Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fashion statement

Over at Carbon Trace, Andrew answers the familiar question of what to do with your bike helmet when you arrive at your destination by saying, "I wear mine like a hat.":
Now I’ve had students tell me that’s a huge fashion faux pas. I tell them I’m not out to impress anyone with my looks, and, besides, one of the perks of being an academic is that people kind of expect you to be a bit odd.
Preach it, brother. We are, after all, Academics Who Bike.

No wonder bike helmets are egg(head?)-shaped.

He goes on:
Wearing the helmet instead of stashing it in my backpack (always with me when I ride) also allows the people I encounter to ask: “Do you ride a bike?” They know the answer. They’re aren’t looking for an answer. What they want to know is why I ride or how I manage it. Some are even looking for encouragement to do it themselves. So I always answer: “Yes. I ride most of the time. In fact, I’ve cut my driving down to once every couple of weeks.”

And then the conversation begins.

The conversation is the point. It’s the thing. The helmet makes it possible. No one is afraid to talk to a guy wearing a bike helmet because, I assume somewhat fancifully, they figure there’s no way they can be any weirder than I am. I must be safe to talk to.
Andrew is right about this last, of course. It's not the figure that one cuts while cycling or when one dismounts that is the point of cycling. It's the dialogue that is the point of this sort of cycling he and I and, I gather, many of you reading this, are interested in.

Now in my case, I remove the helmet (that old rule about gentlemen removing their hats in the house), but I still have my share of conversations with folks. Something I neglected to mention in this post is that at work I have a long walk down the hall from where I leave my bike to my office and so I'm certain to run into a colleague or someone else, helmet tucked under my arm, in all my sweaty glory, before I can dash into the bathroom to change my shirt at least. But the effect on others is the same: they ask if I rode my bike in (Duh, people--look at me!), how it's going, etc. I bear witness as best as I'm able, not with the goal of converting but with the goal of being something like proof that bike-commuting is more than possible.

And then I dash off and try to make myself look a little more professional.


Peter Janson Paggi said...

I have a messenger bag that I just clip it to, but I've been considering getting a time trial/triathlon teardrop helmet, and just wear it everywhere I go. now that'd make for some interesting conversations.

Bobby Rozzell said...

Ya know, this sounds an awful lot like an "evangelism" post. Just substitute Jesus for cycling and Bible, cross or my "Tough as Nails" t-shirt for helmet.
Should I put this "innocent" cycling group of yours on the watch list at
Enquiring minds want to know

John B. said...

Bobby, as Andrew notes elsewhere in his blog, and as I note here, the goal isn't to rid the world of cars but to present cycling as a viable alternative for many people for, at the very least, short trips (I recently read somewhere that 40% of all car trips are made to destinations within 2 miles of home). No one's running for office; none of us has Angela Landsbury brainwashing us (so far as I know). Now, as for Peter's plan . . . you might need to watch out for him :)

The more people are cycling, the healthier more of us will be and the safer overall the streets will be: fewer cars, reduced speeds, better air. It's really as simple as that.

Bobby Rozzell said...

My poor attempt at humor. Perhaps you are more emergent/missional in your cycling than cultic.
As always, I enjoy reading your blogs.

John B. said...

Bobby--I knew you were joking. I'm not completely humorless when it comes to this cycling thing.