment I know he’s ridden.
As far as I know he’s not a member of the Austin Cycling Association. What about Bike Austin or Bike Texas? League of American Bicyclists? Adventure Cycling Association? Anything? Did he publicly fight for the 3-foot passing law that our esteemed governor vetoed two years ago? Where was his public voice when the House of Representatives gutted the Safe Routes to School funding?
But he does offer opinion from time to time about traffic engineering.
Do We Rename the Bikeway?
I don’t give a crap. Just stop calling it a bikeway until it becomes one.
Admiration for the good. Sadness at the cheating and lying. Weariness.