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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Having lived in Trump country until last July, I don’t think that the right views bicycling as necessarily liberal. I would regularly see mountain bikes in pickups driven by scary looking mountain men. Plus, when I went in club rides in RW Oregon cities, lots of affluent RW’ers would show up with their new Emondas and Tarmacs with electric shifting. Sure, every now and then, a RW politician – usually at the local level – takes a verbal swipe at bicycling, but that’s rare.
As a Tesla owner, I’m aware that EV’s are potentially viewed as liberal too, but even that perception is fading. When the Tesla cyber truck finally hits the market, the RW yahoos won’t be able to plant their overweight posteriors into them fast enough to terrorize other drivers and peds.
Perhaps it is “off-road” biking that appeals to all sides of the political spectrum but “bike commuting” and projects targeting bike infrastructure is liberal.
Or, projects targeting something only a minority of the population uses is viewed as a waste of “my hard earned tax dollars” (RW radio term).
Similarly, my thought initially was that sport cycling is adopted across the board. But utility cycling is a bit more liberal leaning. Not necessarily exclusive to the left, but left dominant.
Mainly because it’s mostly done in cities and cities tend to be skewed to the left (compared to rural, towns, or suburbs).
President George Bush Junior rode his mountain bike regularly, drove his secret service agents around the bend. I know lots of “conservatives” here in NC who bicycle regularly, including African-American MAGA supporters. Obviously NC ain’t Oregon.
Actually it’s not Portland. Probably does have some good parallels with Oregon.
Are they sport riders or utility riders though?
The far lefties hate EV’s. EV’s are for “sell outs” according to the extremists heard from frequently on bike portland
I think the right _should_ view cycling as a nice conservative activity – get away from reliance on foreign oil, get some saddle hours so you’re ready to use your MTB in the backcountry, etc. etc. But in my experience, that’s not how it goes.
I think that in the context of the US partisan divide, biking for transportation specifically is US liberal, just like vaccination and masking happen to be US liberal (I use “liberal” to mean left-of-center politics in general, whether it be progressives or those who are closer to the center). I don’t think it has to be that way and there are plenty of countries where it’s demonstrated that biking for transportation, like covid countermeasures, is a fairly nonpartisan thing. I can speak from experience in Japan that there really doesn’t seem to be a pattern as far as who bikes. You see young people, middle aged people, old people, and people of all genders biking. You see mothers biking with their kids sitting on special kid’s seats. I certainly don’t get the sense that conservative Japanese people bike less. It’s just an everyday practical tool that doesn’t have political baggage. And they’re not the fancy carbon fiber bikes that people there are using either. They’re the cheap and heavy utility bikes that don’t go very fast, although there are a fair amount of pedal assist bikes too. I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that the partisan divide we happen to have in the US is arbitrary and non-universal throughout the world, and that I somehow wish that biking weren’t a partisan issue here.
Yes! That’s along the lines of what I was thinking… By contrast, I’m a bit disappointed that so many people seem so eager to start yelling at each other or just holler out into internet space as a result of this post, and I guess I am guilty of providing that opportunity, which I regret. I guess some people read this musing of mine and a prominent response seems to be: “here’s an opportunity for me to tell X group how dumb/awful/evil they are!” I’m sorry for my role in instigating that.
I had some different ideas in mind…
I was reflecting on how the polarization of the country affects almost every decision and identity we craft for ourselves and see in others-and how limiting, and silly, that can be.
I was thinking about conservative friends that I am going to try to introduce to family biking, and wondering if the “liberal” perception would inhibit them from seeing a bike as a part of their family life, and that my invitation to them could help break down that barrier. I was hoping others might consider making such invitations to “non-biking” acquaintances, even those who might have a different political label.
I was thinking that it would be really nice to bike together, grab a beer, and talk, whatever one’s party is, especially about things that really matter for the city and community life, like homelessness, police-community relations, how to aid downtown businesses and the Arts during Covid, street safety, quality schools….and wouldn’t it be refreshing if the bike ride were a commonality, a unity, a shared enjoyment, however different the other views/solutions are?
And I suppose, I was hoping to show how detrimental the polarization has become, that people can see a divide everywhere, including with biking, where there really doesn’t need to be one.
Naive of me perhaps. Or my fault, for poor execution of a little idea. Mea Culpa.
Sadly this is what we have devolved into. Tribalism has overrun today’s society. You are no longer seen as an individual with value but rather a member of a tribe. Liberal vs Conservative, Democrat vs Republican, Progressive vs Moderate, Vaxxer vs Anti-Vaxxer, Fascist vs Anti-fascist, the list goes on and on. Oh how I long for the days of a Mark Hatfield who actually would sit down & discuss issues with dignity & respect for his so-called enemies. Today’s most respected people should be the ones who venture outside their echo chamber to listen to the ideas of others & break bread with them keeping the conversation alive.
The left has, and continues to, reach across the aisle to conservatives. It’s not a ‘both-sides’ thing no matter how many conservatives come here to pedal that. Mark Hatfield would have never gone anywhere in todays GOP because he would never survive the purity tests. Not to mention that society has evolved but conservatives haven’t.
I simply wont be friends with people who think trans people should be killed, gay people put in prison, and women forced to develop a fetus they don’t want, including one created by rape, regardless of whatever else we have in common. The American Taliban is tearing this country apart and they are the only ones to blame.
@cmh89 You just proved my point. You’ve painted every conservative with a broad brush. The world would be a better place if you actually made a conservative friend & had an ongoing conversation with them over more than social media. Sitting down over a cup of coffee or a beer with someone you disagree with can truly transform your life relationships. Try it 🙂
What do you mean? If you support the GOP, you support those things regardless of what you claim to believe. It’s not like you can say “oh I hate that trump orphaned all those children but I’m willing to overlook it because he juiced the stock market”
If you support something like the GOP, that says something about you.
To requote myself
“I simply wont be friends with people who think trans people should be killed, gay people put in prison, and women forced to develop a fetus they don’t want, including one created by rape, regardless of whatever else we have in common.”
I don’t think a shared enjoyment of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is enough common ground to build a friendship on bud.
I’ll say it another way. If at this point in time, after watching the horror show that the GOP no longer bothers to hide, you still identify as a conservative, you aren’t a good person and I have no interest in knowing you.
The world wont be a better place if I overlook disgusting worldviews to maintain friendships with terrible people. The world will be better place if conservatives stop being ignorant bigots.
Bud, I have lots of friendships with people I disagree with. Disagreeing on trade policy or urban planning, or even how to address climate change is significantly different than a disagreement over whether or not women have civil rights.
Lots of caricature and vitriol in your posts, not much “reaching across the aisle”.
I have no interest in reaching across the aisle. The GOP tried to overthrow our federal elections.
I said that the Democratic part and liberals generally still try and reach across the aisle, a policy I disagree with greatly.
If talking with those you disagree with is out, what’s left? Ritual combat?
One question for you to think about: What is “conservative”? No use of political party affiliation allowed in your answer.
Completely agree with your assessment.
Conservatives are rejecting life-saving preventative medicine because they think its liberal. They basically will hate anything their masters tell them to, so I guess biking isn’t a ‘liberal’ thing as long as trump or whatever demagogue they are currently worshipping doesn’t speak ill of it.
Of course, trump could tweet he hates bikes today and conservatives would start blowing theirs up shooting them to virtue signal.
The performative act amuses me. Virtue signaling exists on both sides of the spectrum – remember Vista Outdoor?
I’m not sure what you think this has to do with what I said so I’ll just ignore it.
LOL at the ‘both sides’ nonsense. Let me know when liberals start eating horse paste and dying to own the conservatives.
In two postings in a row you’ve directly criticized the concept that most issues can be viewed from different angles. I’m sure you understand that most complex issues are, well, complex, but you seem to think that your views are the only legitimate ones. That’s a fairly illiberal outlook.
I’m not sure where you got that from. Maybe you misread what I wrote, twice? Most issues can be looked at from many angles. If your position is “gay men should go to jail”, I don’t care what “angle” you’re looking at, you’re a terrible person full stop.
I have Masters in Public Policy so I’m pretty familiar with complex issues. Again, you might be replying to the wrong posts? I’m also never sure where I said my views where the only legitimate ones? Can you quote me? Or are you just trying to create strawmen to argue?
I think you might be confused. There are lots of opinions ones can have, but not all of them deserve respect or consideration. Eating horse paste makes you an idiot. Refusing to get the vaccine makes you an idiot. There is no nuance there. Conservatives want tolerance and respect for their ignorant and anti-science positions, and its just not going to happen.
There is a reason trump said he loved the poorly educated
The number of people who believe “gay men should go to jail” in this country is vanishingly small, so it is not at all reasonable suggest that those to your right generally believe this. By an overwhelming majority, they don’t. And until recently, the anti-vax movement was most visible on the left (not the “antifa left”, but the “wellness left”.)
Maybe I’m just confused, as you say, but I think the way you are presenting your views are as shrill and divisive* as many on the right.
*There’s that word again, feeling quite appropriate applied to an apparent male.
Until 2003 sodomy was illegal in the State of Texas (as in many other backwards states) and it took a SCOTUS ruling to invalidate it. Not only was that the case, Texas has refused to remove their non unenforceable anti-gay laws. Laws that criminalize sodomy exist in 15 states and all it would take is one SCOTUS ruling to allow states like Texas to continue imprisoning gay men again.
And before you claim that it just an outdated law that no one cares to get rid of, there is an effort every legislative session to remove that law, and its failed because of republican opposition everytime.
I get you have the privilege not to care, but there are lots of people in this country who would love for homosexuality to be criminalized again.
You are confused, which is fine. I’m not presenting my views in a shrill or divisive way, I’m just not going to carry water for people with abhorrent views. If someone wants to hold the views that Black people shouldn’t vote or women shouldn’t have autonomy of their body shouldn’t be in jail, but they should be shunned and shamed by society at large.
You so nailed it cmh89; sitting on the fence when the house is burning down in the guise of some notion of impartial objectivity is delusional, and has been often in history. The fantasy usually comes from those privileged enough to be isolated from most consequences of injustice, ignorance, rascism, sexism, kleptocracy and the like. Americans born since the 50’s in particular often have little sense of what’s been gained by fighting and dying for justice and yes what’s right, rather naive toleration of any position, no matter how outrageous. End to slavery, end of child labor, women voting, a 40 hour work week, the weekend, the EPA, an end to the Vietnam war, the Civil Rights Act,the putting down of insurrection both in 1861 and 2021.. all cost lives. Hell, those who revolted against the Crown in 1776! None of the people referred to above felt they could equivocate and passively “tolerate all sides” while sitting comfortably in the middle of the road. We owe them big time and we’re all better for it. We should all be very intolerant of intolerance and no, that’s not a contradiction!
Does having a Masters Degree in Public Policy somehow make you smarter than the person you are debating?
Just going to say that you seem to be taking the worst examples and extrapolating them to an entire group. Someone with your background should probably know better than that.
Smarter? No. More informed? Yeah, unless they have done the work. My doctor may or may not be smarter than me but they sure have done a lot more work to have an understanding of the medical field so I listen to them.
Oh yeah, I’m sure the party that went all in on donald trump is just chock full of compassionate, smart people.
If you think a boycott is virtue signalling, you’re telling us you don’t know what a boycott is, or what it’s role has been in history. I’m so weary of this “both sides” false framing. The people who want to put an end to the democratic process now that demographics are spelling their extinction, those who want a theocracy and will accept plutocracy are NOT equally balanced with those wanting democracy to continue, nor SHOULD they be treated as such. I’m speaking of the procovid, forced childbirth advocate party, the (in truth)resurrected Confederates that used to be “conservatives”. You remind me of those Americans in the 30’s who spoke the way you do about events in Germany Italy and Japan. Mr Middle, sometimes you have to pick sides, and though I wish that weren’t true our grandparents knew it was. Your moral relativism is a sick child and as Jim Hightower wrote: “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow stripe and dead armadillos” Time to rise to the occasion and be a citizen not just a consumer.
Trump said the human body is a battery and we shouldn’t exercise, which would drain it down. I’m guessing he’s not a fan of bikes.
Would you believe, this is a fallacy. The Genius Billionaire fallacy. The assumption is outlined perfectly in the quote above.
Cult and celebrity worship inevitably leads credulous individuals to throw their support behind nearly everything the cult or celebrity does.
Especially when that particular “billionaire” (no one really knows how much he has – really) eats McDonald’s! Very unhealthy and the reason he eats that is based purely on paranoia, “they can’t predict when I’ll drive through, so they can’t poison my food”. Now, that to me sounds exceptionally unhealthy. Because it is, it’s an expression of an unwell mind. So, again, you have a fallacy as the basis of your logic.
The new right is just inherently against anything the libs are for. Doesn’t matter the reasoning or discordance. It is just 100% knee-jerk grievance politics.
And the new left is against anything the right is for. Portland is one of the most judgmental, unaccepting towns in the US. Jacksonville, FL
is probably number 2 but on the other side of the spectrum.
Both are screaming Groucho Marx’s song “ Whatever it is, I’m against it”
Please STOP, both of you (far righties and far lefties)!
The political spectrum in the United States is tied to population density. The lower population density, the more conservative. The lower the population density, the longer the distance between local destinations and the less viable it is to use a bicycle for everyday tasks. Most conservatives aren’t necessarily anti-bike, or even anti-bike infrastructure, it just doesn’t really have much bearing on their lives. Even in terms of who’s putting up barriers to bike infrastructure, it’s more along the lines of liberals with cars in cities than blood red conservatives.
But that’s not really the point of the article. The point of the article is–well, I’m honestly not all that sure. Look, you’re not at risk of losing friends because you like bicycles, you’re at risk of losing conservative friends because you’re writing for an inherently political institution that furthers the interests of density and more effective transit, both decidedly liberal outcomes. I mean, surely that’s obvious right? Speaking from the left side of things, there’s a big difference between having a friend who owns guns and likes to hunt and having a friend who writes for NRA magazine, even if it’s just a slice of life column. So I don’t really understand what the “can’t we all just get along” business is about. I understand “not wanting to pick a team”. But lady, you’re already wearing the jersey.
That seems harsh.
I didn’t think the point of the article was confusing at all. The “I don’t want to pick a team. And I don’t want biking to fall prey to this division” in the big orange box sums it up well for me.
Your “But lady, you’re already wearing the jersey” sounds condescending. She clearly already knows that writing here (or riding a cargo bike) means people see her as a liberal, as you just did. But she also wrote that having five kids gets her labeled a conservative.
Since she gets labeled both, either that means half the people are labeling her inaccurately, or she IS both, which means EVERYBODY who labels her is half-wrong. Either way, that’s a lot of being wrong happening on the part of labelers.
I totally get the “‘Can’t we all just get along’ business” at least as it applies to biking, which is the writer’s focus. As others have commented, there are reasons for people of all types to like biking. But when it gets labeled “liberal” non-liberals will be less likely to see those reasons.
I thought the piece was clear, relatable, and logical.
Unrelated but I’m just now noticing your pink fenders and purple at the wheels. I love it!
I’m agreeing with a lot of folks that city commuting is likely a “liberal” thing because cities tend to be “liberal” leaning. I had to stop thinking Prius drivers were “some of the good ones” and just realize when folks get behind a car they often transform into jerks/ a lot of clueless people are driving.
Why the tribes?
Can’t we all have different ideas, values, thoughts, genders, and religions but come together to ride bikes and enjoy bike culture?
Dear author: Please stop using the outdated and/or misleading term “conservative.” The behavior it purports to describe is no longer conservative at all; it’s radical. Also, please stop using “liberal,” a term whose meaning varies depending on discipline, scope and context. Even just “right-leaning” and “left-leaning” would be more accurate and more honest. You say you don’t want to pick a team? Then enough with the (increasingly bogus) team names.
I don’t care if you are a republican/ conservative or not, but if you actually believe:
-Gay people are going to hell,
-Global warming is a hoax,
-Science is ideologically, and politically liberal
-Benghazi was a Hillary Clinton conspiracy of some sort,
-Obama was not born in the U.S.
-Hillary Clinton ran a pedophile ring out of a pizza parlor,
-Trickle-down economics works,
-3 Million people voted illegally in 2016, and more in 2020
-Reverse racism is an actual problem
-It’s ok for trump (lower case intentional) to do business with Russia and be President of the U.S.
-BLM is a terrorist organization
-Antifa is just as violent as the KKK and the Proud Boys
-Rich people are smart because they are rich
-Money is more important than people
-It’s ok to separate children from their parents because they are brown, and trying to come to the U.S. in search of a better life.
-Corona virus is just a kind of flu, and not that many people have actually died.
-Vaccines are a plot
-January 6th was a patriotic expression
-Institutional racism is not real
-Accurate history of racism in this country is a matter of opinion and should not be taught in in out schools
Then I don’t really want to read anything you have to say about bikes, or anything else.
Cycling is not political, at least it shouldn’t be. Medical treatments are not political, at least they should not be. Education is not political, at least it should not be. The only way to break this ridiculous pattern of playing sides is to have real conversations. Most things should not be political, so treat them like they are not. Talk with people who disagree with you. Hear what they have to say and try to actually understand it. Share your words and hope they do the same, while being gracious if they do not. If we only converse with people who agree with us, we are part of the problem.
When you start sharing your views with the “other side” you will find that the right and left are actually much closer together than the media makes it seem.
Okay here is a Portland cyclist who is one of the nation’s biggest proponents of ivermectin. That’s keeping Portland weird.
“A Progressive Biologist From Portland Is One of the Nation’s Leading Advocates for Ivermectin”
I think people of both sides ride bikes. If you run, your joints may wear out and biking is better when that happens. Trump, who was once a “liberal” owned a bike race:
He is still fairly liberal in many ways, but knee-jerk reactions to things he said that were taken out of context, caused the left to lose their minds in 2015-2016 so they’ve hated him ever since. Little of what the left believes and says about Trump are true.
As far as BikePortland is concerned, I would not rate it liberal – I’d rate it extreme leftist. There are few “liberals” making noise in US politics today – their voices are drowned out by leftists – and sadly that may actually be an accurate reflection of the Dem party.
Reading the comments here confirms the lack of education our young people are receiving. Few of them can differentiate between right-wing, reactionary, Trumpism, white power,etc and Conservatism. I was raised by Conservative parents (I have a picture of my Dad with Ronald Reagan and he worked for the Nixon White House). We never used the word Conservative in our household, but we were..we were raised to ‘conserve’ precious resources (economic and environmental), to ‘conserve’ traditional values (self-reliance, acceptance of differing viewpoints and backgrounds, your word is your bond, don’t lie, etc.). Conserve is the base word of Conservatism; it has nothing to do with bicycling, sexism, homophobia, racism. I suggest that the commenters here spend a little brainpower to learn a little political history and philosophy, before you start throwing terms around in public, and displaying your intellectual deficits. When I read comments like ‘I don’t want to reach across the aisle’, it sounds as reactionary and closed-minded as any bigot…personally, I am happy to engage any and all viewpoints in values and ideas discussion.
As Shannon said in her comment above, most of the comments on this post have missed the point of her piece. I don’t want this space to be folks yelling at each other and defending their political team. I’m closing the comments for now. Let’s have more productive conversations in the future!