BikeCommuters.com

A Confession and an Angry Letter

Ok, here’s my confession: I read women’s magazines — Cosmo, Glamour, Jane, Lucky, etc. What can I say? I’m a print junkie and a librarian…magazines are all over the place in both my home and my office!

So, the other day, I was flipping through the May 2008 issue of Marie Claire magazine, and I ran across something that got my blood boiling. On the last page there’s a column called “The Opinionated Guide to May”, and in that column is a photograph of a bicycle and the caption “Bike To Work Day, Friday May 16: Arrive at Work Day, Monday May 19“…implying that it is such a long, tedious effort to ride a bike to work that one shouldn’t even bother! At least, that’s the implication I’M reading into it!

So, angry as I was, I decided to fire off a letter to the editor. Here it is:

Dear Marie Claire Magazine,

I was upset to read a snide comment in “The Opinionated Guide to May” in the May 2008 issue of your magazine (last page…the comment about Bike to Work Day).

Comments like this are typical of the SUV-driving, latte-sipping conspicuous consumers your magazine caters to; this comment is neither witty nor humorous — rather, it is catty and utterly misguided. Research has shown that for trips around five miles or less, a bicycle is actually faster than driving…and there is no need to spend an additional ten minutes hunting around for a parking space! Bike to Work Day is the one time many slovenly fatasses get off their couches and out of their cars…and who knows? Maybe they’ll like the experience so much that they’ll rethink their transportation priorities!

In this day and age when “going green” is all the rage, your magazine should be supportive of the efforts of people who are doing their small part in making this world a less-congested, more environmentally responsible place. By riding bicycles, we bike commuters are saving money, getting exercise and reducing the amount of smog in cities. Also, spending time on a bicycle is way cheaper than paying a therapist…the woes and stresses of everyday life just melt away once the wheels start spinning.

I hope you will avoid comments like this in the future, but for now, on behalf of my two-wheeled brothers and sisters, please allow me to offer you a hearty “screw you” for thumbing your nose at bicyclists. You should be ashamed.

Jack Sweeney
“Ghost Rider”
Tampa, Florida
http://www.bikecommuters.com

I threw some ugly jabs in there just for good measure…no one ever accused me of being tactful or diplomatic!

If comments like this disturb you as much as they do me, I urge you to take pen in hand and let people know how unhelpful these kinds of things are. If you want to send the editor of Marie Claire a comment, here’s her email address: JoannaColes@hearst.com

If I hear back from them, I’ll be sure and post the response.

Editor’s note: This is really not the best way to handle such a grievance…the thoughtful commenters below advocate calmness and rational discourse rather than attacks, and they’re right — in situations like this, it is better to step away for a moment, take a deep breath and respond to these slights in a more diplomatic manner. I’ll try to do the same!

27 Comments

  1. Peter

    sorry to hate, but i think your comment makes bikers out to be the caricatures that GM wants everyone to think we are – boorish, insecure, egotistical, over-reactive, annoying, and quite possibly hateful.

    reacting as you did strikes me as like ‘donning full body armor to attack a hot fudge sundae’.

    i felt much the same way about the incredible overreaction to the State Farm ad.

    this is important stuff. the women’s rights movement is _still_ suffering because many in their ranks have refused to give up their ‘burn down the house’ mentality and rhetoric. that has real consequences for real women – and girls – all over America – all over the world. but you’ll never convince these ‘burners’ that they’re doing so much damage, because they have the luxury of being self-sufficient adults, living in America, able to get birth control, etc. They don’t give a s**t about the women and girls who are suffering because they lack all of these advantages – young girls in small towns, etc.

    So, this is more of a strategy discussion than anything else. Do you want to annoy and harass and terrorize people, or do you want to convince them with kindness? I choose kindness, and I think we all should, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to convince people.

    Bicyclists have a real choice to make. We can be the caricature of groups of roving thugs in spandex – of hypersensitive hippie enviros who absolutely refuse to have a laugh or recognize our own failings and hypocrisies, or we can act a bit more like human beings.

    How we decide to act, collectively, will have a big impact on how we are treated on the road, at city board meetings, by the legal system, in print publications, etc. It already is. We need to change our public image — starting two days before yesterday.

    You asked.

  2. Jennifer

    “I had so much fun riding my bike that I took three days off just so I could do it more!”

  3. Ghost Rider

    Peter, you’re right, of course…and while I strive to be levelheaded about these issues, sometimes my frustration gets the better of me.

  4. Gavin

    Agree thoroughly with Peter. Lighten up.

  5. Gavin

    Sorry, that sounds a bit snide. Just saying to perhaps not be so sensitive. The majority reading would just laugh at it and not pay it any heed.

  6. ragged claws

    Your letter to the editor made me laugh and your caricature of the readers of the magazine (finally a pretty apt description of a majority of middle-class america) was spot on. The original article was meant as some kind of social satire–bravely taking aim at the powerful bicycle-to-work lobby–and your response was offered in kind. Lighten up everyone.

  7. Mike

    Mr Sweeney.

    I see that mincing words is not a problem with you.

    Awesome!

  8. megan

    I think that your letter was hilarious–and only slightly rude, definitely not harassing or terrorizing. You weren’t threatening to hunt them down or burn down their offices for not riding bikes, you just gave them a…new perspective. Let’s face it, sometimes it takes a biting commentary before people realize how silly and out of touch their ideas can be. I totally appreciate your “screw you” on my behalf.

  9. Marrock

    Screw diplomacy, give them a U-lock upside their single occupancy armored personnel carriers.

  10. Smudgemo

    I don’t know, this biking thing looks like a lot of work, and I might break a sweat…

  11. Joan

    I’m an extreme beginner bike commuter. In fact, I’m planning to do my scout-my-route ride on Saturday and my first official commute next week. I’ve been enthusiastically cruising the web looking for cycling and commuting info, and this morning was my first visit to bikecommuters.com.

    After reading this post (the first and only one I’ve read, and so the one I’ve founded my first impression on), I have to say that letter to the editor really reflects poorly on bike commuters. I have no idea if you’re a humorless jerk in your life on the whole, but that’s really how you come off with that letter.

    I don’t read Marie Claire myself, but I believe I would expect a column titled “An Opinionated Guide to May” to be somewhat snarky. The entry on Bike to Work Day made me laugh. Did it occur to you that the Marie Claire staff just did bike commuting the favor of exposing the event to somewhere between 1 and 3 MILLION readers, most of whom probably wouldn’t have heard of it otherwise? I hadn’t. Because they couched it in humor, it’s more likely to stick in readers’ heads. Maybe they’ll Google Bike to Work Day and consider participating.

    As a former fatass who’s been working for the last 5 years to get in shape enough to be able to bike 7.5 miles to work, if I had read your insulting letter to the editor back then, you would have totally turned me off of the concept and I’d have thought, “God, I’m glad I’m not one of those crazy hardcore jerks. If it’s going to make you lose your sense of humor, who needs it?”

    I hope this doesn’t feel like too much of a pile-on, but I thought it was important to point out the positive aspect of that kind of exposure for Bike to Work Day to an audience as large and diverse as Marie Claire’s. I’m glad my interactions with other bike commuters have been friendly and helpful rather than hostile and judgmental. That’s just no way to encourage someone to get out of their SUV or to treat bike commuters with respect on the road.

    I sincerely hope they don’t print that letter.

  12. Ghost Rider

    Thanks, everyone, for commenting…yeah, I definitely wasn’t trying to terrorize or harass anyone, and while I could have been much more diplomatic — man, it felt good to get that off my chest!

    And, as someone experienced in receiving and reading “letters to the editor”, believe me when I say that this letter will be passed around the office…”oh, God…you have GOT to read this!”

  13. Kevin

    I’ve been guilty of rash comments when bicycling comes under attack as well. Being emotional about what we do is not always a bad thing. While many take offense at what you wrote, it was sparked by a poorly chosen article, and in turn set off your emotions.

    A couple years ago, in our college newspaper, a young lady wrote that “Bicycles should stay on the sidewalk” and it only got worse from there. While she wanted the article to be funny, it didn’t turn out that way and it really set many of us off. We all tried our best to be politically correct about the situation, it caused an emotional spill from many.

    So again, while Jack’s comments may have been harsh, to the rest of you, remember that it was started by somebody else who invoked those emotions unnecessarily. Her words through the magazine do much more harm to our cause than Jack’s comments to her.

  14. Jamis_Bater

    I’d imagine that the opinionated article was probably the “Style Man” of Bicycling Mag fame for MC. I even chuckled a bit. It’s not a bad joke on the surface. I think Bike to Work Month/Week/Day has all of us commuters salivating and defensive at the same time. We are most hopeful during May of converting our friends to the bike. There’s a good deal of media attention and local government support, so we want to put on the best face and “win the lost” so to speak. All of which makes us a bit defensive at that time as well. It’s easy to get ticked when “our Month” is so ignorantly dismissed—yet again—before it even gets here.

    I got a bigger chuckle out of Ghost’s reply though. Snarky and over-reactionary? Yeah. Funny all the same? Heck yeah.

  15. Joan

    I could understand getting upset at an article, but this wasn’t an article. It’s a one-liner joke on a page full of toss-off comments on all topics. Definitely not a reason to raise one’s blood pressure.

  16. Jamis_Bater

    Well by article I just meant the column. I didn’t mean to imply that it was an entire page devoted to bashing commuters. And let’s be frank, when it comes to Marie Claire readership even if they did print Ghost’s letter and hacked off every last one of its hundreds of thousands of readers, only two of those readers may have been potential bike commuters.

  17. The other Gavin

    Why should those of us who are serious about bicycle commuting simply be a quiet minority? when we are insulted, why can’t we react a little? Is it the same as on the road? Do we just fear that because the other side is bigger, we might get run over and squashed? While Jack could be less abrasive, let’s face it, this is Jack. Read some of his other stuff, this isn’t that abrasive for the Ghost Rider. But I digress, the point is, we should stand up for ourselves, take the lane, so to speak, rather than just try to be quiet and cuddly. Sometimes you have to chase someone down and let them know how you appreciate their driving, likewise Jack felt the need to defend himself on the road of print.

  18. Ghost Rider

    Uh, thanks…I think.

    What?!? I’m abrasive?!? Me, I’m almost always calm and rational 😉

  19. Smudgemo

    I only get that magazine for the articles. Honest.

  20. Ladybusiness

    Although the Marie Claire blurb was just a one liner, it reinforces and condones the fact that Americans are all about the path of least resistance. Why bring it up at all unless you want to put a positive spin on it and try and convince folks that maybe it doesn’t have to be the most convenient method of getting to work to be worth trying? It goes without saying that most people DON’T bike to work because they assume it’s going to take forever and be a big hassle. It doesn’t require an extra “humorous” sideline to reinforce the preferred sedentary lifestyle, does it?

  21. vegancommuter

    Good job Jack! Please ignore the negative comments posted to your article as they all seem to be somewhat smug themselves and over protective.

    Peter…stop being such a wuss.

  22. Mike Myers

    Good job, Jack. At the risk of stereotyping Marie Claire readers, they are likely Coach bag-carrying, latte-sipping, Bluetooth headset-wearing, Lexus SUV-driving mindless hyperconsumers who would never deign to cycle to work. It’s as foreign a concept to them as spending $7500 on a handbag is to me.

    We will have the last laugh, my friends. Gasoline in my little hick county in redneck Florida is $3.50/gallon for 87 octane. Those Lincoln and Lexus SUVs run on 93 octane, so that’s $4.00/gallon or so. Think the overextended McMansion-dwelling uber-yuppies can continue spending $100+ for a fillup twice a week? We will be vindicated.

  23. Nicole

    I saw the quip mentioned as I polished off my May issue of MC. Since I couldn’t believe it, I had to google it to see if anyone else caught it. Yes, I’m dismayed at the off-handed, ignorant comment. Just enough so, that I’ll probably write a letter to the MC editor.

    But, I have to say that I’m equally dismayed at the stereotyping in these comments, from people who have likely never read the magazine (which, believe it or not, often features stories on environment- and world-related issues). It’s possible to appreciate fashion and makeup and be a bike commuter and advocate. Yes, I commute by bike in my heels everyday (winter included) and put another 50-75 miles on my roadie during the week, weather permitting.

    This is a huge misstep by Marie Claire that deserves to hear proper feedback from the bike community, but please don’t devolve the discussion into a bashing of the MC readership.

  24. Ghost Rider

    Nicole, you’re right, too — proper feedback is the best course of action, and bashing IS pretty self-defeating for our “cause”.

    Don’t you wonder why Marie Claire would choose to slight potential Bike to Work Day participants and ALSO print environmentally-conscious articles? I sure did…especially since “going green” is about the most fashionable thing being talked about right now!

    A lot of commuters out there are at the end of their rope, though…road conditions aren’t improving at the rate they really need to be, and so we lash out with pent-up frustration — childish and snarky, to be sure, but sometimes even the mouse has to roar like a lion!

    Thanks again to everyone for your comments, both positive and negative — dialogues like this are important for our community.

  25. Nicole

    My main grievance, aside from the content of the MC piece itself, was the many commenters who felt the need to disparage and stereotype the general MC reader populous. However, I completely agree that there is a great disparity in printing environmentally-focused articles one month then printing a back-handed comment about bike commuting the next. Apparently, MC has a short memory.

    And, MC isn’t the only offender. Even Self magazine recently wrote off biking as a recreational, warm weather pursuit. Hopefully, someday these magazines will recognize that biking isn’t only about cruising around your neighborhood (although that’s great too) — that it’s a sustainable, easy alternative to driving, that it’s possible in snow or other inclement weather, that bike commuters and people who ride in rain aren’t crazy, and that, yes, we’re having a lot of fun doing it!

    Obviously, they’ve never had the satisfaction of pacing a car through multiple intersections as they ride their bike through town. 🙂

  26. Jamis_Bater

    Sorry Nicole to offend you. But you have to realize that you are the exception to the rule when it comes to MC readers. The magazine may be less of a droolfest of all things Haute Couture than say Vogue, but I’d bet a poll of it’s readers has maybe 0.5% as bike commuters.

    Shoot I gotta say that from my very circumstantial perspective a woman is the exception to the rule for bike commuters. I don’t see very many, if any, on the road. The women I know personally that do bike to work are not your typical woman when it comes to hair, makeup, etc. I have a tough time trying to give pointers to my female coworkers simply because what to do with the hair is a big deal for them. I shave my head—so I’m not much help. And when a man tries to suggest that a woman can be smell free and presentable even after a bike ride I usually get eye rolls and remarks like “That’s a man talking there eh?”

    Maybe that’s a big topic for an ongoing discussion—a female representation on bike commuting. It seems most if not all of the writers here are male. Are there any other women that are able to give their perspective? It would be a huge help for women of course and for us guys in giving tips to female associates.

  27. Ghost Rider

    Jamis — great point…as we periodically present “commuter profiles”, only a couple have been women, and not for lack of trying to track down female commuters to offer THEIR unique perspectives.

    Nicole or Joan, would YOU be interested in being profiled?!? Because we’d love to hear your side of things, too. If so, drop me a line at ghostrider(over-there-at)bikecommuter(dot)com .

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