The Hegelian bike commuter

Lady Fleur and I had a brief discussion yesterday about the politics and history of cycling advocacy.

Captain Safety on the trail

She wrote:

When I first bike commuted in the mid-90s, the advocates tended to be geeky slender white men on older bikes with racks and panniers, often with long suburban commutes wearing mostly cycle-specific clothing that’s often worn out.

This points to my long time thesis that, historically, bike commuters are often cheapskate engineers who ride a bicycle to work because it fits our cost-benefit analysis. It just makes sense.

Lady Fleur’s antithesis, however, is that we weren’t so much cheapskates as we weren’t “concerned about appearances or the status implications of having new gear.”

What is the synthesis of these two views?


  1. My synthesis is that there is a subculture in the US, which sometimes encompasses bicycle riding, that posits that cheapness/frugality=virtue, and members of that subculture attempt to claim or display these things publicly. (These claims and displays may or may not reflect actual frugality/cheapness.)

  2. aren’t the two things the same? In what cost/bene analysis does perceived status weigh heavily?

  3. I’m a geeky, slender (now that I’ve lost 17 pounds), white man. I’m cheap, an engineering professor, and not particularly caring about how I look. I’ve also been using a bike as my main transportation for about 40 years (I’ve never had a driver’s license). My bike is a somewhat expensive recumbent (or was 15 years ago). I ride in the clothes I work in, except that I change my shoes and I add a somewhat worn-out reflective windbreaker coming down the hill at night or a rain suit when it is raining.

    I guess I fit all the stereotypes.

  4. The synthesis of the views is simple. The engineering mind comes up with a cost-benefit analysis that indicates bicycling is best, and unlike most people doesn’t reject it because they don’t care about appearances or status.

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