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Bike commuting: slackers welcome

The slacker’s guide to bike commuting provoked an interesting response. A lot of old hands offered up a lot of good advice, but the tone of the advice was a bit…prescriptive for a blog post whose central point was that new bike commuters can come as they are.

In particular, the photo of a Dutch cyclist provoked a lot of snickers. People seemed to think the image is a stock photo or model shot. Or maybe a cycling safety public service announcement: don’t be like this guy if you want to live past the next stop sign.

But no. This is a real bicycle commuter in Amsterdam, really wearing a suit and tie, really checking his text messages as he pedals his sit-up-and-beg style commuter along a Dutch street, a bag draped over his handlebars. There’s a decent chance that much of his commute is on segregated bike lanes that are fully protected from cars, and he’s probably biking quite slowly by American speed-racer standards.

This is what a strong bicycle commuting culture looks like. Obviously this guy isn’t practicing ideal safety standards, much as those of us who drive around while talking on a cell phone aren’t being as safe as we could be. Regardless, Americans have pretty much nothing to tell the Dutch about how to get around on bicycles. For the most part, Dutch people don’t wear helmets. They don’t wear special cycling clothes. And they don’t ride expensive specialty bikes. Yet they seem to managing pretty well.

Same goes for China. In China, you’ll see old ladies and rumpled businessmen on bikes. Fashionistas in high heels. High school students jabbering into cell phones. Dogs riding in handlebar baskets. Most people are pushing cheap, single-gear clunkers, and absolutely one wears a helmet. Why would you, when you’re cruising along slowly in a river of bikes? It’s about as dangerous as walking.

Now, obviously the moral here isn’t that we should all stop wearing helmets so we can be more like the Dutch. Safety is important, and the key safety device on any bicycle is the rider. So ride smart, and please don’t talk on your cell phone while doing so. But biking is also a lot less complicated than we sometimes make it out to be. By all means, get the equipment that makes your ride more enjoyable, if that’s what moves you. But mostly just get started riding.

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