The Backlash Against Bicycles…

Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of downright wacky stories in the news…a backlash against the growing bicycle “culture” in the U.S.

First, the casino town of Black Hawk, Colorado has banned bicycles from most of its streets despite an outcry from national news organizations and a number of cycling advocacy groups. Next, the town of St. Charles, Missouri proposed a similar ban on its roads. Currently, the St. Charles City Council has tabled the proposal, but will revisit it next week. Not to be outdone, the city of Charleston, South Carolina proposed to ban bicycle parking within its downtown…luckily, this proposal was crushed by a vocal opposition.

And now today I got a number of emailed article links (thanks to Jim and Phil and the five or six others who alerted me to this) concerning some knucklehead named Dan Maes in Colorado who claims that Denver’s mayor is pushing a vast UN-backed bicycle conspiracy upon the city there.

I’m left scratching my head and wondering what the heck is going on? I mean, it’s fairly common knowledge that transportational cycling and pedestrian-friendly streets do wonders for the liveability of an area — helping to reduce traffic congestion, improving the health of residents and eliminating a lot of greenhouse gases from the environment. And I’m the first to admit that bicycle/pedestrian advocates aren’t always that subtle when pitching the benefits…many of us approach the subject with an almost religious fervor that can be off-putting to others. But why do you suppose there is this backlash going on? Any thoughts? We’d love to hear your insights on these developments in the comments area below.


  1. John Romeo Alpha

    I think it probably has to do with bicycling being a fringe activity (defined as something only single digit percentage of people do regularly), and people tend to be suspicious of, and draw strange conclusions about, fringe activities. Plus, when only a small number of people know the facts, someone not a member of the fringe can make a statement about it, or draw a conclusion, and face pretty good odds that no one around will know the difference, or bother to refute the statement. “Bicyclists are really former alien abductees who want to implant tracking devices into your car so they can practice Martian medicine on your pets” is a statement that would probably get a fair number of supporters on most radio talk shows.

  2. Ghost Rider

    JRA – excellent. This is exactly what I was looking for.

  3. Rod

    Talk about paranoid conservatives…wow.

  4. Andrew

    banning bicycles will be the last thing that happens before oil and/or electricity for those eclectic cars gets unbearably expensive. its democracy!

  5. Dave

    What it boils down to is that people in the cars are too “important” and too busy in this go-go world in which we live in to have to slow down a nanosecond if a bicyclist dares to be in their way.

    I’ve had people get way too close to my back wheel, like that’s gonna somehow inspire me to go faster. People don’t wanna be inconvenienced just a tiny little bit by some fruity hippie yayhoo with that silly helmet on and those stupid shorts who’s “saving the earth” with their mode of transportation. They’ve gotta hurry up and get where they’re going, darn it all.

    I guarantee, for example, if I’m at the front of a red light and I’m going straight, and the guy behind me wants to go right and he could turn right on red when clear, he’s going to be 200 times more mad that I’M blocking his way than if a car was in front of him blocking his way.

    The stupidest part of that scenario is if the guy would put on a right turn signal, I could see him in my rearview mirror and motion him around me. But since he’s too important to use a turn signal, I have to assume he’s going straight like I am.

    I love riding my bike, I love the fact that I’ve put 5 miles on my car in the past 13 days (still haven’t figured out how to ride my bike to the laundromat yet) and I love the money I save on gas and the wear and tear I save on my very old car, but I hate that very real feeling of “is today going to be the day I get smushed by some impatient idiot?”

  6. Dave

    Conservative commenting on the general insanity towards cycling on the right.

  7. tadster

    I don’t perceive any new backlash. Some people love bikes, some people hate them, I think that has been true since bicycles have been around. I bet if we were to visit newspaper archives at any town library, we would find articles from the late 19th century lamenting that new fan dangled contraption–the safety bicycle. The article might report the alarming speed with which riders careen through town, or lament the emerging trend of women locomoting about all by themselves, or some other ludicrous whatever.

    I don’t take the news seriously. Yeah it’s annoying to know that some people really despise cycling and cyclists, but that kind of thing is to be expected in a diverse population.

  8. Ghost Rider

    Tadster…you’re right in that folks have been lamenting those fan-dangled two wheeled contraptions since their inception — there’s nothing new about that (I’ve read several histories of the bicycle and a number of vintage newspaper articles addressing that).

    But, I feel there is a HUGE gulf between decrying folks on bikes and trying to pass ordinances eliminating our “right to travel” — it’s the legal backlash I’m concerned with. Take a look at Bob Mionske’s take on “right vs. privilege” and you’ll see the difference between talking trash about bikes vs. passing restrictive laws against them:

  9. tadster

    Thanks for the link, Ghost Rider. I agree with you that this becomes a serious issued when laws are passed that restrict bicycle travel.

    From the article you linked: Because cyclists can travel without licenses, the state cannot revoke cyclists “right” to use the road. The problem, as Jeffrey Lynne states, is that “[cyclists’] continued disregard for traffic laws may ultimately lead to the banning of bicycle use—as we currently enjoy it—altogether.”

    Because states don’t currently require cyclists to acquire licenses, there will be a need for explicit laws to restrict bicycle travel in some ways. I do not think that many would argue that cycling should be allowed on interstate highways with speed limits of 65mph–safety is the apparent reason why bicycles are prohibited on such roadways. That said, I think the Black Hawk town council will have to seriously consider what safety concerns are at issue if they are to defend their decision to the state.

  10. Kagi

    It’s good ol’ American* class-warfare politics.

    One of the great paradoxes of the political culture here is that while most conservatives claim to champion personal freedom and choice, the surest way to get their votes is by making them feel like they have no choices and stoking a sense of resentment against people they perceive as having more. (As in so many cases, Devo got it right.) So far, most of the people who have been pushing for more livable cities and bikeable streets have been (surprise) people with a pretty high level of education, who are choosing to do something because it makes sense to them. (Notice that none of these people get worked up about cyclists from poor neighborhoods — just the yuppie downtowners.) Some people resent others’ freedom, and can be easily worked into an emotional frenzy about it. And to a certain extent it’s true: in this country people with more education really _do_ have more choices. I don’t know how you get people to want more of that choice for themselves, rather than just trying to deny it to others. I actually think it’s easier to get the people with that sheep mentality to embrace cycling as a new mainstream non-choice than to get them to tolerate diversity. But perhaps that’s pessimistic.

    * Canadian too, apparently:

  11. tadster

    Kagi–omg thanks for sharing that link to Rob Ford’s diatribe. Regarding bicyclists getting killed by cars, Ford says “it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”

    By that logic, it’s also automobile drivers’ faults they they get struck by other cars and killed. And it’s soldiers’ faults that they get shot by enemies and killed. Wow.

    I’m willing to grant that his next sentence may have restructured the context of his statement, but the video ended too soon. Either way, SHEESH!!!

  12. Johnny

    Honestly I don’t understand how people can be so stupid and still breath. I am conservative and I come from a conservative family so it is not a matter of people being conservative or not. This stupid Tea Party does not speak for the intelligent. Also the notion that only liberals ride bikes and care about the environment is just silly thinking. Do I think that the earth is coming to an end any time soon, No. However we should all be good stewards and care for the gifts that have been given to each of us. With that said I fear that these cities and the people that run these cities must have invested large sums of money into auto-mobiles or big oil.

  13. Matt

    I think JRA mostly got it right.

    Also, I think the people who do commute by bike in my area are often either a bit “tree-hugger-ish” or low-income Hispanics who don’t own cars. The radical Right (as an institution) has no love for either group.

    And no, I don’t think it makes sense at all. It’s an entirely emotion-driven appeal that any thinking conservative should utterly reject.

  14. Bob P.

    I am not a liberal; I am fiscally conservative. I ride my bike to work, to the store, and around the block. I don’t ride out of some sense that I am saving the planet. I ride for self-serving reasons: fight the fat monster, breathe the air (keeps my lungs healthy to fight asthma), keep healthy, to deprive the government of the taxes on gas they collect, and because I love to ride.

    I use rain barrels to collect my run off water, and use this to water our gardens. I don’t do this to save the planet, I do this because I don’t want to pay for something that’s free (and taxed).

    My neighbor runs his sprinklers in the rain, and many of my neighbors drive a quarter mile to the train station. I sometimes feel like Denmark, and they are all China. No amount of conserving on my part will move the data when others are wasting so much.

    I take every opportunity to advocate for bike rights, often calling companies when their drivers are unsafe. Yet in my three years of bike commuting, I have seen very few riders following the law. On Sunday I saw a rider go up the right side of traffic at a red light, and make a left in front of the now green light traffic, two lanes wide. It would have been a Darwin award had the drivers not noticed this moron making this maneuver. My wife and I were in the third vehicle space in the right lane, with cars behind us. So many people ride on the sidewalks, especially the local immigrant population, that drivers must assume that is the place to ride.

    Drop the political angle, it is not going to unify us. What unifies is our love the contraption, and getting around on it.

  15. Kagi

    Johnny — I’m with you there, and I should have put “conservatives” in quotes. Lots of thoughtful people still call themselves conservatives (despite the fools who are tarnishing a once-proud name), and indeed I share a lot of their positions. Didn’t mean to lump you in with the non-thinkers. Apologies. But you obviously know what I’m talking about.

  16. BluesCat

    JRA, tadster, Kagi, Matt, Johnny, etc., you’ve ALL got it right.

    The only thing I can add to the mix is that a lot of our politicians are in Big Oil’s and Big Auto’s back pockets.

    And Big Oil and Big Auto (especially that car company we American citizens own: GM) have a LONG history of working to destroy other means of transportation in the U.S.: Driven to Destruction – The Streetcar Conspiracy

    Put those two facts together and it is easy to see why cars are favored over ANY other form of transportation.

  17. Mir.I.Am Gee

    What is this Footloose?!!

  18. Phil

    Coupla points:

    Anyone living in North or South America is an American. The USA has no monopoly on that. There are lots of red-blooded “Americans” on both continents.

    At JRA: like your thinking. Taking it a bit further, “we” dislike things that seem threatening to “us” and “our” comfort/safety. I don’t like living in such a black and white, right and wrong, good and bad paradigm. After all, WE know that EVERYONE thinks like that cannot be trusted, RIGHT? 😉

    (fourth day of riding to work this week. hooray!).

  19. Colorado Cyclist

    Looks like “Bob P” is a complete rebel. I am not sure about where Bob P is from but here in Colorado – they are trying to ban bikes from certain mountain towns – and they already have a 100% ban on Rain Barrels:

    How evil we must all be to try and save the earth through our actions.


  20. 2whls3spds

    FWIW I am “living” in Charleston at the moment. I give the council kudos for pulling back on the bike parking issue; when it was brought to their attention that they were about to make a major gaff. It is under study and they are listening to the various cycling entities involved and are well on their way to greatly IMPROVING the cycling infrastructure in the city of Charleston.


  21. Kagi

    Phil: yes, sure, but there’s no other adjective in English to describe the residents, culture, and politics of the United States, unless you want to go all campus-Maoist with “Amerikan.” “Estadounidense” works well in Spanish, but “Unitedstatesian” does not exist. Your point is…?

  22. no1mad

    Politicians will say anything if they think that it will earn them votes- or spread the message of their biggest financial backer. That being said, I had an idea (and y’all can check my flawed logic).

    Since cyclists perceive Big Oil/Auto behind this latest round of anti-cycling (proposed) legislation, fight fire with fire. Get companies like Wal-Mart (just don’t let them know that they are only selling BSO’s and not real bikes) and Trek to support candidates that are pro-cycling/alternative transport. Hell, for that matter, just have Lance run for office- love him or hate him, he has instant name recognition, which is half the battle.

  23. Ben Gustafson

    You can probably find a “backlash” against pretty much anything, if you look hard enough for it. For the most part, the momentum supporting bicycling is going in the right direction.

  24. Phil

    Kagi: sorry I waxed a bit too philosophical here. I’ll leave it at that for now.

    Ride on, regardless of your political perspective.

  25. Val

    The bottom line is: if they weren’t noticing us, there would be no backlash. This sort of thing can be chalked up as growing pains – an unsurprising side effect of moving out of the “fringe” and into the mainstream. Change is always associated with soem sort of trauma, but it’s still worth it.

  26. Ben

    I’m am one of a handful who commute in my town (Amarillo, TX). I’m trying to change the way I get around everyday (not just to and from work) and I have seen this “backlash”. It’s palpable here. There have been a few cyclist deaths this year and sadly the latest could have been avoided if the 27 y/o driver of a F-250 pick-up hadn’t been reaching for his cell phone. Now, recreational cyclists are mobilized, trying to help raise awareness of Texas laws which already protect cyclist’s rights on the road. Still the comments and editorials I am seeing, as the city begins to try and embrace a change towards a more bike friendly community, are very angry and intolerant for a rider in traffic. We are surrounded by farm and ranch land so the massive 4×4 rules the road with a spit cup and a rebel flag in the rear window. I’ve had too many people get way to close, and i feel like its stubbornness. An unwillingness to change because they see it as erosion of a value system that has “worked” for the passed 50+ years. A value system which promotes a life of consumption and a foot loose do what ever makes you feel good because we’re America and no one can stop us attitude. It’s sad and really disappointing to feel this way about one’s home but, these people just reinforce the stereotypes for this area. Maybe someday with a little education and open minds we can have a community that doesn’t try to kill those it doesn’t approve of in passing. Until then I’ll keep on riding in spite of the black clouds of diesel exhaust, thrown cups, and shouts about my perceived sexual preference.

  27. Torger

    This is not necessarily a political ideology issue. Any idea or activity I know of has proponents and detractors, and then the rest of us who don’t have an opinion or care about the subject(usually the vast majority). In the case of bicycle commuting, I would never give it much thought even though I run a bicycle manufacturing company.
    I would guess that most people are like me. When I am in my car I only ask that cyclists travel in a predictable manner. When I am on my bike, I ask that cars cut me some slack.
    But on every issue, there are the passionate few on each end of the bell curve that think the proper response is to go to far in either direction, ie banning bikes or banning cars. I would guess that there are some liberal thinkers who aren’t in favor of giving up their cars, and there are some conservatives who don’t own one.
    So I would suggest that a few Jackwagons who advocate banning anything are not neccessarily a “backlash”, but more just the vocal minority trying to influence the silent majority to do something that most probably think is nuts.

  28. jim

    Caution, never call a knucklehead a knucklehead in print.

  29. Phil in IL.

    I enjoyed Dave’s link to the Mitch Berg article. I can totally identify. My politics are generally to The right of Genghis Khan. I believe in fiscal responsibility,like grilling tasty animals,own way too many guns(and bikes)and think that unruly children need an occasional spanking. With that said, it’s humorous to see the surprise on the faces of friends and co-workers when I tell them I’m a bike commuter. It’s as if they think this is an activity exclusively for “pinko commie bedwetters”. Yes Virginia, even conservatives ride bikes and want bicycle infrastructure. In my area(Chicago burbs)most of the backlash centers around patently bad behavior by SOME cyclists. I hear questions like: Why don’t you stop for stop signs? or: Do you have to ride two abreast? I agree with Torger that if we would ride in a predictable manner it would go a long way towards quelling any backlash.

  30. Johnny

    I do not consider individuals riding their bicycles on the side-walks and running red lights as cyclist or cyclist that commute. All I am saying is don’t lump people into groups and don’t call people that ride bicycles on side-walks cyclist or commuters because they are not. For the most part many of these so called cyclist do these things because the current transportation infrastructure was not built with the human powered vehicle (HPV for short) in mind so the individual’s safety is being threatened by the auto-mobile operator who carelessly ignores all manner of reality and thinks the word auto in auto-mobile = autopilot and so they mow down the HPV operator. Even with the dangers of riding on the street I don’t know why anyone would want to ride on the side-walks. Side-walk riding is very slow and very uncomfortable on the typical commuter style bicycle (i.e. Not comfort or mountain style bicycles). Not to mention trying to navigate around pedestrians that are on autopilot too and will not make room for you to get around them. So yes I have tried it once but I will never make that mistake again and now I only commute via streets.
    As for running red lights I agree the HPV operator should never run a red light. For one it puts the HPV operator in harms way as well as others. When I see someone do that I yell at them about it. According to most road rules regarding HPV’s you are supposed to either wait for the light or cross the intersection as a pedestrian meaning you should dismount your vehicle and walk it through the intersection at the cross-walk following all the signs and signals as if you were on foot because at that point you are.
    Bottom line is that the HPV operators are tax payers too and there should be provisions at every level of government here in the United states of America for the Human Powered Vehicle. What I am saying here is that I would think a law suit by any individual that use HPV’s as their primary mode of transportation to work could be brought against a municipality because they are taking away the only transportation some people can afford. These municipalities are threatening that individuals lively-hood by making it impossible for them to legally and economically travel to work everyday. If municipalities would spend more money on cracking down on auto-mobile operators that speed and break other laws of the road then most HPV operators would be safe to continue travelling on the current roads. The only other thing I have to say on this subject is ignorance is bliss. The lack of proper education cause laws such as these to take root don’t let this happen in your city. Many cities especially in small communities have public hearings about such matters and are usually listed in the local newspaper. Show up let your voice be heard. Ask for alternative provisions, who knows you may get a free vehicle or at least some sort of free transportation to work, grocery stores, and the like. Just a suggestion for those that are trapped in these cities and used to commute via HPV’s. Let the municipalities know that you need them to pick up your transportation fair since they made your vehicle illegal. I am not saying that we should just let what ever access to our streets however to ban a whole classification of vehicle is just ridiculous. I agree that the individual’s safety is important however most other cities have found ways to accommodate HPV’s to some degree so why can’t these cities?

  31. Pingback: The Backlash Against Bicycles… | Bike Commuters | Bicycle, Bicycles

  32. Ak Mike

    New here – great conversation.

    One thing I run into here in my small town is the comment that the cyclist doesn’t pay any road tax, implying that I the cyclist am being subsidized by the driver of automobiles. In my experience this misconception infuriates some that we are not paying our fair share.

    In actuality, most local roads which cyclists use most are funded by a municipalities general fund, funded by revenues generated by sales taxes and the like – cyclists and auto / truck users pay equally based on their consumption of goods. Add to this the fact that bicycles do not degrade the road as cars and trucks do, and the bicyclist is in actuality paying more than their fare share to use the road infrastructure.

    A good place to read up on this is here:
    Victoria Transport Policy Institute
    Whose Roads: Defining Bicyclists’ and Pedestrians’ Rights to Use Public Roadways

    Ak Mike

  33. Ghost Rider

    @Ak Mike — welcome, and thanks for the link! Yes, that’s a tired old thing that gets trotted out from time to time…when the reality is that many cyclists also own cars and buy gasoline, pay for annual licenses and registrations and otherwise contribute to the road fund. And yes, those of us who are car-lite or car-free are paying more than our share for the roads; heck, we’re not even damaging them as we roll on through!

  34. Dr Jim

    If we lived in areas that were designed for walking and pedaling, this wouldn’t be an issue. Go anywhere in the world where the almighty auto hasn’t dominated the minds and hearts of the population (including their road engineers), and you will find people mixing it up with all sorts of transportation without having a fuss over it.

    All these crazy stories come up where you have the diversity of transportation modes designed out of them, forcing the population to rely primarily on the auto. With that comes the impatience with anything on the road but motorized vehicles that go fast. Or at least they used to before the roads got clogged up with too many of them.

    I live in an Atlanta suburb where there is high motorized vehicular traffic and very little public transport to rely on. I try to ride one of my bikes to commute to work and as most of you know, there is a real art to staying alive and uninjured in many parts of our country.

    I can’t blame folks for coming up with all these nutty ideas about banning bikes, that is all they know. I sure don’t have to give in to their ignorance though.

    Best thing to do I think is just keep being sane yourself, keep riding, and keep being polite on and off the bike. I can be strongly against a stupid idea and still be pleasant……not give in either.

  35. @GrowSomeValues

    Wow! some of these comments are crazy and some great. Love how some try to blame “conservatives” etc. As a Libertarian that is Fiscal Conservative, Anti STATIST, Anti Obamanation. Again I say WOW. As a freedom loving Americans we have constantly defend our freedoms from tyranny, weather it be against some bone head trying to limit your right to ride a bike or a more powerful incompetent statist fool forcing Socialized medicine on all. Either way you must fight for your FREEDOM from Tyranny always as the founding fathers did. Ride the bike, Educate others, Educate yourself and don’t take some idiot liberal or conservatives word for gospel.

    P.S. We are a REPUBLIC with Democratic processes, we are not a democracy. Look it up, Learn it, Live it, love it.

    I’ll close with this quote, “The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.” –author and philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

  36. johnnymiller

    GrowSomeValues made a good point what happens in the next ten years is up to us we need to work for the world we want to live in, and like Ford said weather you think you can or u cant you are right either way.

    Found this at

    There is a solution. That being a widespread, collaborative effort to assist nature in restoring, at scale, the biological processes that have, until today, kept this world stable for millennia. The solutions are in design, and in the observation and replication of natural symbiotic systems. We don’t need just less cars, we need more biology – more photosynthesis and more life! We might not be able to have rainforests everywhere, but we can certainly have food forests everywhere! The video clips below share a glimmer of hope along these lines. It documents an incredible journey of restorative transition for a 35,000 square kilometre area in the Leoss Plateau in the north of China. It is a journey that begins with completely eroded, overgrazed land where floods were a constant nightmare, and ends in terraced green hills, flood and food stability and prosperity. And, it only took ten years.

    hope you enjoi

  37. Iron_Man

    I’m really thinking that this is just part of normal growing pains of our sport/activity. Cycling (both commuter and fitness) is a growing trend that our communities are still getting used to. Many people took to the bike during the 2008 gas crunch. Many have since gone through certain economic/employment pressures that have sort of driven them to the bicycle and the commute. Maybe they’ve lost or sold their home and moved closer to work or found work closer to home.

    Plus cycling for fitness continues to grow in popularity. More and more people are getting hooked on the physical benefits of cycling. All the bike shops in my town are doing fairly well and they aren’t selling only commuters. Even our downtown urban cyclist shop is stocking more road bikes than ever before. Shoot for the older dudes with developing heart disease it’s become the new golf. The bike gives them the fitness their doctors tell them to get and the sport lends itself to the high zoot spending prestige that golf used to.

    The backlash in St Charles, MO (I’m familiar with that area) can certainly be chalked up to growing pains. That town has transitioned from small rural farming town to developing suburb in the past 20 years. Add to that the growing popularity of the Katy Trail ending there and you can see that the town is trying to come to grips with a growing cycling presence.

    The tricky part is not letting either side of the debate wrestle too much control from the other. There are legitimate concerns over safety from a non-cyclist/driver perspective on those country roads and legitimate concerns about civil liberties from the cyclist perspective. Both sides need to keep the dialog open and be willing to compromise. Hopefully folks will find that there are many cost effective solutions to these problems.

  38. sf_mama

    St. Charles and Black Hawk both have casinos. Connection?

  39. Justin
  40. Tom Bowden

    For the record, I am a bike commuter and I am to the right of Newt Gingrich on any number of issues, but Dan Maes is in another dimension, divorced from time, space and reality. Conservatives don’t all think alike any more than all liberals look like Jane Fonda (in her earlier days).

  41. cgakr

    My city has barely any cycling infrastructure. Our bike lanes go for an 1/8 of a mile and disappear, racks don’t exist, and most drivers are clueless. However, as others have mentioned, cyclists ( and I use the term loosely) hold much of the blame for poor public opinion. I see the same people everyday commuting on their bikes. So far, I’m the only one that follows the law. It’s infuriating. It’s our responsibility to obey the traffic laws just as much as drivers, and we don’t have the luxury to bend rules because of our vulnerability. Please, wear your helmets, stay off the sidewalks, adhere to stop signs and lights, and always indicate your turns. Drivers don’t want to hit us anymore than we want to be hit. Once we start respecting them, they might start respecting us. Be safe out there!

  42. Bill Clasko

    I see the problem right here. The attitude and contempt most bicyclists have to those who still chose to drive. When I biked to Charleston from Columbia years ago with a friend, we never experienced anything hostile from anyone. To the contrary. motorists were often TOO helpful when we had the occasional flat, offering help, rides, FOOD, BEER, etc.
    You’ve become so damn elitist no wonder there’s a bikelash. AND no, in most states, you do NOT pay road taxes. SO learn a little respect okay?

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