Gear Prudence: How often do you think the average D.C. biker swears during their commute? Given all the shit we have to deal with, it’s gotta be like five or six times a ride. —Personally, Riding Often Foments Abundant Nasty Expressions
Dear PROFANE: To the best of GP’s knowledge, there has been no rigorous study to measure bicyclist profanity, though this area does seem ripe for research. Insofar as cursing is a proxy for frustration (fuck.), anger (fuck you!), confusion (the fuck?) and fear (fuck, stop, fuck, fuck, fuck!), attempts at measurement could help assess the overall biking experience and lead to interventions to improve it. This rests on the assumption that there is a direct correlation between bad words and bad biking. Any study design would have to control for baseline levels of profanity among participants, and furthermore, you would also need to consider if bike commuters are a self-selecting group at risk for higher levels of profanity due to other exogenous factors. It would also be worth exploring the particular triggers for swearing across all travel modes to see if there’s something in particular about bicycling that leads to a disproportionate amount of exposure to these triggers. Then there’s the whole matter of data collection: Are we asking bicyclists to self-report? Or equipping them with microphones? Grad students in lab coats with clipboards following closely on e-scooters? And what about replicability? GP is very concerned this study will never pass peer review.
In the absence of the rigorous investigation that such an important topic deserves, we have no choice but to irresponsibly speculate, and based on nothing but wild supposition and no real evidence, GP has definitively concluded that across all trips of all distances by all bike commuters, the number of times on average that an obscenity is uttered is a little bit more than 0. And here’s why: While bike commuting can indeed be suboptimal/fucking suck sometimes, the overwhelming majority of trips for the vast majority of people are pretty mundane. And assuming that people aren’t just riding around muttering expletives under their breath for no reason, that probably means that most trips are completely swear-free. This more than outweighs some trips that involve multiple curses per ride by someone who rarely curses and also cancels out the few “power swearers” who can barely turn the pedals without letting some four letter words fly. Even if your personal average is five a ride, it’s a stretch to assume that all other bicyclists across all other bike commutes every day of the year are also hitting that number.
As far as the unasked question, whether a bike commuter should curse, often or at all, GP defers to one’s personal judgment. Sometimes it’s good for expressing exasperation, but it’s rarely an effective rhetorical strategy for engaging other road users in productive dialogue. —GP