What do the Europeans (and the Indians and the Chinese, and, for that matter most of the world,) know about cycling that we don't? Take a look at the accompanying photo here, one of a series from i-sustain.com in Copenhagen and other European locales.
What do you see that stands out, besides the fact that there's a lot more cyclists there than you would see on any non-Critical Mass day in New York?
- Nobody is wearing a helmet.
- Nobody is wearing spandex.
- This is about as representative a middle-class group as you'd meet; in age, dress and demeanor.
- The bike lane has a left-turn striping (not that it seems to be observed!)
So what does this mean for cycling in Europe (or the rest of the world,) as opposed to cycling in these United States of America?
Well, firstly, unless these people are collectively stupid, the benefits of wearing a helmet do not seem to apply to them (note that in the dozen photographs on the link above, there's nary a helmet.) This could of course also mean simply that the rest of the world accepts a higher level or risk than we do, or that cycling is less of a risk there than here.
Secondly, the image of bicyclists above does not bring up the bogeyman of the "Other," which is an unsettling and distancing term for someone not like you (if you're an average middle-class bourgeoisie.) And we all know that someone not like you is someone to be wary of. These cyclists do not set themselves apart from other people; there's no sense that you have to wear the threads, walk the walk, don the casque and talk the jargon to belong, if I may be permitted to mix metaphors ferociously.
The visceral reaction recently of some 9th. Street residents against bike lanes on their beloved (not) street shows how there's a sizable percentage of people who think it's only the "others" who cycle, not them. Or their neighbors. Or their friends. Or anyone they relate to.
As I've said before, cycling will never really gain in popularity until the middle-class embrace it.