Many Americans, along with their international counterparts, don’t find using a bicycle as transportation socially acceptable. Some regard it as a childish pastime, which in certain ways, interferes with adult activities like driving. Cycling is also seen as irresponsible due to the fact that cyclists ride on the same roads as larger, fast-moving cars. It is a matter of perceived danger and the negative connotations associated with accepting the risks posed by that danger.
Even among those who eschew cycling as transportation, there may be some who find it acceptable as a form of recreation or exercise. Riding a bicycle among friends can be a pleasant way to socialize and enjoy the outdoors. In this context, even the most ardent pro-motor vehicle individuals will deem the bicycle as having value. They will regard it as a social vehicle rather than a transportation vehicle.
Athletic competition using bicycles is also condoned. Most Americans, and all cycling fans around the world, have heard of high profile racing cyclists like Lance Armstrong. As finely tuned athletes, these riders are admired for their strength, endurance, and speed. Few people would accost them with insults about the childishness of their use of a bike. Nor would anyone accuse them of being in the way or of diminishing the rights of others.
Another area where cycling is seen as socially acceptable is when it is engaged in for exercise. Obesity is a worldwide problem. It is growing worse every day, with no end in sight. Riding a bike is often recommended as a good low-impact exercise which can both increase aerobic capacity by raising a rider’s heart rate and build muscle. Bicycling is only second to walking in attracting new exercisers.
A bicycle can be obtained for relatively little money, depending, of course, on what type of bike is purchased. Going this route is cheaper than joining a gym. And since the bicycle is at home, it is more likely to be used for exercise.
Going to a gym requires planning and travel time. Riding a bike requires nothing more than going outside and getting on the bike. This ease of use increases the probability of regular exercise, especially if the new cyclist begins to enjoy cycling.
What’s more, many overweight people do not enjoy working out at a gym. The repetitiveness of weight lifting, walking in one spot on a treadmill and a dull routine do not excite them. Exercise equipment must be shared with other people, some of whom do not extend the courtesy of wiping down a machine when they are finished using it. This creates an unpleasant situation for the next person in line who must wipe down a stranger’s sweat in order to continue exercising. All of these things are turnoffs. And they detract from the goal at hand — getting some exercise.
Cycling, on the other hand, is an activity which is completely within the control of the participant. It can be done at most times of the day. It can also be incorporated into one’s daily routine.
Using a bike for errands is one way to combine exercise with other daily tasks. Soon, that use may grow into riding to work or school. At that point, something interesting happens. Cycling for exercise, a completely socially acceptable activity, morphs into cycling as transportation.
The change is so subtle, one may not even notice it. But, it shows how closely aligned various uses of a bicycle really are. And it proves that anti-bicyclists are drawing artificial distinctions in an attempt to eradicate an activity they do not like.
Unlike a car, which has a single purpose, bicycles are multifaceted machines. They strengthen the body and mind; they allow any reasonably fit person to travel, under their own power, from one location to another; and they bring joy to many riders who love being outdoors and who relish the feel of wind against their skin and blowing through their hair as they sail along in total abandon.
Someday, all of a bicycle’s uses will meld into one, and society will forget the time when bicycles were strangers on the road. As part of the fabric of society, bicycle use will be socially acceptable for people of all ages, without restriction, and without hostility or remorse. And the artificial distinctions between bicycle uses, created by a society obsessed with cars, will fade into the past like yet another ancient relic of times gone by.