Cycling has an interesting junction between the notions of health and sustainability that can be seen in its two different groups of riders. It is at this connection where you can comprehend the cultural significance of cycling and the ways in which this technology has manifest it in our lives. Many movements have shouldered biking as a solution for many of the problems concerning humanity from energy to pollution to health and so on, but cycling has also helped shape the idea of the modern body and its limitations.
There are two very separate, very distinct, types of riders. While each unit naturally bears certain resemblances to the other as well as benefitting from the positive aspects of cycling—such as fitness and fun—the focus for riders from each assemblage is quite different. Similar to the differences between how health and sustainability are observed, in this model the groups accept conflicting frameworks with regards to cycling. What becomes apparent in the intersectionality of these two representations is that similar to the reason for which riders chooses to ride, the terms health and sustainably are chosen and shaped by cycling as well.
Transportation and Sustainability
The first group of riders view cycling as a form of naturally sensible transportation. Although certainly commuting to and from work is an aspect of being a transportation cyclist, in reality this decision is a lifestyle choice, one that requires you to be an all around sustainable person.
The concept of “reducing your carbon footprint” is a relatively new idea that has spurred an uncontrollable wave of support and controversy. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of a carbon footprint is “the amount of greenhouse gases and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something (as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA’s) website gives visitors the ability to find their carbon footprint by using the online calculator. Even websites like the Mother Nature Network (MNN) has gotten on board positioning themselves firmly on the side of the transportation cyclist and glorifying the benefits of cycling for transportation, as a means of energy conservation, and for its health benefits. As a reliable and renewable form of conveyance, cycling as spawned an array of supporters boasting its sustainability.
Body and Health
The second group finds itself focused on the health benefits that cycling offers almost exclusively. These riders often cycle competitively and because their bodies aren’t bulky, the idea of the extreme is often overlooked. Although in some cases, stimulated by the use of illegal substances, controversy and discussion around the topic of health and the cyclist’s body have taken place—for example in the case of Lance Armstrong.
As with the first group of riders, the idea of becoming an elite cyclist doesn’t merely consist of racing and training, it is a lifestyle choice. Riding for several hours a day and maintaining an extremely punishing diet are key factors in this lifestyle. In an almost fanatical way of pushing their bodies to a diehard point as a form of exercise, these riders often overlook the negative qualities that these actions are inciting—often times more detrimental than the riding itself. Individually, these riders are exposing their bodies’ to numerous damaging effects, but on a larger scale the act of cycling has shaped the way the general public views the body as well. More often than ever before, today’s use of technology in shaping bodies has produced a longing for the “perfect body.” Unfortunately, this vision is misaligned with what the average person is capable of achieving.
By teasing out the commonalities and differences within these two cultures of cycling, you can begin to understand the cultural significance of the biking industry in both our conceptions of health and sustainability. Furthermore, by locating the central distinctions within the health and sustainability models of cyclists you can begin to learn the ways in which our society as a whole is shaped by the cycling industry.