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The Real Bicycle Commuters March 6, 2008

Posted by concreteguy in bikes.

Here in the North Dallas area, you see two groups of people riding bikes to work.

Group 1: People who are into cycling, and perhaps committed to sustainable living, who ride their bikes to work because they choose to do so. Which is cool. But really, most of these people have cars. These folks usually have a nice commuter bike.

Group 2: Latino guys who are probably blue collar workers/laborers/whatever, who ride their bikes because that is their only transportation. These guys usually ride pretty inexpensive bikes, and I imagine a lot of them might prefer a car. But they are on bikes, going to work, riding to the train station, or whatever.

This morning on the way to work (in my car), I noticed a  young hispanic guy on a bike about to cross the street. Based on his clothing, I’d say he was on his way to work.  As he crossed and was approaching the grassy median between sides of the road, he gracefully swung one leg over the bike, coasted up to the curb of the median, balanced on one foot on one side of the bike, and easily came to rest up in the narrow grassy space, waiting for the oncoming cars to pass.

Something about this move really made an impression on me. It was so practical. It was the kind of move a real bike commuter in a pretty bike-unfriendly environment would adopt. There are no bike lanes here, it was rush hour, and this guy was making it work. It was not a move that I would imagine any book or website on bike commuting to recommend. And while perhaps not the safest way to cross the street, it was totally practical and efficient. Finally, his execution of the move was so casual and perfect, it just really drilled in the point that this was his mode of transportation.

I’ve never seen much mention of the use of bikes by latino workers in the bike literature. In some ways these people are sort of the invisible members of our society. But local planners should be aware of these folks when dealing with bike commuting, since they are productive members of society.



1. Fritz - March 7, 2008

Yep yep yep. I mention it all the time and I’ve long maintained that bike commuters on cheap yard sale bikes are the largest population of cyclists in the US. I was on the bike to work committee at the Denver Regional Council of Governments when I suggested Spanish-language outreach, which they now do (though it could be better. Right now they just translate the English material into Spanish, but the whole way they market to the immigrant community needs to be completely different. They’re not interested in going green, and they already know that bicycling is cheaper than driving. But I digress). I’m now working to do the same thing in the Silicon Valley area.

I think it was Bicycling magazine that did a story on “the invisible cyclist” which featured Latino cyclists with bags hanging from their handlebars. You see it mentioned every once in a while in all the cycling rags out there.

All “bike technique” books talk about using the flexibility of your bike to advantage — even John Forester’s Effective Cycling book does it.
It sounds like the cyclist you saw probably did his move every day, but all of us regular bike commuters adapt to local conditions just like this, no matter the color of our skin or condition of our bike. I do exactly the same thing every morning on my way to the bus stop — I know exactly how fast I should go to merge across three lanes of traffic, then when I’m in the far left lane I swing my right leg off the bike and coast with my left foot on the pedal and smoothly hop up onto the median. While I wait for traffic to clear I’ll switch my lights off and fish my bus pass out of my bag, then cross when it’s moderately safe to the bus stop.

2. concreteguy - March 7, 2008

Thanks for the informative comment, Fritz. I will keep my eyes open for such articles.

3. freewheel - March 7, 2008

Nice post. I think latino cyclists (and often pedestrians too) are invisible – figuratively and literally. Figuratively, in that they don’t seem to draw the attention of transportation planners, and literally, in the sense that many ride at night without lights — http://freewheelingspirit.blogspot.com/2007/08/quien-es-senor-nadie.html

4. Fritz - March 7, 2008

I found the article from Bicycling magazine: its online here.

5. Immigrant laborers on bicycles - Cult of the Bicycle - March 7, 2008

[…] even for those coming to American to improve their lives?These thoughts were prompted by Concrete Guy who observes the Latinos on their bikes navigating every day through all conditions in all weather […]

6. MB - March 8, 2008

Yep, I think that Bicycling mag article should be required reading for all Bicycling Advisory Committees and other transport type folks in the country. It’s a *huge* population, and one that deserves attention, but gets none.

7. bob murdoch - May 16, 2010

amen to that

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