This is our Family Biking column by Shannon Johnson. Last week she wrote about her fear of becoming a suburban soccer mom.
“Don’t you tell!” I commanded my husband, after I began writing for BikePortland.
He snickered. “I’m definitely going to bring it up at dinner.”
“Don’t.” I scowled back.
Because dinner was with conservative friends. And “BikePortland” must be “liberal.” It’s obvious from the title: Bike (liberal) and Portland (liberal), so Bike + Portland must mean Super Liberal. Thus, writing for BikePortland would label me Super Liberal, and in America today Liberals and Conservatives don’t eat dinner together, except on Thanksgiving, and everyone hates that.
So naturally, I eagerly told all of my liberal friends about BikePortland, and swore my husband to secrecy in the company of conservative ones.
Heck, I even had an actual nightmare that I was outed in one of my mostly-conservative parent groups and told that I was no longer welcome at meetings since I was writing for the liberal biking media.
That got me thinking. The political divide in our nation, our communities, and even among our dearest friends, is so virulent that it’s disturbing my sleep and has me hiding my biking activities as a clandestine pursuit, lest they disrupt the political dogs hiding beneath the dinner table.
Which begs the question: Is biking political? Is it indeed “a liberal thing”? Should it be?
In our polarized political climate, I think there is a strong tendency to assign all activities, organizations, and individual people to one of the two major political teams. (Which side are you on? You’re either with us, or against us!) I further understand that biking is associated with environmentalism and lowering carbon emissions (by not driving a car), and it can thus get placed with a liberal label. But is this a good thing?
Isn’t riding a bike a universal American childhood experience? Learning to ride without training wheels is an honored rite of passage. And although grown-ups do get older and change in all sorts of ways, who among them grows to hate going for a bike ride? Isn’t it the one activity that makes all of us feel like kids again? And isn’t a bicycle the one gift everyone–democrats and republicans, conservatives and liberals–give to their kids?
Nevertheless, the perception exists that biking is a Liberal Thing. And I don’t think that’s good for biking. I know, there can be a lot of force behind assigning a cause to a specific political team, and then getting that team to support it and hate the enemy. There’s a lot of that going around. (How else could wearing a mask during a pandemic arouse such fierce passions?) But I’m awfully tired of those us-vs-them wars. And I hate the feeling of being politically labeled because I love riding my cargo bike.
In response, my cheeky husband suggests I decorate my cargo basket with the most confusing and offensive combinations of political bumper stickers possible: “I’m Pro-Life.” “Vote Bernie!” Then again, I do have five kids (must be conservative!) and I’m riding a bike (liberal!), so perhaps I’m already a contradiction of terms.
Still, I don’t want to pick a team. And I don’t want biking to fall prey to this division. Because I think biking is good for people, all people, and good for families: however they identify, whatever political party they join, or aisle they sit in. I want all families to feel comfortable and welcome in this space, liberals and conservatives, and everyone else in-between or outside the labels.
If we all remembered how great it felt to ride for the first time without training wheels, the wobbly, thrilling, accomplishment that ushered in a new era of our childhoods, or how exciting it was to see a bike under the Christmas tree or wrapped in Birthday paper (or watch our children squeal with glee at such a discovery), or how wonderful it still feels to summit a hill and coast down the other side, maybe we wouldn’t need to politicize it, and maybe instead it can be something we can share, and even do together, no labels necessary.
When that’s the case, I can only think we’ll all be better for it. Because biking should be for everyone. And no one should fear being labeled a certain way because they ride a bike.
Which I think means I need to let my husband say whatever he wants at dinner.
— Shannon Johnson, email@example.com
— Get our headlines delivered to your inbox.
— Support this independent community media outlet with a one-time contribution or monthly subscription.
Shannon is a 36-year-old mom of five who lives in downtown Hillsboro. Her column appears weekly. Contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org