Thoughts on Cycling & the Political Spectrum

Cycling is not an inherently political thing. However, like many other things it is often framed in terms of the left-right political spectrum. In those who are more right-leaning, there is a tendency to frame things in terms of individualism and to look inwards to find the source of social problems, often suggesting they are a result of  a character flaw or behaviour. In those who are more left-leaning, there is a tendency to frame things in terms of collectivity and centralisation and to look outwards to find the source of social problems, often seeing behaviours as a result of environmental factors or a shortcoming of a society itself. As with most things, reality probably lies somewhere between the two extremes.
But what does all this mean for cycling? From a right-leaning perspective the bicycle fits nicely with individualism, an individual mode of transport which has no negative impact on the lives of others and offers the user complete freedom of movement. In a small way it allows its users to directly act against concerns such as climate change without the need to restrict the freedom of others. The economic benefits of cycling are also particularly desirable from a right-leaning perspective. From a left-leaning perspective the bicycle fits well with collectivism by producing wide-ranging societal and environmental benefits, especially in a country like the UK where the cost of healthcare is paid for through the government. Cycling (and affordable public transport) in place of catering primarily for more expensive environmentally and socially destructive forms of transport make mobility accessible to all members of society whilst increasing the health and safety of citizens, which is extremely desirable from a left-leaning perspective.
There are downsides too. There is a tendency towards xenophobia towards the right-end of the political spectrum; where cyclists are seen as a minority group they may be assaulted, threatened & intimidated by those who see cyclists as a group being ‘different’ somehow from themselves. The focus on social problems being a result of character flaws means that measures to promote cycling may end up being restricted to ‘awareness’ and ‘training,’ with infrastructural changes to the built environment to benefit cyclists (and other vulnerable road users) being shunned in favour of encouraging behavioural change indirectly, which is less successful. At the left-end of the spectrum there is a tendency towards over-regulation of the behaviour of the population, with measures such as compulsory cycle helmet legislation considered despite the damage these laws are already known to do to cycling rates.
As stated at the start, cycling is not inherently a political thing. The perception of the activity and those participating is largely due to existing personal experiences or prejudices, although how these experiences or prejudices manifest themselves may be framed depending on the political persuasion of the individual. However, when talking cycling with those in power, it is worth considering how to frame cycling as a ‘good thing’ in terms of the political mindset of the person whom you are addressing. For example, some might consider cycle infrastructure to be an inherently left-wing means of encouraging cycling, but it could just as easily be considered in more individualistic terms as a means of extending the freedom of movement for the individual, or as a means to produce an economic benefit. It’s all a matter of spin.
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5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Cycling & the Political Spectrum

  1. It's funny because it's true…I'm pretty apolitical, but I started bike commuting because it saves me money. For a number of reasons, I got a Montague folding bike. It's got a bit of a distinctive look, and I've talked to everyone from hippies to survivalists who are interested in them.

  2. My experience of cycling is that is now a form of transport for a small proportion of the well educated, and a similar proportion of the poor.For the educated cycling is a lifestyle choice, for the poor it is a cheap form of transport.I'm not sure the political spectrum comes into it much. The vegan workers cycling co-operatives might lead one to think otherwise, but they are just the affluent middle class cyclists of tomorrow.

  3. Yes. Cycling appeals to all shades of the spectrum. However…I feel certain types of cyclists can be neatly pigeonholed for the express intention of stereotyping.For instance, if someone chooses a utilitarian bicycle over a car for everyday journeys with the intention of benefiting the environment, they demonstrate social responsibility and can be labeled as left leaning – putting others before self. On the other hand if someone uses a carbon fibre road bike with the intention of cycling for their own self indulgent pleasure, they demonstrate narcissistic tendencies and can be labeled right leaning – putting self before others.Of course, those that choose Brommies are geeks and they come in all political hues!Where does this leave me? Well I am happy to be in a group oft derided and persecuted by the Daily Mail and to read the Guardian which has its own bicycle blog, so I suppose I can be described as left of centre. Does it matter though which way you lean (politically) as a cyclist? Not at all. Cyclists are an eclectic bunch with a shared passion for pedaling. Let's keep party politics out of cycling but instead make sure cycling is on the political agenda.

  4. Blimey Darrell! Can you run for local Mayor? 😀 Brill comment! You said it all. "Let's keep party politics out of cycling but instead make sure cycling is on the political agenda."Hear, hear!

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