Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Live Intentionally - Your Choices are Lifestyle Choices!

Ross Hirsch and Jeremy Grant lead us through an L.A. neighborhood.
Photo from

Josh Cohen, in his "We need people who ride bikes, not cyclists" post, writes of a commuter who gets on a bike but eschews the "cyclist" label, preferring to think of the bike as merely a conveyance and not a lifestyle choice. Josh writes:

"it’s just as likely that he will continue to see bikes as a tool and not an identity."

This post prompted a round of Tweets along the line of:

 @BikePedSCAG Bikes should be transportation-not lifestyle. Is this golden age of bike subcultures? RT @bikecommutenews We Need People Who Ride Bikes, Not Cyclists"

I take umbrage with this line of thinking (or blogging, as it may be) for a couple of reasons. First, it sets up an oversimplistic dichotomy, that one is either a casual commuter or a lycra wearing cyclist. Second, it ignores that fact that the simple choices that we make, regardless of their utilitarian purpose, reveal a great deal about us and communicate loudly to others. Regardless of one's desire to purchase, operate, or consume products and tools with anonymity, we have no option but to own the impact of our actions. Our lifestyle choices and decisions scream volumes and have a significant effect on others, regardless of our awareness.

I contend that a simple examination of something as a cyclist's choice of a recycled bike from a co-op vs. a handmade, one-of-a-kind bike crafted by NASA out of space materials goes a long way to communicating a persons values, politics, priorities, and also gives us an understanding of their social, political, environmental and even spiritual convictions.

Further, I contend that a glance at the same person's choice of energy bar (Clif vs. Power Bar?) or shoes (Nike vs. Columbia) or food (Trader Joe's vs. Whole Foods) or cell phone (Blackberry vs. iPhone) will reveal much of the person's personality and within a half dozen "lifestyle" choices, you can not only gauge the person's lifestyle integrity but you can also measure the person's accountability to the impact they are having on their sphere of influence.

To those who scoff and argue that these choices are superficial and don't really reveal character or culture, I would argue that they really do matter, the only thing that varies is our connectivity to the impact and the effect of our choices. Granted, many people drink coffee and buy gas and support entertainers without considering the impact of their support or of the message they send but that doesn't mean that there isn't an impact, simply that they aren't paying attention.

This is the new frontier for us as a community, intentional lives that connect actions to impacts, choices to lifestyles, behavior to character.

Yes, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that I think that those who yearn for the day when riding a bike is simply riding a bike are selling themselves short. I believe that everything we do, from little inactions to large leaps of behavior, has a tremendous impact and we must take responsibility and be held accountable for it all.


Alan said...

Some nice words Steve.
In my original retweet, I was referring to exactly the point you made about whether one thinks about the larger impact of their choices (without the deep thought you put into it). The pessimist in me says most people don't. Heck, I wasn't even thinking of it at the time.

My thinking at the time (>140 characters) is that as bicycling becomes more mainstream and is picked up by more people who think that biking is just another commodity form of transportation, will the existing bicycle subcultures be consumed or marginalized by the growing acceptance. Hence the question, is this the golden age...?

MU said...

I will grant that this is an "oversimplistic dichotomy" as you state. But I think you set up a second dichotomy that also doesn't serve anyone well. Your defense of living mindfully is well stated. But it seems to me that you are demanding that the mindfulness must precede the action to give it meaning. I'm all for mindfulness, but I want the actions too, and I'm willing to take them without conditions on mental purity.

I think the point of the original sentiment is that cycling will have a tough time getting beyond a small core of believers until it is generally seen as a simple transportation option and not a lifestyle or identity. Go anywhere in the world with high cycling rates. You won't find that many "cyclists", you'll find lots of people on bikes.

I suspect we may be in some part of the "golden age" of "cyclists". But I for one will be happy to see that age pass into history if it means more people riding.

Anonymous said...

1. While the vast majority of people use cars as utilitarian transportation (more or less), there is a subset of drivers who are car enthusiasts to varying degrees; some that simply own a pricey "sports" car, some who build hot rods or restore classic autos from the ground up, and some who race cars for a living. I don't see why bicyclists as a group will be or should be any different. Right now (in America), cyclists may be predominantly skewed towards the enthusiast camp, but that will change.

2. Since private corporations have a profound effect on our society, I am tempted to agree that what products one chooses to buy can have some sort of impact. However, I also believe that the era of rampant, unchecked consumption is on the wane, and that the notion of defining one's lifestyle and/or identity with products will fade considerably. In other words, what you do is going to matter more than what brand of stuff you own.