Friday, April 30, 2010

Put The Funny Between Your Legs

Last night, I went to a cycling event, again, because this time of year, cycling events are basically continuous. The warm weather hits and people freak out: they haul out their rusty, wobbly claptrap rust emporiums and go tooling around the streets of Toronto the Good. I love seeing those folks, who are the real winners in the ongoing feud between Toronto's street users. They get to stay warm and toasty in their Mazdas in the winter, and then take the kids down to the lake in May. Who doesn't love that?

While it's true that it's the hard-core, scary cyclists who are the true generals in the war for more bike accessibility, it's Ma and Pa fin-de-semaine, that swing vote, who make the biggest difference in actually getting bike infrastructure installed. The good of the many outweigh the needs of the few. If there were only, like, fifteen cyclists in the city, there would be less interest in creating a viable and usable bike network. But since there's all levels of user rates and interested parties, it becomes harder to ignore.

Although, going to events like the Dandyhorse release party, it sometimes seems like there are only a handful of riders, and many of us seem to be insufferably hip. Don't get me wrong: I love me some hipster effrontery. My bike crush, a mechanic at one of the local shops, was in attendance, all tattoo-bedecked and punch-dancing to Lady Gaga. Cute, hilarious dirtbags are basically the Toronto bike scene's standard-issue participant, and they show up en masse for events like the Dandyhorse launch.

But there's also that complicating factor when it comes to bike hipsters, which is that something that should be for everyone, regardless of taste in music or interest in carbon, has been co-opted. Anyone who's read that David Foster Wallace essay about the State Fair knows what I'm talking about: the urge to turn an idea/event/item into some talismanic thing that is “for us.” Not that people in “the scene” - and here, I'm not talking about the Toronto cycling scene in particular, but any unifying cause, be it American Apparel employees, internet message board users, or fans of the Sweet Valley High series – aren't open to people getting involved with their interests..but they're fiercely protective of their community. That protectiveness can sometimes read as aggression.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I play mama bear to a lot of ideas – co-op housing, or my right to wear unflattering sweatpants in public – but being so immersed in something can strip folks of the ability to see the absurd side of their interest. Even though the bike community in Toronto is frothing with hipsters, their ability to poke fun at stuff they hold dear is not well documented. (And I have to interject here, because I'm not sure if I'm a hipster [if only there was some sort of quiz I could take!], so my use of of “they” and “their” might well include me, unflattering sweatpants notwithstanding.) Other stuff, sure: Lady Gaga is totally fair game, but mock their top tube cozies and you'll be rewarded with a withering snit and epic eye rolling.

I think that, in order to become a legitimate driving force in cities, especially Toronto, the bike scene would do well to hone its sense of humour. Anyone who's slogged through an August rainstorm on two wheels knows that bikes aren't exactly the most dignified way of getting around (although they're practically stately compared to Rollerblades, which are just awful). And we can be so snippy and self-righteous, which are two states of being that are so easy to mock. Recognizing that being funny makes you likeable, while being shouty (as is often our way) only endears you the Rachel Berrys of the world.

In short, we need to get over ourselves. The cycling community needs to open ourselves up to being laughed at, to taking ourselves less seriously. Because you know what? That ultimately gives us power. Folks want to help out people they like, and becoming likable is the first step in making the streets for people of all stripes and types.

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