Just Ask Jack — Deflecting the Naysayers?

Here’s an interesting question…and one I’m pretty well stumped on. Readers, we need your help with this one! If you’ve had experiences like those mentioned in the article, please leave your comments so we can help Karen out.

Karen submitted the following question:

“My husband and I live in Northern Arizona where it is quite expense to live even a modest middle class lifestyle but having no kiddos we just squeeze by. With the price of gas though, we looked for ways to cut back and since we live less than 5 miles from our work, we decided to sell one of our cars and buy bikes. We’ve been at it for over a month and probably bike in 3 – 4 days per week. It has really reduced our time at the pump since we also geared up with panniers and saddlebags. We make brief stops at the grocers from time to time rather than haul the car out of the garage. Since we also run the biking has been great cross-training.

Although we know several people at our work who also bike in we also get some remarks from a few people who seem to subtly suggest that we are trying to make a political statement or trying to look ‘hip’ or ‘holier than thou’. Yes, I am a liberal but I am also a hair and makeup girl and getting to work slightly messed up has been a mental barrier I had to overcame solely because I can’t stomach or afford $4+ a gallon – we have a mortgage to pay.

Do you ever get this?? If so, how do you handle it? Some of this comes from people who are a little higher in rank at work than us. I am a little tired of it but don’t feel like poor mouthing when so many other people are in far worse shape than us.”

We’re all pretty aware of how hot it is to be “green”…everywhere you turn, there’s some celebrity spouting off about how they’re making a difference. While that’s great — people coming around and realizing that living a more eco-friendly lifestyle makes sense — the incessant media attention on “outgreensmanship” gets kind of tiresome. On the whole, the bike commuters we’ve had the pleasure of riding with and communicating with through are not evangelical about their choice of transportation. We just do it because, for the most part, we love to ride bikes! And, of course, we’re getting exercise, reducing our carbon footprints and saving money.

So, my first “gut reaction” response to Karen was that negative comments like this arise from jealousy. While I’ve never personally been accused of being “holier than thou” (well, at least about bike commuting 😉 ), I’ve perceived a fair bit of jealousy in comments from coworkers, neighbors and friends. It’s something we’ve talked about around here for a long time — the folks who “would try to commute by bike, but…”

As far as the higher-ups with negative or snide attitudes, I sense that there’s a bit of territoriality at play here. After all, they’re the supervisors or senior staff members…THEY should be the ones with the brilliant ideas and the smart solutions — not some slightly-rumpled junior partner (who, by the way, is looking mighty fit and healthy these days)!

So, I’ve thrown out a couple of ideas as to where these comments come from, but I’m sure there are more. As far as solutions go, I try to stick to a fairly modest tactic my wife uses at work: “Why do I bike commute? Well, I can’t really think of anyone who couldn’t use some more exercise…and I’m saving money, too.” It’s better to deflect gently rather than to get hot under the collar (something I am NOT good at doing). Gentle deflections beat evangelicalism any day!

Now it’s your turn: have you faced these kinds of comments? What is up with that kind of attitude? And, what do you do to deflect the naysayers? Please leave your comments below.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.


  1. Shek

    I get a few comments about being sweaty when I have just arrived from lunch (I go home at lunch, 2.2 miles away). I tell them that I just came back from a bicycle ride. It is so unbelievable that I don’t hear anything back.
    I started a cycling to work a month back, so I still get a few I-dont-believe-you-are-still-doing-it, then I talk about how much more healthy I feel and the last date I went to a gas station. That does the trick.
    Now, my co-worker has started biking to work too, so people are getting inspired.

    It is ironic that the bicycle rack is on the side of the building that is the designated smoking area. I am waiting for one of the lung-burners to make a comment!!!

  2. Shek

    I apologize for the typo, it is past bed time here on the east coast…

  3. tim

    I’m not sure about the “negative comments arise from jealousy” thing. It’s been said a lot lately, but I don’t think these people are jealous at all – they simply don’t get it.

    Maybe they would be jealous if they did get it but weren’t able to ride, but I don’t think that’s the case.

    As for how to deflect the nay-sayers – for me, the simple fact is that I enjoy it. Even when it’s a few degrees above freezing and drizzling rain (it’s winter on this side of the planet), riding a bike is still a good place to be.

    Most people’s commute time counts as work. My commute time counts as play. It’s that simple.

    Aside to that, I haven’t filled my car up for months (toying with the idea of selling it), and I’ve lost close to 20 pounds in the last year.

    But some days, the most enjoyable part of my day is getting to and from work. Not many car or transit commuters can say that.


  4. Tracy

    I’m fortunate to work at a company where the comments I receive are from people who are amazed that I bike my little 12 miles a day. It’s like they think I can life a car or something. In the rare instance where it appears that someone is a little smug, I can offer some reasons that might appeal to them based on what I know about them. If I don’t know them well, I can also just keep my comments factual and the discussion short. Jerks will be jerks whether I ride a bike or not.

  5. Tracy

    Sorry. “Lift” not “life.”

  6. Mark Jones

    Im from Essex in the UK. I have never come across that attitude. Although people are amazed I ride 12 mile round trip. 12miles, is nothing. I did however used to get negative comments when I skateboarded to work.

    I guess I wouldnt really say anything to anyone who was being negative about it. Just simply that I want to bike to work. At the end of the day your not out to prove anything, you bike for yourself. Live and let live.

  7. Paul

    If you worry about getting slightly messed up after the ride you should check out That type of bikes are perfect for commuting. Upright riding position (don’t have to worry about your décolletage), front basket where you can put you jacket if it get’s to warm.

    Most important, take it easy, don’t rush.

  8. Thomas Snyder

    Take all comments as a compliment. I live in the DC area and have been functioning “car-lite” for 23 years-when gas was $1.50. When these comments came forward I would answer politely and take them as a compliment. When the questions turned hostile (which never happens in Washington) I would comment that ” cars are for the common and lazy”. I’ve never had to defend that statement-it always ended the conversation.
    As far as looking hip, I just leave that up to the commoners who drive Smart Cars!

  9. Gavin

    It’s pretty simple, you just ignore these people. I would suggest that perhaps you are overly sensitive about being a cyclist for whatever reason.

    I find the complaints about cost of ‘Gas’ funny. ‘Gas’ in Europe is at least twice, almost three times the price in the US.

  10. Ghost Rider

    Tim, I tend to agree with you…folks who might say something negative really just don’t get it, do they?

    Still, I think there’s a touch of jealousy in there –I think it is human nature to sort of lash out at things a) you don’t understand or are afraid of for some reason and b) you subconsciously wish you could do (and, of course, many other reasons).

    While we certainly should let these kinds of comments roll off our backs, simply ignoring them may be perceived as snobby or elitist…thus “holier than thou”. I think it might be better to have a friendly and rational response ready at hand. Sure, we’re not going to convince the vast majority of these naysayers, but a friendly response always beats a huffy glare and silence!

    Great comments, everyone — keep them coming!

  11. Ghost Rider

    Oh, and Gavin — from an American perspective about gas: Americans have been spoiled by cheap gas prices for way too long…and a huge number of U.S. citizens are outraged that their “lifeblood” is now getting prohibitively expensive. It’s as if we are owed cheap gasoline as our birthright or something!

  12. Mike Myers

    Unfortunately, Jack, US society was built around cheap gasoline. Lots of people’s entire lifestyles are based around it. You remember the hype around the Suncoast Parkway, right? People who work in Tampa were told they could easily buy homes in less-expensive Hernando county and take the parkway to work. Well, lots of them did that and now they’re screwed. Same story with lots of cities—Atlanta and Los Angeles come to mind. It’s not good for a huge number of people. I feel sorry for them.

  13. Ghost Rider

    Mike, oh, I know all too well that our society was built around cheap gas and plentiful automobiles…I think pretty much anyone who rides a bike in the U.S. is painfully aware of the dominance of “car culture”!

    I guess the gasoline comments are pretty funny, especially because our European counterparts have been getting “bent over” at the gas pumps for much longer than us. It’s our turn (well, motorists, at least) to feel the pain !

  14. wannaCmore

    Karen, you could just tell people that it’s just good time management. Both you and your husband are serious about fitness. Which would you rather do: ride a bike to/from work, or driving to a gym and spending about the same amount of time doing the treadmill/stairmaster/etc.?

  15. Catspit

    wannaC – couldn’t agree more. cycling to work and home again has been the best way to split up my workouts and focus each on 1 specific goal.

    Lunchtime workouts are now the sole domain of weights. Death to treadmills. Hooray for 3 workouts a day!

  16. Iron Man

    Buy a $3,000 carbon fiber racing road bike, wear full on lycra kit from your favorite pro team, and the flashiest clipless shoes you can find. You’ll be mistaken for a racer wannabe, but never mistaken for making some sort of political statement. 🙂

    Or say screw it, because you are making a statement. It says “My family is hurting and we’re coping the best we can.” There’s no shame in that.

  17. pnow2004

    The statement you (we are) making is “I do not feel like paying $4+ a gallon for gas”. I ride to work for exercise, for fun, because it is only 4 miles away, but also, because gas is really expensive. When people ask me about biking, I always ask, “have you seen the price of gas lately?” BTW – price will not go down, will continue to rise, it will be $5+ a gallon by Labor Day. Keep riding!

  18. shishi

    Karen. Just hang in there and stick with it. Most people don’t understand commuting by bike and when someone first starts always think it is a political statement. I have been commuting for over ten years (the last 7 in NYC) and have worked for two elected officials were I always have to be in dress shirt and tie. What I have found is that as time passes and people realize that you are serious about and keep commuting they will get over it (on their end). Just stick with it and enjoy.

  19. Ghost Rider

    Anyone got any ideas as to why Karen’s higher-ups at work tend to be the ones making comments?

    And, for the record, the statement I’m making is “I like to ride bikes.” The gas savings is only one of many side benefit…like Thomas (above), I’ve been doing it long before gas prices were even a consideration in my mind.

    Which brings me to another point — the “yeah, I was doing this before it was cool” phenomenon — a pervasive aspect in the many different cycling “cliques”. I’m as guilty of this as anyone out there 😉

  20. Jami

    I love telling people I only have to fill my gas tank up every three months. I can almost see the hamster wheel in their head start turning when I tell them that.

  21. Iron Man

    I can’t relate to the higher ups giving the stink eye. My boss, his boss, and the executives above them know me or have heard of me riding to work and think it’s great. They think I’m a little odd or very odd, but they don’t resent me for doing it. Perhaps if this really comes out in the open with your bosses you could address it from a business angle. Lay it out in hard numbers for the suits to understand.

    As a bike commuter you:
    1. Exercise regularly thus reducing medical costs (providing your employer provides those benefits).
    2. Exercise, in the morning, and are more attentive and alert, and you are more productive at work. Particularly in the first few hours on the job when most drivers are still in a funk.
    3. Likely are never late as you need time to cool off and perhaps change attire.
    4. Are finding a solution to a budgetary shortfall. Thus your employer has a greater chance of retaining you as an employee rather than you looking elsewhere for a higher paying job. Retaining good employees is one of managements biggest challenges.

  22. Hoopes

    I’ve received some comments, most are about the ‘neighborhoods’ I have to bike through or the 26mi round trip. My replies vary and are one of the following depending on the situation:

    – I’m not the first or the last to bike commute and as long as I am on time, why do you care?

    – I don’t prefer being part of average overweight crowd in America.

    – I’d rather spend my money on my hobby/necessity/family rather than my gas tank.

    – It only takes me 15 minutes longer than driving to work on a *good driving day*. (Philadelphia area is over congested)

    – I’m doing my part for the environment, no matter how small. Even if the nay sayers are right and there is no global warming, doesn’t it help to have one less car on the road?

    – Does me biking in hurt anyone?

    – If you’re so interested, I’ll meet you in the morning and we can bike in together? 🙂

    The bottom line is; we’re a free society so just ignore them .

  23. Alejolucas

    In my experience I’d say that Karen’s higher-up is not jealous (at least not only jealous) but he might be feeling that he should have been the one promoting bike-to-work-commuting in the first place.
    My 2 cents are: 1) may be you could find a way to make him/her come up with a way to promote it believing it was his/her idea (most bosses’ are prone to this kind of behavior 😉 ) and/or 2) you could ask s/he to ‘help you out’ with moving the bike rack to a better location (or any other thing would help you and other riders), and get s/he involved.
    If s/he is a regular boss will share credit with you for the idea, and your problem is solved. if s/he is like most bosses, s/he will take complete credit for the idea. But still you have 1 less problem!
    Please let me know if you put this ideas to work, and the outcome.
    Ultimately your benefit comes for riding the bike, not for people liking you for riding your bike.
    Keep up riding!

  24. ragged claws

    I suspect I might not be representing the majority view on this point, but it seems to me that having people question their own ethical relation to the environment and the current geo-political dilemma seems like a benefit of cycling to work, not a problem (if only it were that easy). As for your concerns about being seen as an evangelist, that’s easy, just don’t evangelize (there is no less effective way of changing people’s opinions anyway). I suspect that in a week or two no one will think twice about you and your bike, if they ever thought about it at all.

  25. Tone

    Perhaps it’s my sarcastic nature, but if a “higher up” was giving me the gears for biking to work, I’d be tempted to reply:

    “Perhaps if my pay went up everytime the price of gas went up, I’d still be driving! But, now that I’ve started riding, I’m liking it …”

    Or words to that effect!

    I’ve never gotten anything but support for my bike commuting, but I worked for pretty flexible organizations.

  26. Ghost Rider

    Tone, hell yes! Of course, blatant sarcasm might backfire…but I still love your idea!

    Chris, I suspect you’re right on the money, too: once the novelty wears off your coworkers, they won’t give your transportation choice a second thought…unless it’s to ask you for tips on how THEY might be able to use a bike to get to work.

  27. Paul Rivers

    I ask the question “What do the people drive who have this attitude?”

    In my experience, when someone makes choices based on status or fashion they’re often sensitive and defensive about that status changing, especially in a period of flux. And that’s where we are – with rising gas prices some people still feel that driving a pickup truck to work is cool, some people feel that driving a hybrid like a Prius is cool, other people think it isn’t, some people feel driving the cheapest car they can buy is “cool”…some people think a performance car is cool, but others think driving the most fuel efficient car is cool. With rising gas prices, the whole status of what you drive is in flux – plus, obviously, biking commuting is also another contender.

    So maybe the way to go is to start talking about it by saying something about how you’d never give up having a car because it’s so useful…but with the gas prices at $4/gallon, it’s pretty easy to save a lot of money by biking to work.

  28. Paul

    I live in Stockholm and don’t have to convince anyone that riding a bike to work is cool. My boss does it and so does many managers and employees.

    The best argument for riding a bike to work is that you are not affected by traffic jams or subway breakdowns.

    Exercise (I don’t ride very fast while commuting) and saving gas money is just bonus for me.

  29. Peter

    Without knowing what the actual comments are, it’s a little difficult to guess the tone, or how to respond. Probably the best response is to simply brush it off. If something more is called for, a self-effacing joke might clear the air: “Oh, yeah, I’m such a trend follower,” or “Well, if I get lost, I can cut across someone’s lawn.”


  30. Peter

    … or “Yeah, it’s political. This is how all terrorists get started.”

  31. kevmo

    I’m not so green but I work with plenty of super green folks – including quite a few prius owners. I often make jokes about how much more green I am (for riding a bike) than those fancy-pantsed prius owners to a degree that no one takes it seriously.
    At the end of the day, if you are doing something other than what most people do, some people will find a reason to be irritated. It’s not rational and most of the time, there is very little you can do to make the irritated party see the light.

  32. Shanyn

    I have encountered the attitude the Karen speaks of; I normally remark on how lucky I am that I am to be in a position where riding my bike to work is entirely practical- I live less than 2 miles away. I don’t often mention that I went car-free several months ago- people do tend to get defensive about their choice to continue driving. They really just do not get it. But as my mother said, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, so I don’t flaunt my views. I am also a “hair and makeup girl” and I think that that makes a big impression on my co-workers. Getting women on bikes in career-wear will lead to a big shift in our cultural thinking. Style over speed.

  33. RussRoca


    “Cars are for the common and lazy.”

    I love it! Going to have to remember that one for sure!

  34. RussRoca

    I totally agree that with gas going up and talk of climate change, people get defensive about getting in their car….i have lots of clients that when i roll up on bike they’re real sheepish and feel almost guilty for driving their car….i tell them, hey…I’m not anti-car….I just want my rights as a bicyclists and my choice of transportation to be respected just like everyone else…

  35. Jim


    I just say “I ride my bike because I really like to eat, and if I don’t ride I’ll end up weighing much more than I do now.”

    That way it turns the reason from political or economic to a self-deprecating reason. No one ever argues that you are trying to be hip or holy when you are humble.


  36. Barry Porter

    Hi Karen,

    I have been commuting to work by bike off and on since 1974 because I love to ride. When I lived in Baltimore I always heard negative comments. The negative comments are always from someone who has not commuted by bike – so examine the source.

    Now that I live in Denver I always hear positive comments. Most often someone is saying “I’ve got to start doing that”. So, have fun! Be polite to the negative folks – one day they might get it. But most importantly – Keep Riding!

  37. Swoop

    I suspect that some of the nay saying involves your claim that it’s money driven. Gas has risen 2.50 a gallon. Your drive is 10 miles round trip and you are doing it 3-4 times a weeks. Assuming you were only getting 15 mpg, you are only saving, maybe, $7.00 a week. That’s less than $400 year. Not even a single house payment.

    I hope you didn’t have to buy the bike.

    Ride your bike if you want, but don’t claim to be saving the world.

  38. Tone

    Regarding Swoop’s comment … but they also sold one of their cars. That means no car payment, no insurance cost, etc.

    Most estimates I’ve seen peg car ownership at between $6000 – $10000 per year when all the costs are taken into account. Since cycling means that can get by with one less car, they are actually saving a significant amount per year.

  39. Joe

    For me, I love to ride a bike. Every time I get on a bike I tear off as fast as I can go, just like I did when I was a kid and I feel that kid again. When people ask me why I don’t have a car, why I bike just about everywhere, I just tell them the truth, I love to ride my bike…it is a passion for me. Everyone respects that…it is my “pursuit of happiness”, my liberty. This certainly isn’t true for all of us, but for many, just plain liking to ride is the only reason an American needs.

  40. Lance

    Saving the world….no. Doing more to save the world than fatasses whining about you claiming to save the world…yes.

  41. Ghost Rider

    Amen to that, Lance!

    And, we ARE making a difference. Perhaps you’ve noticed in the upper right corner of our homepage where it shows our log for the year. With six full months to go this year, a small group of 25 active participants has already saved a heap of money and reduced CO2 emissions by almost 26000 lbs.

  42. majalane

    @ Kevmo. I like kidding the hybrid owners too, the ones with the empty bikes racks that pass me on the way to and from work.

    @Ghost. Not to mention it’s just a little more fun than driving in traffic.

    Karen –
    Good luck, there’s been lot’s of good advice. Just remember, some people will assume that you have an agenda no matter what you do. I just smile at them and go on with my day. When it comes down to it they’ll move on to something else.

  43. Rapps

    It’s really about our own selves not the person asking the questions. I digress for a moment; I am not really a blond. My original response to the hair color questions reflected my frame of mind (not very comfortable with the whole thing) but my sister in law taught me something when she said “oh honey you could be this color too!” So when asked about why you ride to work tell them “because it’s enjoyable, you look forward to it every day and they could do it too! They just might be left stammering without a response because they are expecting to control the conversation with their point of view.

  44. venison

    I’ve been keeping my bike in my office, so I’ve been getting quite a few questions since I’ve started riding in. Usually I just say that it’s my way of getting an hour of light cardio each day. I then describe my route which runs through a tract of 60s modernist Eichler homes, then a river trail, through a park, then through turn of the century bungaloes and victorian homes. That usually ends the conversation. If they press further I’ll mention that I arrive to work with a better attitude towards the work of the day, and arrive home without sharing any of my work stress with my family. That seems to be something that those individuals relate to.

  45. Mike C

    Two suggestions:

    1) Embrace your inner freak. So what if people are talking about you, at least they are talking about you. Use it as personal PR at work. You stick out. Showcase how well you do at work in spite of riding a bike. Wear your [infinity] mpg t-shirt with pride and flaunt it without being too overbearing. Not like anyone can fault you for anything… not that superiors won’t take it into account when performance reviews, raises, promotions, etc. come around, fair or not.

    2) Change attitude? Don’t know how you go about the office, but if it’s with a sense of smug, looking down at all the “commoners” who are driving, spending money on gas, wrecking the environment, etc., that could certainly do it. Personally, I can see a sneer about biking coming a mile away from co-workers, and when they say any thing negative about it (extremely rare), I respond with enthusiasm, saying how fun it is to be out on a bike and that I totally amazed myself by doing a 35mi rt commute, and that I’m going to try to keep it up as much as possible because it feels so great and every trip to and from work becomes an adventure! “I saw a flock of turkeys this morning!!!” That pretty much defuses any defensiveness on their part. I keep the staying healthy, thin, doing a small bit for the environment and all that self righteous stuff to myself. And secretly giggle when people complain about gas prices, but never evangelize about bikes.

    Happy to talk to people about bikes if they ask, but otherwise, I treat it like I would my car–nothing real special about it, just how I happen to get to work.

    If your work culture is such that it might affect your standing in the company, well that’s a bigger issue, and until that changes, biking in could be detrimental to your advancement there. Not fair, but there’s a million ways it could negatively affect you without any chance of recourse on your end.

    In the end, if you feel that it is negatively effecting the way your superiors feel about you, figure out the cost of gas, gym membership, car ownership, etc. that you would have to pay if you were driving in, subtract it from your salary, and then see if the job is as attractive as it is now…

  46. Newbalicious

    I just started biking to work recently, because gas was so darn high for my stupid Dodge Caravan. $60.00 a week–are you kidding me?

    I’ve learned A LOT since I started. Like the following: mail trucks can be your friends instead of the obstacles they appear to be, dogs really do love spinning wheels, the phrase “on your left!!!” is actually quite frightening in traffic (be nice, fellas), and those who express amazement or derision at your commuting choice may just be a little fearful of change.

    I also learned that you can bike in kitten heels if you’ve misplaced your sneakers or whatever shoes you usually ride in. Now, I wear whatever goofy footwear I want. Style over speed every time!

    So when you get attitude, just smile and wave. We want to get MORE people on bikes or walking, not fewer. Right? It’s up to all of us to be ambassadors–that is, if we’re up to the challenge of being nice. I’m certainly better at that than being fast on my cruiser, much to the dismay of my lycra-clad compadres in Sacramento. But we’re all in this together, and elitism is out of the question. You go, girl!

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