Mike Rubbo, filmmaker, painter and cycling advocate, raises some very interesting questions in his short film, “The Return of the Speedwells.” Focusing specifically on Australia, Rubbo faults the media for its depiction of cycling as a competitive and aggressive sport, to the exclusion of images of the friendlier, utilitarian benefits of cycling.
[T]he sport cycling culture here crowds out every other sort of cycling in Australia. It takes over the whole habitat. Sure it’s exciting, it’s challenging, but it stifles bikes as transport. For that way of riding, there’s just no room left in the public mind or the media.
He tells this story through Gill Charlton, an enthusiast who cranks out the miles on her road bike but has rediscovered feelings of freedom and youth as she and her husband restore classic Speedwell cruiser bikes.
Having never ridden in Australia (or having set foot on the continent, for that matter), I can only analyze this message from the limited perspective of an urban American. I live in a country in which professional cycling is a niche sport. I live in a city in which bike share is thriving, bike lanes are crowded (with actual bicycles, not just parked cars), and bike shops cater as much to commuters as they do to competitive riders. The big American bicycle brands love to highlight incredible athletes on their high performance road models, but they also know that creating and marketing lines of attractive fitness and commuter bicycles is just as important for their businesses.
So what drives the media’s focus? And if we want the media, the bicycle industry and communities to see the benefits and pleasures of jumping on a comfortable bike for a casual spin or a trip to the grocery store, who is really responsible for starting that conversation?
I agree with Rubbo’s belief that potential cyclists can be intimidated by images of lycra-clad, carbon fiber-riding competitors. I believe that the cycling scene is “angry” and “ugly” in Australia, as it is in the U.S. in many, many areas of the country. I think that it is up to the people within all of these communities to change the public perception of cycling, not the media. Be the Gill Charlton in your community- restore classic bikes and share your passion for transportation cycling with friends, family and anyone else willing to listen. Be the Mike Rubbo in your region; use your talents to showcase the beauty of non-competitive cycling.
Am I crazy? Do we experience the same phenomenon in the United States? Does the media really influence culture, or does culture influence the media?