Car Culture and Bike Culture

There have recently been a number of car company ad campaigns trying to make cycling look dorky and unreasonable. First, the now infamous GM’s college ad campaign, encouraging students to “stop pedaling, start driving”. Hm, know your audience right? Giant Bicycles came up with a wonderful retort featured by Momentum Magazine on Facebook and the subsequent outrage forced GM to apologize. Nice.

And now Zipcar, the largest carshare company in the US, has decided that cycling is just not useful if you have to transport…wait for it….office papers and bags. Yup, apparently they haven’t ever heard of baskets, panniers, messenger bags, cargo bikes, etc. etc. etc.

Really? Is that the best you can come up with?

The strategy of demonizing/putting down cyclists isn’t just limited to the States – check Copenhagenize.com’s wonderful collection of “Strikes Back” posts to see some more – including from our very own New Zealand (ah yes, the classic high-vis clothing + dorky helmet + grumpy face combination. That’s totally how I look when I cycle around town every day).

These ads seem so ridiculous to cyclists that it’s actually pretty hilarious. But there’s always the worry that people who have never experienced the amazing awesomeness of cycling are convinced by ads like these. At best, they may believe that cycling is simply dorky and inconvenient: at worst, they may believe that cycling is dangerous and impossible. Ads don’t exist in a vacuum – they reinforce ideologies and sculpt ideas about using and sharing the road. The fact that these ads can even be produced shows how deeply car culture really runs.

But ultimately, we can also view ads like these as positive signals that bike culture is growing fast enough for car companies/cultures to feel threatened. They feel the need to create caricatures of commuter cyclists in order to create an “other”. It’s a clumsy attempt to further push cyclists to the margin of our society/roads. The good news is, people aren’t buying it. And that’s awesome.

When car culture rears its ugly head, sometime the best you can do is just laugh at it and pedal on through the traffic jam. Or call the Urban Repair Squad 😉

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