Not all bicyclists are rich or poor, Op-Ed from The Daily Best


Near a subway station in my neighborhood, ads for new luxury condos are popping up where abandoned buildings used to be. In the ads, a man leans casually against his bicycle outside of his sleek new apartment. Here, the bicycle becomes a short hand for a well-appointed life, complete with a separate entrance and covered bike parking. The ad sells an aspiration to urban simplicity: hip, carefree, and luxurious. Predictably, the guy standing next to the bicycle is white.

Down the road from those new condos, farther away from the subway stop, a well-used bicycle is chained to the bus sign. The bike looks almost abandoned, but it’s a critical and nearly hidden link in a transit chain. Bicycles often fill in the gap between public transit and getting home. For those who cannot afford a car or who are forced farther and farther out from transportation hubs, bicycles play the role of “last-leg” transit option. Here, a bicycle is not a sign of luxury, but of necessity.

Depending on where you live, where and when you ride, and the color of your skin, riding a bicycle can send a very different message.

There’s a curious polarization to perceptions of cyclists in America: either you’re wealthy enough to participate in cycling as a leisure activity by choice, or you’re poor enough to have no other option but to bike. Precisely because transit by bike does not require a license, people make all sorts of assumptions about cyclists: either you’ve lost your license to a drunk driving conviction, or if you’re not white, that you are undocumented. Rarely do people think of cyclists riding out of necessity.

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