In today’s International Herald Tribune, there’s a story about the new “must have” item of this recession: a glossy, black Dutch bicycle. Apparently, one of the many side effects of the current economic downturn is that people in New York City are embracing cycling like never before (according to the article, commuting by bicycle rose by 35% from 2007-2008 in New York; click here for everything you ever wanted to know about bicycle statistics).
This article caught my attention for several reasons, not the least of which is that I’m married to someone who has cycled to work regularly for the past two and a half years since we moved to London. But what really struck me was the article’s central question: “Can urban cyclists really grow up and put on a tie?” (italics mine)
It’s certainly true that biking is something we typically associate with childhood. Learning to ride a bike is one of those great rites of passage of early childhood. It’s one of the first big activities you engage in – much like swimming – where you’re no longer entrusted to the immediate physical care of an adult. Rather, you’re on your own, and biking therefore signals freedom, mobility, independence.
But it’s when you transition from bike to car – in America, at least – that’s the definitive rite of passage: a clear, indelible sign that you’ve become an adult.
Until now. What this article seems to suggest is that to the extent that New York bikers can acquire the gear, habits and attitude of, say, the Dutch, they will have evolved to a more adult way of living.
I can’t tell you how happy I am, for once, to be ahead of the curve on something lifestyle-related. Because here in Europe, so many people cycle to work that I no longer think it at all unusual. In Amsterdam, where we spent Christmas, you could easily forget that there even existed something called a car.
(Nor do I find it strange anymore to see someone – who shall be nameless – spend hours on line investigating the latest developments in fluorescent panniers and ergonomic hand grips. I think I’ll somehow fail to flag to his attention the latest trend in bike wear: the cordaround. Something tells me that if he ever got wind of the “espresso checked seersucker,” I’d never hear the end of it…)
It’s funny how life has a way of coming full circle. Things that once were considered the very essence of youth – like bicycles – are now a sign of maturity. I’m just wondering what’s next. I’m personally hoping that poptarts make a come-back…
Speaking of recessions, Marci Alboher has a terrific new blog – Working the New Economy – that’s all about finding work in the current economy. Be sure to check out her weekly segment – Who’s Finding Jobs Now? – for inspiration.
Image: Bicycle by J. Salmoral via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.