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Project highlights stories of people who feel like outsiders in bike scene

Posted by on March 15th, 2016 at 3:42 pm


“What was a moment when somebody said or did something that made you feel like an outsider in a bike space? Did it trigger unpleasant memories?”

That’s the prompt given by a new project that wants to share stories in order to raise awareness and help make the cycling world a bit more inclusive.

The Shifting Bike Culture blog is collecting and publishing anonymous essays from anyone who has something to share. We heard about it via a tweet from Adonia Lugo, a noted cultural anthropologist, bike culture researcher, and former equity iniative manager for the League of American Bicyclists. Dr. Lugo blogs at Urban Adonia and she’s also a former resident of Portland.

Here’s the explanation of the project taken from the Tumblr page:

Many of us who ride bikes (and would like to get more people on bikes) have experienced confusing moments where we felt like outsiders in bike spaces.

Often we feel alone as we wonder if these moments have to do with the color of our skin; our gender; our ability; our sexual orientation; our age.

These moments happen on rides; in bike shops; in bike co-ops; at advocacy meetings; at conferences; in offices.

We think it’s possible to shift bike cultures so that they welcome more of us. For us, recognizing that many of us have felt excluded is an inclusive move.

The site was just launched today and two stories have come in. One of them shares the story of someone being made to feel bad for riding an electric bike (something we hear about often): “One day, very unexpectedly, a biker on the trail started yelling at me. He told me electric bikes weren’t allowed and to get off. I felt ashamed, angry and hurt.” The other story is about someone who went on their first group road ride. Here’s an excerpt from that subsmission:

“I felt like a total loser when I finally made it to the destination and they were all finishing up their food and one of them said “we never thought you would make it!” Pretty sure I turned even more beet red than I already was. I rode the 5 miles directly home and tried not to cry while I explained to my boyfriend why I did not ride back to the starting location with the rest of the group.”

Whether it’s gender, experience, or physical prowess, the lack of welcoming atmosphere toward “newbies” or others who don’t fit a certain mold has been a persistent problem in the bike world for a long time now. This is an interesting and enlightening way to address the issue. Follow the Shifting Bike Culture Tumblr to read more stories as they come in.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Matt F March 15, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    This can’t be for adults, right? Please tell me this is for teens and kids

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 15, 2016 at 3:49 pm

      Why would you say/think that Matt F?

      When I read your comment it seemed – in some ways – to perfectly illustrate the problem this project wants to address.

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      • Greg Haun March 16, 2016 at 9:25 am

        I think some cyclists are outsiders by nature, and have to work to understand the problem because it’s not something we’ll ever be personally concerned about. We biked when everyone drove. We identify as being freaks.

        Most people are not like this, and we won’t see them on bikes if they feel like they don’t belong.

        I wonder if this explains the wide appeal of bike share? Pull out a biketown bike and suddenly you are in the club of people who bike share. And you can’t get it wrong, you can’t be too slow or have the wrong bike gear, or have your helmet on backwards. That’s a club I can’t wait to join.

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    • wsbob March 15, 2016 at 6:25 pm

      Feeling like an outsider in the ‘bike scene’, may seem to be something a bit like adolescent acceptance anxiety, right? Adults too, are susceptible to being over self consciousness.

      Is it necessary to be part of a ‘bike scene’, or be accepted in one, in order to feel good riding a bike, for fun or practical purposes? No, don’t think so. Just get on that baby and ride. Wear anything you want, let whoever laugh if they want to. With biking as in other things, people believing it’s important to do so, should say what they think is right, unless more important to them, is being accepted by members of some particular ‘scene’.

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      • tedder March 16, 2016 at 8:52 am

        You don’t have to be in a “scene”, but if everyone around you is making comments or (more likely) shunning you, the microaggressions add up and make riding seem much less enjoyable.

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  • Adam H. March 15, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    I feel like an outsider every time an irate driver harasses me just for riding my bike.

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    • Steve B. March 15, 2016 at 4:17 pm

      I think you may have missed the point here.

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    • bikeslobpdx March 16, 2016 at 10:09 am

      I feel like an outsider every time an irate cyclist harasses me just for riding my bike.

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  • stephenomist March 15, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    There’s a kinduv shame inherent in being vulnerable. Since arrogance is the cloak of shame it stands to reason that bicyclists project arrogance. I don’t wear a helmet. I don’t hang out with cyclists & don’t have any mechanical skills. I feel like I don’t belong, even though I love biking as much as any outdoor activity. I don’t belong on roads designed for motorized vehicles, single-track trails, or most group rides. I like the Groucho Marx line, “I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member.” I certainly don’t belong in this forum. I’m a creep. I’m a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here.

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  • Brad March 15, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    People who ride bikes are just people. Any grouping of people will have members that cheer, jeer, castigate, praise, embrace, or shut out others for various reasons. This happens all of the time in offices, clubs, churches, schools, advocacy organizations, etc.

    So, what can we actually do about it? Can anything actually be done? Is this really a “bike” issue?

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    • caesar March 15, 2016 at 7:12 pm

      I agree. Humans have been subdividing themselves into groups (clans, sects, tribes, clubs…) based on real or imagined differences since time began. It’s not just a Bike Issue. Its a People Issue.

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    • Janet Lafleur March 15, 2016 at 10:05 pm

      This isn’t about not being accepted into a particular bike subculture (fixie, roadie, BMX, MTB). It’s about not being accepted in any of them. And in many cases, not even being able to find a bike to ride that’s appropriate for your size, shape or preferred riding style.

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  • Tim March 15, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Are people without tattoos welcome in the Portland bike scene?

    I sometimes chuckle at the attitudes and divisions, but they can be deterrents to some and can harm the growth of cycling. Just look at some of the comments about mountain bikes, road bikes, e-bikes, or fixies (ok they like it but). I sometimes wonder if people look at things like the naked bike ride and think “I’m staying in my car if that’s what it takes to ride”.

    Want more folks riding – a smile and a thumbs up will go much further than all the attitude and infrastructure.

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  • The eBike Store
    The eBike Store March 15, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    My heart is heavy today. Last November, a customer came to me because he was not able to continue is active lifestyle due to a knee injury.

    We put together a system for him and he loved it. I don’t know if his knee continued to bother him or if someone set him over the edge with an asshat comment, but something broke in his spirit and he took his life last week.

    Please be kind to one another, sometimes others are carrying a crazy burden we known nothing about.

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    • Matt March 15, 2016 at 7:02 pm

      My sincere condolences to the friends and family of your customer. It is hard for some people to comprehend the feeling of well-being that comes from an active life style, or just how crushing it is when you are forced to give it up. Add severe chronic pain to the mix and your mind can take you down a very dark road…

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    • nuovorecord March 16, 2016 at 8:39 am

      Great point. I’m ashamed to say that I used to just shake my head at people riding recumbents…until I began talking to them. Without fail, they all had some sort of back injury or another ailment. A recumbent was the only way they could keep riding.

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      • q`Tzal March 16, 2016 at 9:57 am

        Yeah, and a recumbent is not usually electric. It is a human powered vehicle just like your diamond frame “up-wrong” bike.
        Really shows how unaware we are of our superiority issues.

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  • RushHourAlleycat March 15, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    I recently was teased for not knowing how to change a flat.

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    • dan March 15, 2016 at 9:46 pm

      Pssh, that’s nothing. Wait until you get teased for not being strong enough to get the !@#!@ bead over the rim.

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      • Tim March 16, 2016 at 9:08 am

        yes – the Germans make a good tire, but why do you need carry along a gorilla to get it off the rim?

        Provided you don’t need a gorilla, most of us who ride a lot carry an extra tube and patches and are willing to help change a flat.

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        • RushHourAlleycat March 16, 2016 at 12:06 pm

          The only time I have had a flat in the last two years I was close to home and my local LBS. I feel I know how to do it academically, but when it came down to risking doing it wrong, and paying 5 more dollars for them to install the tube I just bought. The choice was clear. I am going to take a class I think. Would be nice to learn to true a wheel too!

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  • Ted Timmons (Contributor) March 15, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    This project is great. I know I fit right in the middle of the cliche of certain types of cyclists and I don’t like having just “people like me”.

    Subcultures tend to subdivide themselves. I don’t know if there’s a term for it, but you can look at cycling (road, mountain, city/urban, fatbike, gravel bike, randonneur) or motorcycling (harley/cruiser, sportbike, LDrider, adventure rider, scooter) and see how the communities build and create “other” even within their own small world.

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  • gutterbunnybikes March 15, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    I have sort of embraced the whole shame/embarrassment/outsider thing. Took my name mostly because I’m getting older. Younger me was tearing up fire lanes in Forrest Park and would mock the urban riders (even though I lived downtown and was also a bike commuter). Older me doesn’t take to the trails anymore other than perhaps on Tabor on my vintage and antique bicycles riding the brakes the whole time usually (steel rims gotta if I have any chance of stopping).

    And after years of lurking, some of my first posts on this site was to defend the term “cyclists” when a homeless man was killed crossing the 205 to get to his camp. Many didn’t seem to want to include him as a cyclist because of his situation and the circumstances surrounding his death.

    It’s gotten a lot better on here the last few years in that respect. Though it the attitude still finds it way in every now and then. But it’s too be expected, every subculture gets further divided into smaller subcultures – people feel they need to identify with a group, and part of that includes excluding people.

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  • Granpa March 15, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    Thank you for bringing this issue forward. Although I bike ride all the time and all over, I am not part of a bicycling “scene”. I ride alone, partly because I am significantly hard-of-hearing and can’t chit chat while riding, partly because I am slower than the fast guys (but faster than the slow guys) and partly because I relish my bike time and freedom to ride my own ride at my own pace. (that I am an ass with no friends has nothing to do with it) I have a car and a motorcycle and refuse to be have guilt imposed upon me by holier-than-thou cyclists who refuse to accept that valid values exist outside their belief system. I enter “conversations” in this blog as a contrarian to the perfectionists who could never be satisfied with infrastructure built in compromise to a price point, or a non-bike perspective. The tone in this blog frequently takes that of “true believer” zealotry that is off putting in its absolutism. It is easy to read threads here and feel cycling is alienating. That cycling individuals on the road were treated unkindly is a pity. Cycling needs all the friends it can get.

    I see the Shift group at the bridge breakfast and feel welcome, but again, I don’t do well with chit chat. I do however try to help individuals. I have changed tires for strangers, held my bike light for a stranger changing a tire in the dark and I always ask flat tire fixers, I pass, if they have all the equipment they need. On a windy ride, I encouraged someone to draft behind me. It always makes me feel better when I do something like that. I don’t do it enough.

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    • Tim March 15, 2016 at 5:49 pm

      Hey did it write this. Wish I could say things that well.

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    • dan March 15, 2016 at 7:29 pm

      Yeah! I have mixed feelings about Shift. On the one hand, yay for free donuts! On the other hand, can you imagine doing this for cars? You can’t, because driving a car to work is “normal” and people don’t need any encouragement. That’s how I would like bikes to be viewed too…

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    • nuovorecord March 16, 2016 at 8:40 am

      Granpa, let’s go for a ride together sometime. I won’t say a word…promise. 😉

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    • Tom Hardy March 18, 2016 at 5:41 pm

      Welcome to the club Granpa! Been there dun that for decades. For some reason I very seldom get flats on my 700 23C and I do not spend extra for the super expensive tires. I am choosy of the brand and particular build of tire. I also inflate them to slightly over the rated pressure in spite of the shop recommended pressure of 30 psi less. I do not get pinch flats that way and I never with 63 years of riding have had a blowout from over inflating. Only once have I been wanting and that was riding down from the zoo and a tire was split from hitting a broken bottle and another rider that I did not know tossed me a spare he had that was used.
      Sometimes I disregard other riders because of their responses or inattention when they are dressed in black with no helmet while not looking at light signals and barreling through intersections going the wrong way on a one way street. This happens more often than I wish.

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  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley March 15, 2016 at 6:33 pm

    I vented my spleen over on their Tumblr. That was fun!

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  • bendite March 15, 2016 at 7:43 pm

    These people are likely assh***s in many areas of their life, and cycling is just one of those areas. So the question is, how do we make fewer assh***s in the world?

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  • dan March 15, 2016 at 7:50 pm

    “Well, I always feel a little uncomfortable when guys on $$$ dentist bikes check out my humble steed pre-ride. I find I feel better once I drop them on a hill” 🙂

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    • Tim March 16, 2016 at 8:13 am

      One of the many divisions in cycling – expensive verses cheap.
      Can’t we all just ride?

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      • dan March 16, 2016 at 10:11 am

        Hey! Don’t try to create a split between divisive and non divisive cyclists! Now I feel marginalized.

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  • Vince Rodarte March 15, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    I recently was teased for not knowing how to change a flat.
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    If anyone needs any bicycle advice, please feel free to come by my shop. We are a group of people with over 100 years of combined experience at our location alone.
    I feel that each of our staff is super approacheable and can put you at ease no matter the question. Most of the time it is lack of information that leads to feeling like an outsider. I know I felt that way when I first began on my bicycle journey. Asking questions can be difficult, especially when you don’t know the basics. Ask and we’ll answer in a way that you will understand.

    Vince @ River City Bicycles Outlet

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    • Tom Hardy March 18, 2016 at 5:46 pm

      By the way, I have found that with a little forethought, if a tire has been put on a rim it can be removed with no tools and the tube replaced with a spare with no tools. I have done this many times. I use a little talcum powder on the tube when I put the tube in the tire. some of the powder smears on the tire and no problem. I have field changed hundreds of tires/tubes this way for others.

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      • Ted Timmons (Contributor) March 18, 2016 at 9:52 pm

        I find this is true with many tires, but certain tires (GP4000, for instance) are impossible to remove without tools.

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  • J. E. March 15, 2016 at 10:41 pm

    I think we need to remember this concern in our infrastructure analysis and advocacy. It always bothers me whenever I see something new that’s being touted as better for cyclists but I can’t use because of some (relatively minor) physical impairments, things like hanging bike racks and Spinlister’s Smart Bike program (which utilizes bikes that are not upright and not step-throughs). It pains me whenever I mention an infrastructure issue that is causing me problems and other people brush it off like my complaint has no validity. If I, a current rider, am concerned about something or physically unable to do something, that’s a good sign many people who aren’t riding are also concerned about the same thing.
    When someone says we need to keep bike facilities on SE 26th because the hill at Woodward and 28th is too steep for some riders, or that we need a light at SE Morrison and 16th because slower riders can’t get across the intersection fast enough to cross safely given limited visibility, or that they ride on the sidewalk because they’re too nervous to take the lane, you shouldn’t start explaining to them why you don’t think those are valid concerns, you should listen! These are the types of worries that keep the “interested but concerned” riders from hopping on their bikes and bumping up our mode share.

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  • Brent March 16, 2016 at 8:56 am

    Thank you for sharing about this great project. As people who ride bikes, we often feel marginalized as a group. In those feelings, we are likely to find new support and friendships as a group. However, we are just as likely to marginalize others by setting up a system of barriers to entry, unspoken social norms, and other exclusionary practices. This is, unfortunately, natural human nature. Projects like this help us think beyond our human nature to make our group better, with fewer exclusionary practices. We must not be afraid to talk about and hear where our own group-think has blinded us.

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  • Trikeguy March 16, 2016 at 9:19 am

    Some people look down on me for choosing not to own a car.
    Some cyclists look down on the trike (well, all cyclists look *down* at me on the trike LOL – I had a guy ride next to me going up Jefferson once singing “Lowrider”, had me laughing so hard I had trouble riding)
    Some people look down on my decision to not pursue my original (more lucrative, more demanding) career.

    Me, I just ride and usually don’t think anything of them while the miles spool away under the big “Trike Grin”.

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  • Vince March 16, 2016 at 9:19 am

    Want to help people feel less marginalized ? Acknowelge them when they are are on their bikes. There was a time when riders would wave to each other when they passed. Maybe its my age, maybe its the bike I ride, maybe this is a courtesy that has fallen by the wayside, but more often than not, I get no response to the wave or greeeting that I continue, and will continue to give to other people on bikes.

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    • Mao March 16, 2016 at 9:46 pm

      If you wave at me I will be confused. I will think to myself, ‘do I know that person? Do they know me? Should I wave? Are they waving to someone else nearby? Too late to wave now, I’d look stupid.’

      I do give a cheer to my fellow foldies, roll on homies.

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  • Ron G. March 16, 2016 at 9:36 am

    My wife never liked coming into one of the shops I worked in. “You’re all too cool for me,” she’d say.

    The irony is most of us never felt that way. In school we were not the cool kids; more likely, we were the outcasts. We took to bikes because we didn’t take to balls. As we grew into adults, we found each other in bike shops.

    In that space, I suppose I have to acknowledge, we can be a little cliquish. However, shop employees, and bike industry/culture people in general, are very welcoming, albeit in a sometimes understated way. We’re psyched that people want to ride, even if we’re not always jumping up and down about it (we are at work, after all).

    I think that too often people hold shop employees accountable for their own insecurities. They come into a shop feeling insecure because they’re not particularly experienced or knowledgeable, and they leave feeling insecure because the shop employees didn’t give them a daily affirmation to patch the slow leak in their egos.

    That’s a lot to ask of shop employees. Really, we’re not looking down on you any more than the repairman at the appliance store. Okay, so you’re not very fast and you can’t adjust a derailleur–but you probably can’t fix the leak on your washer, either, and you don’t give up doing laundry because you didn’t feel emotional support from the repairman.

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  • Trikeguy March 16, 2016 at 10:14 am

    Ted Timmons (Contributor)
    Trikeguy- do you have a pic of your trike online?
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    Not many, I found one that someone took during last years Human Power Challenge and emailed to me and put it up on Photobucket though.

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  • El Biciclero March 16, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    Why are we asking about this in the context of bikes only? Why don’t we (or anyone) ask about a time when someone did something in a “car space”, or a “pedestrian space”, or a “chess space” or a “train space”?

    I get that this question was asked on a bike-oriented Tumblr, and so is of course focused on “bike culture”, but what is really so special about “bike space” that we need to “call out” bicyclists for being non-inclusive? I’m all for civility and non-judgment, but really, why is “bike space” special? If I like to build models, but the guy at one hobby shop is surly and unhelpful, am I going to quit model-building or just find another hobby shop? If I enjoy driving my car places, but this one time somebody honks at me, am I going to give up driving and call out “car culture” for being exclusionary? If my car (or my bike) starts acting up and I take it to a mechanic who berates my maintenance laziness or makes fun of my vehicle, do I throw in the towel and call out “mechanic culture” for excluding me? Or do I find another mechanic? If I try to join a philatelist club, but at the first meeting they make fun of my collection because it’s just stamps I steamed off of envelopes in the last year, do I give up my hobby, or just find some new philatelist friends who think my steamed stamps are cool? If I go on a group ride with a bunch of road racers who laugh at my fenders and drop me like a hot rock in the first mile, will I feel like an outsider? Maybe to the Road Racer Fender Poker-Funner Droppy Show-Off Bike Club, but so what? If I want to ride with friends, I’ll find some friends to ride with who won’t be all excludy. As has been noted in previous comments, exclusion has less to do with bikes or bicyclists in particular, and more to do with just plain old people.

    If we want more people to feel “included” as bicyclists, a good first move might be to make a “bike space” where everyone physically fits in the first place. The difficulty level of simply using a bike to do anything other than putter around the park can be so high as to intimidate anyone who hasn’t done it before. Being crammed into narrow bike lanes or shoulders, or sharing with pedestrians on a MUP, or attempting to take the lane in traffic or figure out how far behind another rider to stay—you’re bound to mess up and either feel dumb or make somebody mad. The range of abilities among different bicyclists (and potential bicyclists) is such that wherever you fit on the ability/experience spectrum you will be “excluded” from some other part of the spectrum. No matter how much you know, how strong you are, how much experience you have—somebody else will know more, be stronger, and have more. Will that person be nice when you run across them? Who knows? So what if they are or aren’t?

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  • rain waters March 16, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    I don’t mind it as long as the commenting cyclist happens to be putting me back together in an ER where she works, otherwise it feels not good.

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  • Joe Adamski March 16, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    Is the issue of perceived exclusion a cycling issue or a people issue? Since a cyclist is anyone from 5 to 95 on a bicycle, (and anyone 95+ on a bike is a god or goddess, thank you) poor interactions are inevitable. The one thing that should be apparent is all cyclists have a common denominator- their bikes. Regardless of size,age,cost,style or lack thereof, there IS that common thread. So I expect we might get on a tad better, have opportunities to interact a bit more easily.. but still step in it, socially.
    I don’t agree with the original supposition. And I won’t worry about it. Probably I will just go on a ride and forget about it.
    See you on the streets!

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  • Aixe Djelal March 17, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    I’ve never met anyone who has always felt like an insider, comfortable with their peers, in their community, in their own skin. Cycling has always been my escape as well as my preferred mode of transportation. When I was a kid living in a xenophobic midwestern town, people would literally yell at my family to go back to where we came from. There was a lot of passive aggression and exclusionary behavior. It stung, I was plenty upset many times, but whatever, I rode my bike and that was good.

    In Portland there are many different cycling scenes. I’m sure some are more welcoming than others. But because there ARE so many different scenes, I don’t feel like an outsider at all, even though I don’t really consider myself a part of any one scene or group. I just ride my bike and smile until my teeth dry out in the wind because I like riding my bike.

    Only recently has there been mainstream vocabulary to describe people treating one another like they don’t belong. It’s good there are now standard ways to describe insults and hard-to-pinpoint dismissals – those are useful tools that can depersonalize the experience. My approach is to be kind to everyone. Chances are, the person who seems like they’re being dismissive feels like an outsider themselves. And if they are really being dismissive, I don’t lose anything by being kind. If someone is outright mean, I will call them on it if I think it will make a difference. But thankfully I rarely encounter deliberate meanness. I encourage people to assume the best about others, be kind in the face of perceived insult, be calmly direct in response to undeniable rudeness, and most importantly, enjoy riding your bike!

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  • Doug March 18, 2016 at 6:48 am

    Outsider? I live in Kelso, but must come down to the metro area to ride a club ride.

    The club ride usually involves a social gathering where you may or not learn a name or two for 10 minutes. Then the ride starts and if I get dropped I am lost and must navigate back to my car. Oh thanks assholes. Maybe I’ll try it again next year. Once I started a ride with the wheelmen and got dropped on in the first 3 miles and just turned around and went back to my car. It’s a big event for me and a bigger disappointment.

    Cycle Oregon is the one of the most snobbish events I’ve ever been involved with. The whole nature of ‘Tent and Porter Service” is snobbish and inappropriate. Giving the best campsites for extra money just makes me sick. It’s right up there on the list of why I only will be riding ONE Cycle Oregon in this life. How obtuse of them to not realize that themselves.

    Best ride in America my eye, not selling out in 30 minutes anymore either because I think the word is getting out.

    How about the entire nature of the century ride? Why 100 miles? It’s about twice as far as I want go in July, it’s so much fun in the rain VBC on May 5th on your ride of 1000 turns ride around clark county. Nothing more fun than spending 7 hours in the saddle, nothing exclusive and non inclusive like that.

    I like cycling it’s good exercise that doesn’t hurt my knees, ankles, back like running did. But don’t get ahead of yourself on culture. It is exclusive, bias to outsider, skewed to the rich IMO.

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    • Ted Timmons (Contributor) March 18, 2016 at 11:48 am

      What’s the objection against tent and porter service? Doesn’t it make sense to have different dollar costs for different people?

      I mean, first class seats subsidize coach seats on an airplane. Having unbundled airline fares may be grating personally, but it means lower fares for basic service.

      The same pricing strategy can be seen in sportsball events or concerts. If you want to see Taylor Swift for $10, you probably don’t expect to be in the front row.

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