Fewer people are driving and more people are riding, so here’s a new column for Outside in which I explore wheither this portends a long-term shift away from the automobile:
In case you don’t feel like reading, my conclusion is that I don’t think it will.
I mean yeah, I’d love to be wrong, but the fact is when the shit hits the fan people do what they gotta do. For example, in the early days of the lockdown, one-third of the War On Cars podcast (it has three hosts) left the city and purchased a small SUV. I don’t mean that as a criticism, but if someone who’s dedicated to undermining the “car culture” decides to buy a car then why would the average person doesn’t who spend all their time pondering the ethics of various transportation modes decide not to buy one under these circumstances if they can afford it? (And it’s always easy to buy a car because our financial system is set up for it–especially now, when gas is cheap there are all sorts of incentives out there, as I pointed out in the column.) It also seems unlikely to me anyone who already has a car is going to decide to get rid of it any time soon; to be honest, I’ve fantasized about going car-free in recent years, but right now I’m so grateful for the damn thing I’m tempted to run outside and give it a big kiss, I’m not gonna lie.
Of course there are also about a zillion variables, and there are scenarios in which we might not see a full-scale return to normal car traffic. Maybe when this is over the people who can afford to will leave the city and take their cars with them, and because they’ve got the kind of jobs that allow you to work from home at least some of the time they’ll come back to the city less. Maybe the people who didn’t have cars but bought them during the pandemic will realize once the traffic comes back that they made a huge mistake and ditch them again. (Or ditch the city, see earlier in the paragraph.) Or, yes, maybe more people will resolve to take up bike commuting. However, based on my recent conversations with people interested in doing so, the infrastructure improvements that would make them feel comfortable and safe enough are so massive that I doubt we’ll see them in our lifetime.
But hey, we’ll see.
While we’re on the subject, I highly recommend this fascinating Carlton Reid story about the 1970s bike boom:
Those Schwinn Varsities are still plying the roads today, and the mail-order fixies that embody the 21st century bike boom will no doubt we with us for quite a few decades as well.
Finally, while I’ve mostly been doing jorts rides lately, simply wheeling the Tresca to The Car That The Bank Owns Until I Finish Paying Them Back (which I’m sooo close to doing) in order to drop it off at the bike shop put me in the mood to ride a road bike, so that’s exactly what I did this morning:
I got this bike a couple of seasons ago because I’d gotten back into racing, but there’s a pretty good chance there won’t be any racing this year, and regardless of whether it comes back I wonder if I’ve got it in me to keep doing it. If not, I also sometimes wonder if I should divest myself of this bike, but then I ride it and think, “Nah.” While outwardly it’s not a particularly interesting bike (it’s totally stock, and the only thing I’ve changed is the skewers), the truth is it represents the last of its breed: a rim-brake, threaded BB, non-dropped seatstays, non-proprietary-seatpost-or-stem, carbon fiber road bike that will accept pretty much all my spare parts in the event something wears out or bores me. It also rides beautifully, and that mechanical Dura Ace is stuff is, like, wow. Certainly for a cyclist of my age and stage of ahir loss, having a carbon fiber road bike in the fleet is de rigueur, like having a sports coupe in the garage, and if I’m going to have one this is as fine a specimen as any.
Fuck it, I’m leasing a Miata.