Opportunities For Improving Ones’ Reasoning Explained

Over the years, this blog has had great fun bagging on conspiracy theorists. 

In almost eight and a half years of writing Shot In The Dark, I’ve mixed it up with 9/11 Truthers, Triggers (people who believe Bristol is really Trig Palin’s mother), Ronulans who think that there’s a conspiracy to build a trans-American highway, even people who believe (I’m not making this up) that Karl Rove sent a sniper team to shoot down Paul Wellstone’s plane.

But the most irritating conspiracy theory is one that I’ve encountered almost exclusively on the right – the theory that riding a bicycle unwittingly ties you into a shadowy international network of Fabian socialist Bilderberg cap-and-traders.  All sorts of conservatives and “conservatives” believe this – from Jason Lewis, who is, bless his heart, the father of modern Minnesota conservatism, but is half-wrong at best on the “bikes and taxes” issue, all the way down to some of our “less-gifted” brethren.

So I want to establish two points before we move on:

  1. I ride bike.  Lots. From March into December, I do most of my commuting by bike.  I love it.  It’s fun, it keeps me within shooting distance of “in shape”,  and I just plain enjoy it.  It’s also financially more efficient, which is an utterly conservative point as well.
  2. I am at least as conservative as you are, and probably more so.  Whoever you are.

Which brings us to this piece, by one D. Dowd Muska.  I’ll let you figure out which category D. fits into.

There is something profoundly wrong with a nation where more adults ride bicycles than children.

America might now be such a nation.

Along with every single nation in the world, really.  Even in countries where biking isn’t the most affordable means of transportation for the regular schmuck, bikes are more common among adults everywhere.

While kids sit at home texting their friends and slaying computer-generated monsters, a growing number of their parexnts and grandparents are clogging the roads atop a contraption that was once considered a child’s toy.

Well, no. 

The bike became a mass-market commodity item long before the automobile became affordable to most Americans.  In many places, the bike was the first ticket the working stiff had to get off mass transit or quit walking, in those days before cars (and manufacturing jobs) became ubiquitous.  In some parts of the country, the move to build paved roads was driven initially by the number of bicycles on the roads. 

For the working stiff who couldn’t afford (and didn’t want to deal with the upkeep of) a horse, the bike was the original muscle car.

Two odious ideologies fuel the popularity of bicycling: anti-obesity extremism and eco-lunacy. Pedal power, we are told, will not only make you thinner, it will reduce your “carbon footprint.” (It’s a Nanny State twofer.)

Already slim, or pursuing other means to lose weight? Like your SUV, and don’t swallow the discredited theory that man is baking the planet? Then obviously you’re an idiot.

Well, then, by the opposite token – if I”m not already “slim”, prefer biking as a matter of personal choice (something most of us conservatives uphold!) to “other means of losing weight” (which are usually both less healthy for you and also bore me stiff), and don’t believe in global warming, does that make D. Dowd Muska an idiot?

In 2003, BusinessWeek asked Andy Clarke, director of state and local advocacy for the League of American Bicyclists, to respond to the fact that 500,000 Americans commute by bicycle. The figure was “pathetic,” he snorted, “for a nation that should be smarter and wiser.”

While this bit is utterly disconnected from the rest of Mr. Muska’s piece (it’s a non-sequitur, really), honestly, so freaking what?

A “community organizer” said something stupid yet arrogant and self-serving.  This reflects on the individual biker exactly how?

Exactly the same way as some stupid quote from Pat Buchanan or David Vitter reflects on conservatives and conservatism at large; not a bit.

Feeling themselves superior to their countrymen [Objection:  Assertion based on facts not in evidence – Ed.] in both health and environmental consciousness, many bicyclists flout road rules.

As opposed to “many”  automobile drivers who…flout road rules.  I mean, I”ve watched Cops; how many high-speed chases of bikers do you see?

Writing in the Rocky Mountain News, Arvada, Colorado resident J.M. Schell admitted that there was “a very, very good reason so many view those of us who are cyclists as rude, arrogant jerks. Most of us are.”

Which reflects perhaps on one J.M. Schell – for whom I don’t believe I ever voted as my spokesman, by your leave, Mr. Muska.

I personally find that rudeness and being the smallest vehicle on the road don’t go well together.  There are ample reasons to amend motor vehicle laws so that bikes and cars can share the road better – but that’s the subject of a different post.

Recklessness and lawbreaking notwithstanding [Indeed, utterly logically unconnected – Ed.], Big Bicycle has attained the status of a lobby that cannot be ignored. “Bikes Belong,” an agitprop shop “sponsored by the U.S. bicycle industry with the goal of putting more people on bicycles more often,” boasts of “12 professional staff, 18 volunteer directors, and a $2 million annual operating budget.”

As a conservative, I personally am fine letting companies (and groups of companies) spend their own money their own way.

“Maximizing Federal Support for Bicycling,” a page on the organization’s website, explains that it spent $1 million on lobbying between 2002 and 2005, which ultimately produced “$4.5 billion for bicycling and walking in SAFETEA-LU, the … transportation law passed in August 2005.” Where did that money come from? You guessed it: the federal gas tax. (Four out of every ten dollars raised by the levy are diverted to non-highway expenses.)

OK, I’m confused here.  Is Mr. Muska’s piece a slam on bikers as people, or a riff on transportation spending policy?

Because if it’s the latter, Mr. Muska is on to something.  It’s the same “something” almost all conservatives have been on all along (gas tax funds should go to roads, not light rail or wind-powered pedestrian walkways or whatever.  That is an actual policy discussion – as opposed to mindless and contrived name-calling.

Is bicycle-commuting a credible traffic-fighting tool? No, says Cato Institute scholar — and avid cyclist — Randal O’Toole. “I don’t think encouraging cycling is going to reduce congestion or significantly change the transportation makeup of our cities,” he said. “There really is very little evidence that any of [these efforts] are reducing the amount of driving. They’re just making it more annoying to drivers.” (O’Toole observes that telecommuting is far more common, and growing faster, than getting to work on a bike.)

And now we’re getting somewhere!  Telecommuting is a response of the free market to the uptick in energy prices, to road congestion, and a slew of other motivations. 

So, for that matter, is biking, for many of us. 

Bicycles are wonderful, of course. For children. Only misanthropes complain about stopping or yielding to safely accommodate a couple of twelve-year-olds pedaling their way to the fishin’ hole.

For adults, bicycling has become a finger-wagging, revenue-pilfering, and increasingly obnoxious crusade.

If you buy into the conspiracy theory – that we bikers become tools of the vast two-wheeled conspiracy the moment we saddle up?  Perhaps.

But as that noted conservative tool the Utne Reader noted, conservatives (including me – I’m quoted) ride, too – for impeccably free-marketeering, libertarian, conservative reasons.

John “Policy Guy” LaPlante focuses, unsurprisingly, on the policy side of things, for the most part, in his response to “D”.

37 thoughts on “Opportunities For Improving Ones’ Reasoning Explained

  1. Mitch,
    Biking is huge here at the USAFA. For the most part, bikers are just enjoying the scenery and getting exercise; and, most are safe and law abiding. The problem is the few who act as described by your latest fisk really ruin it for the rest. Not really interested in their politics, but their attitudes sure seem to fit the author’s description–self-centered, make way for me, how dare you want to pass, I know I have a bike lane but I’m pretty fast and like the car lane!!!!
    Now when it comes to the “look at my incredibly ugly car that is saving the planet (at least until I need a battery change)” dudes….that is another post!

  2. Mitch, I’m surprised at you.

    It’s not bicycling we’re laughing at; it’s those teh gay spandex body suits.

    Trust me here. The only thing suitable to be ridden while sporting a pink, yellow and green spandex body suit is Richard Simmons….which is, well just wrong.

    And I’m not even going to get into those helmets…..;-)

  3. “financially more efficient”

    Well, maybe for you; my time is more valuable.

    But it is a great way to exercise. Watch out for those cars, trucks, and trains!

    And, what Swiftee said.

  4. I dislike it when “conservatives” cede broad swaths of public life to liberals for no reason. Only kids and liberals can bicycle now? That’s just asinine.

  5. What swiftee said. Especially the ones with “sponsor” decals. Mr. Biker, you’re not riding the Tour. Penzoil is not sponsoring your ride to work.

  6. “It’s not bicycling we’re laughing at; it’s those teh gay spandex body suits.”

    I love to tease at bike riders because I ride a bike too; but mine is a motorbike. For years I rode bicycle just about everwhere (other than during the winter months), and I absolutely loved it. However for any number of reasons it doesn’t work for me today.

    I can tell you that as kids there was NO gift we could receive that we were more happy to get than a bicycle. I watched that same happiness in my kids, and my grandchildren today.

    I strongly support building and maintaining bike paths and bike lanes. I like the idea of supporting bmx and motocross courses as well. A far better way to spend tax money than spending it on light rail in my opinion. I don’t think we need federal money for these projects, we can do what we think needs to be done just fine on our own.

    From the time of the Velocipede (boneshaker) to the fantastically engineered bikes (machines) of today people have riden bicycles for transport, excercise, and just plain leisurely fun. Seems like a pretty spirited and indendent minded activity to me. I’m certain people will be biking long after I’m not around. As a conservative I say leave it alone and let it thrive.

  7. Well, maybe for you; my time is more valuable.

    I doubt that 🙂 but if I were an hourly employee, I might be less hard-core about it.

    In any case, that’s only valid if you measure the “return on investiment” in your life in purely financial terms. I do not. When we die, God’s not going to balance a till; as one looks back on one’s life, one won’t give much of a rat’s ass about a buck or two here or there – but a sunset seen from the middle of the prairie on a long haul ride? For sure.

    But it is a great way to exercise. Watch out for those cars, trucks, and trains!

    See also: “While walking, riding a motorcycle or driving any other vehicle”.

  8. I bicycle for pleasure, exercise, and to challenge myself on a tough route.
    But bicycling to work? sounds kind of twee — like vicar Roddy McDowall on a bicycling to visit his parishioners along a rural West Country road, ringing a cute little bell to scatter the sheep.

    “Yeoman Thomas! How are you today!”
    “I be fine, soir.”
    “And the Missus? Has her goiter improved?”
    “Aye! Her sister what lives in Candleford sent her a salve. nuthin’ better fer it.”
    “Very well, Yeoman Thomas! I’ll be on my way! I will see you at services Sunday!”
    brrrng! brrrng!

  9. But bicycling to work? sounds kind of twee

    Nah, it’s just efficient. It’s my best way to make sure I get on the bike six or seven days a week.

  10. Speaking of Candleford, an on-topic passage from the excellent memoir Lark rise to Candleford. Hope that it’s not too long.
    The place is rural England, the time is the 1880’s:

    But, although it was not yet realized, the revolution in transport had begun. The first high ‘penny-farthing’ bicycles were already on the roads, darting and swerving like swallows heralding the summer of the buses and cars and motor cycles which were soon to transform country life. But how fast those new bicycles travelled and how dangerous they looked! Pedestrians backed almost into the hedges when they met one of them, for was there not almost every week in the Sunday newspaper the story of some one being knocked down and killed by a bicycle, and letters from readers saying cyclists ought not to be allowed to use the roads, which, as everybody knew, were provided for people to walk on or to drive on behind horses. ‘Bicyclists ought to have roads to themselves, like railway trains’ was the general opinion.

    Yet it was thrilling to see a man hurtling through space on one high wheel, with another tiny wheel wobbling helplessly behind. You wondered how they managed to keep their balance. No wonder they wore an anxious air. ‘Bicyclist’s face’, the expression was called, and the newspapers foretold a hunchbacked and tortured-faced future generation as a result of the pastime.

    Cycling was looked upon as a passing craze and the cyclists in their tight navy knickerbocker suits and pillbox caps with the badge of their club in front were regarded as figures of fun. None of those in the hamlet who rushed out to their gates to see one pass, half hoping for and half fearing a spill, would have believed, if they had been told, that in a few years there would be at least one bicycle in every one of their houses, that the men would ride to work on them and the younger women, when their housework was done, would lightly mount ‘the old bike’ and pedal away to the market town to see the shops. They would have been still more incredulous had they been told that many of them would live to see every child of school age in the hamlet provided by a kind County Council with a bicycle on which they would ride to school, ‘all free, gratis, and for nothing’, as they would have said.

  11. I have done a lot of bicycle riding – especially since my mid-forties. Since 1994, my wife and I have ridden primarily a tandem. Haven’t done much commuting by bike but I do walk a fair amount of time.

    Never thought about bicycling as a political thing, however. Considering the topic, I would find it hard to call D. Dowd Muska a “wingnut.” Perhaps “broken spoke” would fit better.

    And we bicycle riders all know where those end up…

  12. Mitch, you’re breaking the lock-step of conservatism – Anything that liberals like is automatically a grave evil, and anyone who partakes in something liberals like is gay, and therefore bad.

  13. I thought that it was the other way around, Disco. You know — Nascar, guns, SUV’s, hetero-normative families, life in the ‘burbs.

  14. I used to think that nothing could be more twee than Roddy McDowall and Frodo Baggins joining hands and skipping through a meadow barefoot. Then I thought. “Whoa! What if they were wearing spandex?”.

  15. Mitch, you’re taking the bike critique too personally. I know that you know biking is NOT going to save the planet. It’s good exercise and recreation and a nice way to save some gas $$ in season if proximity to work isn’t a problem. I could bike to work most days May-October–but then I’d need a locker room, shower, clothing changes and an extra 90 minutes every day. Talk to a progressive statist about biking to work and he will want to force every employer to eat the cost of lost productivity AND pay you for your commute time. OK, I exaggerate, but maybe not. How about this: since progressives love to tax things, maybe Mark Dayton can propose a 2% tax on bicycles, helmets and spandex to pay for improvements to bike lanes?

  16. Jeff,
    Can you point me to your bagging on all those people who walk around in Twins, Vikings, Wild and Wolves wear? ‘Cause I am pretty sure that most of them are not being paid by those organizations. Just as some show support of the NBA, MLB, NHL or NFL by wearing team apparel, some cycling enthusiasts wear team apparel of a favorite rider or even team.

    And in many of the “sponsor jerseys”, you are flat out wrong. On the local jerseys you see, those logos have, in fact, provided some benefit to appear on the jersey, whether it be free product to the team or team discounts.

    Before I started riding cycles any distance, I thought the cycle wear was silly looking too. I suppose it still is silly looking, but it is surprisingly purpose designed. It is tight to prevent chaffing; materials are used that wick moisture away from the skin; pockets are placed in the rear, so that when in a cycling position, stuff in the pockets are out of the way; shorts and gloves are padded, ’cause that is where the impacts are felt.

    Colorful jerseys catch the eye, giving less excuse to say “I didn’t see him”. Obviously that works: you have seen them so that you could focus your ridicule on them

  17. The shower issue is the only reason I do not bike commute. I must work closely with fellow employees and customers. No way am I doing that after a 5 mile commute through my hilly suburban commute. My employer is looking to move the office to a cheaper place I have placed my request for such accommodations, doubt I get them. I am more concerned that the new place will mess with my sweet commute I have now.

    Ditto Lorens comments but you can get baggy shorts with padded liners and usable pockets.

  18. DaveH: Having a locker room and shower at work does make the whole thing tenable.

    Along with having a 5-9 mile commute (depending on the route I take) rather than the 22-40 miles I used to have.

    I’m always a little suspicious of the guys I see pedaling to work in their polo shirts and dockers on 80-degree mornings. Usually to government buildings.

  19. I suppose it still is silly looking

    You could have just stopped right there, but no.

  20. “It’s good exercise and recreation”


    “and a nice way to save some gas $$ in season if proximity to work isn’t a problem.”

    Not when you consider: “- but then I’d need a locker room, shower, clothing changes and an extra 90 minutes every day.”

    90 minutes of my time could buy a lot of gas!!!

  21. 90 minutes of my time could buy a lot of gas!!!

    Well, mine too, if I’m on the clock.

    But unless you’re John Hinderaker or the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at the U of M, you are not billing 24/7. The 90 minutes (in my case, more like 60) comes out of time you’d be futzing around in traffic or having another cup of coffee before you left for work.

    As always, it’s your choice!

  22. I figure with my 5 mile commute I could rise later than I do now as I could skip my morning walk (the dog may protest) and get better health benefits. But I have showered in the sink and it just is not good enough to get close (less than 5 ft) which does not meet my expectatiosn in a professional setting. Maybe if I worked a factory job or someplace similiar where you do get dirty or sweaty anyways

  23. Strike three, Mitch.

    Time is money. Time is finite.

    Yes, it is a choice.

    What value do you put on the time spent with family?

    I have contemplated this regarding fixing my cars and toys. Is my time worth the time spent wrenching… It depends….

    Never underestimate a person’s ability to rationalize their decision. 😉

  24. Remember that the next time you talk about spending an unproductive weekend snowmobiling around, hammered out of yoiur mind. 🙂

  25. “hammered out of yoiur mind”

    Excellent job of stereotyping, Mitch! Nice. 😉

    I’ve never claimed snowmobiling was efficient, but sometimes it is the only option to get you to where you want to go. And I consider catching a few fish over a weekend to be productive.
    Yes, I find it to be a fun recreational hobby. 8)

  26. Ah.

    So there are justifications for wasting billable time!

    Glad we could clear that up!

  27. Billable time? On a weekend or on a vacation?!?!?!?

    Adding on another unpaid hour or two to my workday is another matter entirely.

    Have you bought into the stereotype that conservatives are so greedy as to put making money above family, friends, and fun?

  28. You’re the one who said time spent biking is “too valuable”. Not me.

    Just trying to figure out why time spent pounding Jaeger shots until you pass out and then driving a snowmobile is one thing, but spending a half an hour enjoying my commute is another, just because it’s adjacent to my work day.

    I find biking to be a fun recreational hobby, too. That it happens to get me to work (where I get paid the same whether I get to work at 8 or 8:30) is a nice bonus.

  29. Regarding the time issue, the way I view it is that my granddad died of a massive heart attack at age 59. My dad, who kept the weight off better by cycling, is alive and kicking at 67. So I figure that in my family, plagued by heart disease, the time obtained by cycling could be close to a decade. Divide that by a 40 year work career, and you’re talking about cycling paying for itself to the tune of six hours per day.

    An hour on two skinny wheels doesn’t seem like so much in that light.

  30. “You’re the one who said…”

    I said adding an hour or two to my workday is not efficient.

    “efficient”? Do you think you saving mother gaia?

    “…pounding Jaeger shots until you pass out and then driving a snowmobile…”

    Mitch, your lack of logic is obvious.
    Do you often sleep-snowmobile? Sleep-walk? Sleep-blog? 😉

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