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Gear Prudence: I’m new to D.C., and here’s something I don’t get and don’t like. Because I ride my bike everywhere, people I meet always think that I must be a liberal (I’m a conservative Republican) and an environmentalist (not at all). Why do so many people here assume that riding a bike automatically means you’re a liberal, and how do I get them to stop? —Making Assumptions Grates (Again)
Dear MAGA: Well, it all started in the second Grover Cleveland administration. Velocipedists were on the side of tariff reform and bimetallism, whereas… Oh, come on! You know why. Consumption decisions—like how you get around, the clothes you wear, the coffee you drink—become shorthand for the lazy to make sweeping generalizations about who you are. “You must bike because you want to save the planet” is a commonplace wrong assumption (especially from non-cyclists). Since environmentalism is typically associated with lefty politics, it goes from there. Additionally, recent politics generally have Democrats on the side of supporting government bike programs and Republicans opposing them, and in our current era of hyper-partisanship—where even what delivery pizza you like is a political statement—they might think you’re just doing it to support your side.
GP wanted to know how common your situation is, so he put out a call to your fellow non-liberal D.C. bicyclists and all five of them responded in record time. They pushed back on whether biking should be seen as liberal at all. “People who know my politics history are surprised about the bike commuting. But what could be more conservative than self-reliance and low cost locomotion?” offered a local conservative who asked to be identified as Chris. A conservative lawyer reiterated Chris’ sentiment, emphasizing fiscal prudence and an adventuring spirit.
One way to get people to stop assuming you’re liberal is by wearing a Ronald Reagan-themed bike jersey, as Philip H suggested, but most respondents recommended engaging. “My retort typically is, ‘This person lives in a liberal bubble and doesn’t know any Republicans personally, much less knows what conservatism is about,’” says Trump voter Thomas DeLuca. And former Republican political operative Allison Welch says, “I’d just explain that for me it’s a practical solution, not some kind of an environmental statement. D.C. traffic is awful and the Metro is awful.”
You’re probably not going to get the assumptions to stop, so the best advice is to not let it bother you. Kent Lassman, president of the free market Competitive Enterprise Institute, put it best. “Bikes and cycling strip away the unimportant stuff of life. The group I ride with cares more about my kids or the latest book I’ve read than what I think of the latest political contretemps on the front pages.”
Let bikes be just about bikes. —GP