Is Cycling Just a Craze?
An article in narrative.ly, Cycles of Fashion, compares the 1890s bicycle craze to the current interest in cycling, and wonders if people are once again just riding bikes to look superior to those who don’t.
… the working-class that had been shut out of the earlier “cycling craze,” … used the bicycle mainly as a utilitarian vehicle. … For the middle class, any benefits of the wheel, whether practical or recreational, became outweighed by the social costs of being seen riding one. One ex-rider admitted to the specialty magazine Cycling Age that he had “greatly enjoyed cycling, but that when the bicycle became within the reach of the common folk, or the gentleman of color, he felt that there was a danger of associating himself with a lower caste.”
As the craze disappeared, so did the public interest in all things bicycle. … The push for cycle paths stopped after 1898, which speaks to how willing the middle class was to forgo the pleasure and convenience of cycling for the sake of maintaining their social standing.
The article is well-written but my reaction is Codswallop. There is certainly a fascination with superlight frames and lycra in the bike sporting community – but that has been true for decades now. There are hipsters riding fixies, but I also see Hispanic laborers riding well-worn mountain bikes – carrying their tools in one hand – to and from work. In fact the diversity of people I see on the bike goes far beyond any sort of fashion craze.
I chalk it up to necessity.
Update 2013/05/31: Streetsblog quotes a study that shows biking is exploding among minorities, as per the graph below: