Category: Equity

Two Sides of Changing a Flat

Two Sides of Changing a Flat

Which one do you want to hear first? Let’s flip a coin. Oh, it doesn’t matter because they’re both relevant.

Several years ago, the League of American Bicyclists revised the Smart Cycling curriculum. There were some things that needed to be updated. The focus before the revisions was on roadies. Spandex-clad, skinny-tired, long-distance road riders…With the revision, the whole point was to be more inclusive, with anyone pushing the pedals considered a bicyclist.

That was good, because, of course, not everyone driving a bike wants to do a century, or to race. Far more people use their bicycles for transportation and/or recreation, so the shift was appropriate.

One thing that fell off the plate left me wondering, though. The basic course taught by LCIs nationwide included basic bicycle maintenance. It included a bike check (the ABC Quick Check) designed to make sure your bike is ok before a ride. It also included brake and derailleur adjustments (that many folks may never attempt to do…). Finally, it included changing a flat.

All of those except the ABC Quick Check went away when the curriculum changed. All of those changes seemed OK to me, except…changing a flat. I, and several others, pointed out that everyone riding a bike ought to know how to do that. And…even in training to become an LCI, there was officially no requirement that someone know how to do that. We felt then, and I feel now, that there is an issue of (dare I say it) fairness, or equity, in that change?

In my experience, working with many LCIs over the years, more men than women know how to change a flat. And here’s where the two sides I mentioned earlier come in. Shouldn’t we equip all riders with that basic knowledge? Undoubtedly, some people riding bicycles will never do it themselves (bike shops will do it quickly, and at low cost). But there are some who will do it themselves, because it empowers them to take care of their vehicle, or because it frees them to go wherever/whenever without major concern. But if no one ever shows you how to do it, you’re at a disadvantage.

Here’s the other side. I’ll illustrate with a story. On a long charity ride, my (adult) daughter got a flat. Several of the men in our group jumped in to fix it. They assumed 1) she didn’t know how to do it, or 2) she would take too long. My daughter, having been taught to do it, told them all to back off (it was fun to see!). She quickly and efficiently changed the tube, and we went on.

So now we see the issues. We don’t teach people to do it, and then even if we do, we assume they can’t (or they aren’t good at it). How about we give people the skills they need, and then let them decide how to address the problem?

Riding While Black

Riding While Black

“Being stopped and harassed is one of the top concerns of Black and brown cyclists.” —Charles Brown, Rutgers University

A just-published article in Bicycling Magazine discusses one of the racial issues in cycling (See the original article here). Author Dan Roe looked at data from three major cities and found that, for black people on bikes are more likely to have problematic interactions with law enforcement.

Charles Brown, a senior transportation researcher at Voorhees Transportation Center (Rutgers University), reported on the results of a 2017 survey showing that 15 percent of Black and Latinx riders said they had been unfairly stopped by law enforcement.

Bicycling found only 3 out of 100 major cities that classify stops by race/ethnicity. Oakland, CA, New Orleans, LA, and Washington, D.C. had such data. The short version of the article: black riders are stopped at a high rate, disproportionately to the population. Black riders are also more likely to get tickets, white riders are more often let off with a warning.

One important finding: stops were made more often in neighborhoods that were historically or are currently home to black residents. Why? Is it because of the people who live there? Or is it because these areas (at least in New Orleans) have typically been underserved, and safe infrastructure has not been a priority?

Questions, not answers. Have we come a long way? Yes. We still have a long way to go, though. “Riding while black” can’t be an excuse to treat people wrongly.

For more on bicycling and equity, see these posts: “Welcome, Ladies,” “Is This About Bicycling?,” “Riding and Not Seeing.”

Welcome, ladies

Welcome, ladies

“Because, you know, I can’t work a bicycle pump” – Judi Dench

Hmm…and that highlights one of the things we need to work on. I don’t know the context in which Dame Judi Dench said that, so I can’t/won’t assume any. But I will use it to launch a thought process about bicycling and opportunity.

As you probably know, I work with the League of American Bicyclists. Part of the mission of LAB is education of the bicycling community in the quest to create a “Bicycle Friendly America.” I enjoy teaching people how to safely and confidently ride their bicycles wherever they would like to ride them.

A quick story to illustrate where I’m going with this post. My daughter and I were on a long-distance/multi-day charity ride several years ago. We were riding with the usual suspects: a bunch of folks who had ridden together for many miles…all guys. She got a flat. We pulled over to deal with it, and a few of the guys jumped in to start fixing it. She waved them off, and changed it herself.

The point: as is often the case, the guys assumed either a) she didn’t know how to change it, or b) she would take too long to do it. But then, her dad teaches people how to do this, and made sure she knew how and and was able to do so.

Unfortunately, it is often the case that we don’t do what we need to do so that people can be self-sufficient. That is too often true in cycling. Everyone who rides should at least understand the basics of how the bike works, how to do at least the very basic repairs/adjustments to keep the bike in good shape, and when it should be taken into a shop for more expert care. And we’ve too often failed in that. Unfortunately it’s especially true for women. They’ve often not been treated well in bike shops, in bike clubs, on bike rides. It’s changing, a bit at a time, but we need to do better.

Welcome, ladies! How can I help?

For more on bicycling and equity, see these posts: “Is This About Bicycling?;” “Riding and Not Seeing.”

Is this about bicycling?

Is this about bicycling?

“Toleration is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle.” — Helen Keller

Is this about a bicycle? Well, no, not really.

There is a tremendous amount of effort required to learn to balance a bicycle…or anything else. Most of us don’t remember the work that went into that, because it was so long ago. “You never forget how to ride a bike.” That’s what they tell us, and to a large degree, it’s true. Even after you’ve been away from riding, you can get right back on, put your feet on the pedals, and go.

I’m not so sure, though, about Helen Keller’s contention. Indeed, toleration requires effort at the start. But I think that the two are unlike each other because toleration often requires a readjustment when you haven’t thought about it for awhile. New facts, opinions, and differing approaches to life all require us to reexamine our own perspectives, and to figure out how we will incorporate them into our own thoughts. It’s not the same as getting back on the bike (which is the same now as it was oh so many years ago when we first learned to ride). The only constant is that everything changes. So we must change too.

But…we MUST admit that having differing opinions is not the same as intolerance. At the same time, we MUST admit that toleration is not the same as professing those thoughts/taking those actions/holding those opinions ourselves. And we MUST be willing to have conversations about our different experiences, thoughts, hopes, beliefs. We MUST NOT brand those who disagree with us as intolerant. Perhaps some are, but a person who merely has different opinions than I do means only that that person is not me! Nor would I want everyone to be me. That would be a boring world indeed.

Maybe if we worked a bit harder at toleration, it would become easier. We may find relevance…and a need for change…in some of the things others say. We may learn that someone else’s approach to things works better than ours. And eventually, we may see that it’s almost as easy as getting back on the bike.

Perhaps you weren’t so far off, Ms. Keller!

For more on bicycling and equity, see this post: “Riding and Not Seeing.”

Riding…and not seeing

Riding…and not seeing

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.”

John F. Kennedy

That’s right. Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride. And many of us take that simple pleasure for granted. Why? Because we can do it any time. If not today, then tomorrow. If not tomorrow, then next week…

But what if that weren’t a possibility? What if you couldn’t do that ride next week?

That’s the real situation some of my friends face. They can’t just jump on the bike and ride. They used to be able to ride, just like the rest of us. But now, it’s just not something they can do. Because they can no longer see. Did you know that around 90% of people who are blind/visually impaired had sight earlier in their lives? They more than likely learned to ride a bike when they were young, just like you and me. And I’m sure they enjoyed it, just like you and me. But that simple pleasure is no longer one they can enjoy, without help.

A few months ago, I met a man who organized bike rides for blind people. He came down with retinitis pigmentosa some years ago. It is a genetic disease that results in gradual loss of vision because of the loss of rod and cone receptor cells in the eye. As they are lost, vision gets progressively more difficult. Total blindness is not common, but many sufferers, like my friend, eventually can distinguish only some light and dark.

He used to ride a lot before he developed retinitis pigmentosa. He wants to keep riding. So he tracked down a couple of tandem bikes and put out a call for sighted bicyclists who would be willing to pilot the tandems. He plans a once-a-month short ride (many of the blind riders have not been on a bike for many years).

I answered the call, because it felt like a great way to help bring the simple pleasure of a bike ride to people who might not think they could do that again. So in December, I went on my first “blind bike ride.” It was a terrific experience. I saw things I had never seen. I experienced the ride in a whole new way: I described everything I was seeing to the blind stoker on the back of the tandem. I told her about the giant Christmas wreaths that one homeowner put up between the columns on the large two-story house we passed. She told me about the car coming up behind us before I could hear it. I told her why we were moving left (to pass the motorist who was unloading the car up ahead). She talked about the aromas coming out of the restaurant coming up, and because she sensed that, she knew exactly where we were! The give and take continued, from Bayou St. John into the French Quarter, and back.

We enjoyed the ride; the sighted pilots and the blind stokers all. We’ve done a few rides now and we’re branching out. One ride was in City Park, with stops at the Singing Oak, Morning Call, and the Besthoff Sculpture Garden. We’ve contacted the New Orleans Museum of Art about a more formal visit there. Next month we’ll be back at NOMA’s Sculpture Garden, meeting with a docent to teach us a bit about some of the sculptures…and the visually impaired riders will get to experience the sculptures by touch! We’re talking about a couple of new rides: a historical ride, with licensed tour guides, and a pub ride to some of the local craft breweries.

We’re all learning a lot, and are looking forward to more rides. What’s next? Riders who are challenged in other ways…Adaptive bikes? Trikes? Hand bikes? Yes, we’ve got ideas. We’re at the start of something good.

In the end, it’s about that simple pleasure. The joy of riding a bike.

P.S. Want to get involved? Send me a note. I’ll be happy to help you get involved.



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