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On The Inferiority of Bicyclists and Gay People 54

Amsterdam Bicyclists

“Amsterdam Summer” by Michael Stallmeister / RateMyVelo.com

Last night I visited a friend in the “Beach” – a trendy area in the east end of Toronto comprised of a popular stretch of beach frequented by tourists and residents alike. Throughout the night I encountered two separate incidents in which I was ridiculed for riding a bicycle.

Being ridiculed is easy to shrug off. Using a bicycle for transportation is still generally a fringe mode of transportation in North America and in many other countries around the world.  I work hard to change this perception and I dream of the day where it will be a common and accepted mode of transportation for all sorts of different types of people (including the macho guys who ridiculed me).

But apparently ridiculing someone for riding a bicycle wasn’t enough, so these “macho men” resorted to homophobic epithets to profess their superiority over me.

At the start of the evening I met up with a Brazilian friend of mine in a sports bar and had a couple drinks. We chatted mostly about politics and how his father (a prominent economist, professor and author) had lived in exile in Europe after the US overthrew the Brazilian government to install a right-wing military dictatorship in 1964 under Marshal Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco.

Upon leaving the bar, I unlocked my bicycle and walked it past a group of sports fans who were smoking out front of the bar.

One guy commented “nice bike” in a clearly sarcastic, patronizing manner. I smiled and replied “thank you” and continued pushing my bike while the group of guys chuckled at their friend’s condescending comment.

As we were walking away, the same guy made an epithet that insinuated that my friend and I were going to engage in gay sex – which led to the group of guys to burst out in laughter.

I kept walking, but found the whole encounter to be sad on so many levels.

My friend then grabbed his bicycle and we rode along a bike path to grab some food and a couple more drinks. He commented on how good we have it in Canada compared to Brazil. In Canada, we have the freedom to hop on our bicycles and head to a restaurant or a bar whenever we want with very little to worry about.

In São Paulo – where he hails from – if you hopped on your bicycle and headed to a bar, there is a good chance you would either be hit by a car or mugged. We take it for granted here how safe it generally is to ride a bicycle and walk/ride our streets after dark.

If the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany are examples of the best places in the world to ride bicycles, then most Brazilian cities would certainly score as among the worst places in the world to ride a bicycle.

In Canada we are somewhere in between the two extremes, but we are certainly closer to Europe than we are to Brazil in terms of cyclist safety. In Canada, you are more likely to perish in an automobile than on a bicycle (based on the number of hours traveled).

My friend often rides with another Brazilian friend of his and they are amused and perplexed why more people don’t experience the joy of getting around the city by bicycle here in Canada. It’s a joy and freedom that they can’t experience back home.

A couple hours after the first incident, I was riding along Queen street on my 10km ride home from the Beach when a taxi passed me and a man yelled out of the window (with half his body hanging out of the window): “RIDING A BICYCLE WAS SOMETHING I DID WHEN I WAS FIVE!”.

As expected I caught up to the taxi at the next traffic light. As I passed the taxi I told the man that riding in a taxi is such a cool thing to do and I only wish I could be as cool as him.

A few moments later the taxi passed me again and he again yelled out the windows. This time he called me a “f#cking fag” (among other homophobic phrases that I would rather not repeat here).

I have been using a bicycle as transportation in Toronto since I moved here in 2002, and I had never encountered the type of ridicule and homophobic comments that I received last night.

Perhaps the increasing number of people using bicycles in this city and the media attention that has ensued is perceived as a threat to drunk people who haven’t ridden a bicycle since they were 5-years-old.

Or maybe the alcohol consumption prompted these men to express verbally what most people think under their breath. I wasn’t the only one being strangely ridiculed last night, either:

Harassment by bike

Thankfully this strange type of drunken behaviour is the exception and not the norm, but it does highlight how far we still have to go in the discrimination against gay people as well as establishing the bicycle as a respected, normal, everyday mode of transportation in North America.

Stay tuned for a new “share the road” campaign I am working on to help achieve this goal.

James D. Schwartz is a Transportation Pragmatist and the Editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

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  • http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?cat=9 Kim

    Reply to the taxi driver “It shows, you were that fat when you were 5…”

    • http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?cat=9 Kim

      Ops that should have read “It shows, you weren’t that fat when you were 5…”

  • http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?cat=9 Kim

    Reply to the taxi driver “It shows, you were that fat when you were 5…”

  • http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?cat=9 Kim

    Ops that should have read “It shows, you weren’t that fat when you were 5…”

  • Alexwarrior

    I’m reminded of the old Hummer commercial where a guy is buying healthy foods at the grocery store checkout, and looks embarrassed next to the guy buying a big slab of pork ribs, which then closes with the slogan “Restore your manhood.” I wonder if the Hummer brand would have come out with a similar commercial with someone embarrassed on a bike had they not gone bankrupt.

    • James Schwartz

      Interesting idea. You might be on to something here. We could show a cyclist getting ridiculed and people throwing stuff at him, then show him at the bank counting all his money.

      Then show the driver who threw garbage at the cyclist trying to get another loan while avoiding calls from a collection agency for overdue bills.

      Maybe I’ll do my first amateur commercial :)

      • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com Mr.S.

        Something more to the point: show the fit cyclist lying in bed under covers beside a satisfied looking woman, then show the obese ‘cager’ lining up at the urologist for erectile dysfunction. Crude, but you have to know your audience.

  • Alex P

    I’m reminded of the old Hummer commercial where a guy is buying healthy foods at the grocery store checkout, and looks embarrassed next to the guy buying a big slab of pork ribs, which then closes with the slogan “Restore your manhood.” I wonder if the Hummer brand would have come out with a similar commercial with someone embarrassed on a bike had they not gone bankrupt.

  • BikingInLA

    Things like that usually don’t bother me, because I assume the idiots making the comment couldn’t hang with me on a bike for 5 miles, let alone 50. If they want to prove their supposed superiority, let them try.

    On the other hand, it never ceases to amuse me that some people still think something like that is an insult. On the list of things I just don’t give a damn about, whether or not some total stranger wants to demonstrate his low IQ by suggesting I’m gay ranks pretty near the top.

    • James Schwartz

      True, his comments only made himself look like a child in the school yard. It certainly didn’t make me angry or upset, I just found it sad that people like this still exist :)

      • Potat0man

        This is a good attitude. But when you’re actually gay it can be a little harder to just shrug off as immaturity.

  • BikingInLA

    Things like that usually don’t bother me, because I assume the idiots making the comment couldn’t hang with me on a bike for 5 miles, let alone 50. If they want to prove their supposed superiority, let them try.

    On the other hand, it never ceases to amuse me that some people still think something like that is an insult. On the list of things I just don’t give a damn about, whether or not some total stranger wants to demonstrate his low IQ by suggesting I’m gay ranks pretty near the top.

  • James Schwartz

    Interesting idea. You might be on to something here. We could show a cyclist getting ridiculed and people throwing stuff at him, then show him at the bank counting all his money.

    Then show the driver who threw garbage at the cyclist trying to get another loan while avoiding calls from a collection agency for overdue bills.

    Maybe I’ll do my first amateur commercial :)

  • James Schwartz

    True, his comments only made himself look like a child in the school yard. It certainly didn’t make me angry or upset, I just found it sad that people like this still exist :)

  • http://www.greenidea.eu Green_Idea_Factory

    How about an advert which shows naked people being executed by bankers, certain politicians, and oil-producer and weapons-producer managers and shareholders — with the text or voice-over saying “Can you tell who is a driver here? A cyclist? A straight-person? A gay or lesbian?” My point is to consider not getting into this identity nonsense. Defending one’s beliefs or lifestyles is great, but not if you are smug about it and not if you don’t bring people together with it.

    And I know that conditions in SP, Brazil are horrible, but does the bike-to-the-bar trip really have a 100% death rate?

    • James Schwartz

      I don’t see anything wrong with highlight the financial benefits of using a bicycle through a commercial. In fact, I really enjoyed this 2007 WWF video: http://www.theurbancountry.com/2011/04/world-has-changed-so-can-you.html

      • http://www.greenidea.eu Green_Idea_Factory

        Sure. “Using a bicycle” and not “cyclist”. Big difference.

        But that advert is sloppy: There is nothing wrong with letting your family romp around in an open convertible — it’s your choice. And this businessman is enjoying financial benefits? — he has a crappy bike which might also be too small for him that he has to keep inside his apt. WWF Canada probably does not realize how old skool that is.

  • http://www.greenidea.eu/ Green_Idea_Factory

    How about an advert which shows naked people being executed by bankers, certain politicians, and oil-producer and weapons-producer managers and shareholders — with the text or voice-over saying “Can you tell who is a driver here? A cyclist? A straight-person? A gay or lesbian?” My point is to consider not getting into this identity nonsense. Defending one’s beliefs or lifestyles is great, but not if you are smug about it and not if you don’t bring people together with it.

    And I know that conditions in SP, Brazil are horrible, but does the bike-to-the-bar trip really have a 100% death rate?

  • James Schwartz

    I don’t see anything wrong with highlight the financial benefits of using a bicycle through a commercial. In fact, I really enjoyed this 2007 WWF video: http://www.theurbancountry.com/2011/04/world-has-changed-so-can-you.html

  • http://www.greenidea.eu/ Green_Idea_Factory

    Sure. “Using a bicycle” and not “cyclist”. Big difference.

    But that advert is sloppy: There is nothing wrong with letting your family romp around in an open convertible — it’s your choice. And this businessman is enjoying financial benefits? — he has a crappy bike which might also be too small for him that he has to keep inside his apt. WWF Canada probably does not realize how old skool that is.

  • Daniel

    hi james, you never know whether these things are isolated idiot out-bursts or part of a growing backlash against biking, but I have no doubt that the election of that bike-phobic mayor has at least made the expression of these kind of kind of sentiments more acceptable. here in mtl, where there is at least a political consensus that more people should cycle to work, and that we should have more bike lanes, and that cars have an overwhelmingly negative impact on urban life, i’m happy to say it’s not the kind of harassment one runs into often. (or were you perhaps wearing a particularly goofy helmet?)
    hope you are well,
    daniel

    • James Schwartz

      Indeed Daniel, the election of Rob Ford and the anti-bicycle media that comes with it surely doesn’t help. It’s good to see some consensus in Montreal, because we are far from it here in Toronto.

      And no, I wasn’t wearing a particularly goofy helmet. I was dressed in my regular clothes (jeans, t-shirt) and helmet-less like usual.

      • Montrealize

        Maybe you’re simply too damn good looking for some!
        You know, closet stuff… Homophobia can have the strangest roots sometimes.

        • James Schwartz

          hah. Okay, I will concede that the 5-year-old Parasuco jeans I was wearing were a bit tight, and the 6 year old A&F shirt was also a bit tight. So perhaps my clothing brought out some in-the-closet feelings ;)

  • Montrealize

    I do not understand why people like to brush these things off as being “the exception”, “unusual”, yaddi yadda.

    “Or maybe the alcohol consumption prompted these men to express verbally what most people think under their breath.”

    Exactly, a lot more people think like that. The varnish of civilisation is very thin. A couple of drinks and it is all out.
    That’s the reason that cycling cannot be a neutral, “apolitical” activity (whatever that means, seriously) in North America for the time being.

    Imagine if you had been alone, and had to go through a back alley or some dark corner, with these assholes in trail…
    Anyways, I take that kind of thing seriously and I view the whole cycling issue worthy of civil-right type strategies.

    MHO.

    • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com Mr.S.

      “The varnish of civilisation is very thin.” A lesson I will imprint on my now infant son. My best friend’s mother survived the holocaust, in the cradle of modern philosophy. I live in Japan now, in their intricately mannered society, that perpetuated awful crimes in E.Asia. The language of Shakespeare administered the decimation of whole peoples. “And so it goes.”

      Never trust a human.

  • Montrealize

    I do not understand why people like to brush these things off as being “the exception”, “unusual”, yaddi yadda.

    “Or maybe the alcohol consumption prompted these men to express verbally what most people think under their breath.”

    Exactly, a lot more people think like that. The varnish of civilisation is very thin. A couple of drinks and it is all out.
    That’s the reason that cycling cannot be a neutral, “apolitical” activity (whatever that means, seriously) in North America for the time being.

    Imagine if you had been alone, and had to go through a back alley or some dark corner, with these assholes in trail…
    Anyways, I take that kind of thing seriously and I view the whole cycling issue worthy of civil-right type strategies.

    MHO.

  • Daniel

    hi james, you never know whether these things are isolated idiot out-bursts or part of a growing backlash against biking, but I have no doubt that the election of that bike-phobic mayor has at least made the expression of these kind of kind of sentiments more acceptable. here in mtl, where there is at least a political consensus that more people should cycle to work, and that we should have more bike lanes, and that cars have an overwhelmingly negative impact on urban life, i’m happy to say it’s not the kind of harassment one runs into often. (or were you perhaps wearing a particularly goofy helmet?)
    hope you are well,
    daniel

  • James Schwartz

    Indeed Daniel, the election of Rob Ford and the anti-bicycle media that comes with it surely doesn’t help. It’s good to see some consensus in Montreal, because we are far from it here in Toronto.

    And no, I wasn’t wearing a particularly goofy helmet. I was dressed in my regular clothes (jeans, t-shirt) and helmet-less like usual.

  • http://www.walkeaglerock.wordpress.com Severin

    The most recent experience I had something similar happen was when I was cycling home at night, on a street with a bike lane in Northeast LA. I glanced over at two guys waiting at a busstop– simply because it is so unusual to see people NOT in cars at night in LA. Just a glance. One of them says “what you lookin at, fag?” I didn’t respond but when I told my friend about it he immediately said “you should have responded ‘sorry did I make your boyfriend jealous?’ ” Of course, I never respond like that…

    Also, with the inferiority theme, in the same neighborhood a girl was hit by a motorist who was upset she was riding in the lane on a residential street and reportedly said “you want to test your weight against mine?”

    Yup, I’m guessing until 10% of trips are made by bike we can expect to be treated like some lesser being.

  • http://www.walkeaglerock.wordpress.com/ Severin

    The most recent experience I had something similar happen was when I was cycling home at night, on a street with a bike lane in Northeast LA. I glanced over at two guys waiting at a busstop– simply because it is so unusual to see people NOT in cars at night in LA. Just a glance. One of them says “what you lookin at, fag?” I didn’t respond but when I told my friend about it he immediately said “you should have responded ‘sorry did I make your boyfriend jealous?’ ” Of course, I never respond like that…

    Also, with the inferiority theme, in the same neighborhood a girl was hit by a motorist who was upset she was riding in the lane on a residential street and reportedly said “you want to test your weight against mine?”

    Yup, I’m guessing until 10% of trips are made by bike we can expect to be treated like some lesser being.

  • http://bicyclestc.blogspot.com/ Ryan

    I’m assuming the taxi incident was a passenger and not the driver, right? I know the two main taxi companies in St. Catharines would more then likely throw the passenger out the first time they yelled out the window.

    I’ve had two negative incidents, both of which happened over 5 years ago (a homophobic remark and something thrown at me). Since then the only negative things I have encountered have just been bad drivers.

    I suppose Alex touched on this, but when did riding a bike make you a homosexual? Is it purely because having the large truck makes you a man?

  • http://thecitycyclist.blogspot.com/ Ryan

    I’m assuming the taxi incident was a passenger and not the driver, right? I know the two main taxi companies in St. Catharines would more then likely throw the passenger out the first time they yelled out the window.

    I’ve had two negative incidents, both of which happened over 5 years ago (a homophobic remark and something thrown at me). Since then the only negative things I have encountered have just been bad drivers.

    I suppose Alex touched on this, but when did riding a bike make you a homosexual? Is it purely because having the large truck makes you a man?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Douglas-Thoms/776840544 Douglas Thoms

    Hey James, idiots will be idiots and they will look for an excuse to be mean and jerky.

    They are simply using the anti-bike culture as an excuse to be jerks.

    In a way, this may be a positive sign – as cyclists grow in number, we are becoming more visible and I do think this is a reaction to the fact that cycling is becoming mainstream.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Douglas-Thoms/776840544 Douglas Thoms

    Hey James, idiots will be idiots and they will look for an excuse to be mean and jerky.

    They are simply using the anti-bike culture as an excuse to be jerks.

    In a way, this may be a positive sign – as cyclists grow in number, we are becoming more visible and I do think this is a reaction to the fact that cycling is becoming mainstream.

  • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com Mr.S.

    905ers and outer-Toronto Ford voters, no hyperbole. These people are attracted to ‘the Beaches’, the ‘Entertainment District’ and to Queen’s Quay, and a few other parts of our city that I won’t bother with on a weekend or holiday for that reason. Urban Torontonians may or not bike, but they are aware they at least work with homosexuals (even if they have merely learned to hide their prejudices) and can’t say $#!+ like that. Outside of downtown, non-straights are not often out in the workplace, or even in their own families. Why do you think many move downtown?! Of course, the same trolls also hate transportation originality, as much as sexuality: not a single thought of their own.

  • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com/ Mr.S.

    905ers and outer-Toronto Ford voters, no hyperbole. These people are attracted to ‘the Beaches’, the ‘Entertainment District’ and to Queen’s Quay, and a few other parts of our city that I won’t bother with on a weekend or holiday for that reason. Urban Torontonians may or not bike, but they are aware they at least work with homosexuals (even if they have merely learned to hide their prejudices) and can’t say $#!+ like that. Outside of downtown, non-straights are not often out in the workplace, or even in their own families. Why do you think many move downtown?! Of course, the same trolls also hate transportation originality, as much as sexuality: not a single thought of their own.

  • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com/ Mr.S.

    Something more to the point: show the fit cyclist lying in bed under covers beside a satisfied looking woman, then show the obese ‘cager’ lining up at the urologist for erectile dysfunction. Crude, but you have to know your audience.

  • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com/ Mr.S.

    “The varnish of civilisation is very thin.” A lesson I will imprint on my now infant son. My best friend’s mother survived the holocaust, in the cradle of modern philosophy. I live in Japan now, in their intricately mannered society, that perpetuated awful crimes in E.Asia. The language of Shakespeare administered the decimation of whole peoples. “And so it goes.”

    Never trust a human.

  • Yessir

    Never before last night?
    I’m experiencing less and less of it probably as I get older and fatter and less of a challenge to other younger males.

  • Yessir

    Never before last night?
    I’m experiencing less and less of it probably as I get older and fatter and less of a challenge to other younger males.

  • http://twitter.com/macbeestje Philip Shook

    In the Netherlands it’s not unusual for a group of friends to go out for dinner and drinks and Everyone rides their bike! It’s great to see everyone pull right close to the place and not have to look for a parking place.

  • http://twitter.com/macbeestje Phil Shook

    In the Netherlands it’s not unusual for a group of friends to go out for dinner and drinks and Everyone rides their bike! It’s great to see everyone pull right close to the place and not have to look for a parking place.

  • D Web

    You can’t help but feel sorry for the those guys. I mean if you feel like you have to live up to the macho stereotypes to feel like a man then thats pretty sad. When I see fat people in huge trucks smoking cigarettes I laugh my head off.

  • D Web

    You can’t help but feel sorry for the those guys. I mean if you feel like you have to live up to the macho stereotypes to feel like a man then thats pretty sad. When I see fat people in huge trucks smoking cigarettes I laugh my head off.

  • Montrealize

    Maybe you’re simply too damn good looking for some!
    You know, closet stuff… Homophobia can have the strangest roots sometimes.

  • James Schwartz

    hah. Okay, I will concede that the 5-year-old Parasuco jeans I was wearing were a bit tight, and the 6 year old A&F shirt was also a bit tight. So perhaps my clothing brought out some in-the-closet feelings ;)

  • TN

    You might update your title to read “On the inferiority of bicyclists and gays” to read “On the inferiority of bicyclists and gay people”. Only straight people use the term “gay” as a noun. Those of us who are actually gay typically use it as an adjective :)

    • James Schwartz

      Oops! Sorry about that my friend. Title is updated :)

  • TN

    You might update your title to read “On the inferiority of bicyclists and gays” to read “On the inferiority of bicyclists and gay people”. Only straight people use the term “gay” as a noun. Those of us who are actually gay typically use it as an adjective :)

  • James Schwartz

    Oops! Sorry about that my friend. Title is updated :)

  • Potat0man

    This is a good attitude. But when you’re actually gay it can be a little harder to just shrug off as immaturity.

  • Anonymous

    interesting… i’ve never thought about this before.

  • Anonymous

    interesting… i’ve never thought about this before.