Sunday, August 22, 2010

Beach Bike Culture

We just got back from an excellent week at the Jersey Shore. When I posted "JERSEY SHORE" to my Facebook status, I was quick to clarify that I wasn't talking about that Jersey Shore but the actual beach, ocean, and three boys with boogie boards. Funny enough, just hours after I'd updated my status, my husband went to buy dinner fixin's at the local market only to be surprised at how swamped it was for a Sunday evening. It turns out that yes, that Jersey Shore had intruded a bit upon our vacation as two of the cast members were also 'shopping' at that local market, accompanied by camerafolks.

Anyhoo, we had discussed bringing our bikes with us on vacation. The beach generally is a great place to have a bike, but after realizing that it would take a whole lot of advanced planning to get our bikes to the beach (especially our cargo bikes), advanced planning that we just didn't have in us, the bikes stayed locked up in the garage at home. I couldn't help but see some irony in this decision as we passed car upon car on the NJ Parkway laden with brimming bike racks. Here we ride bikes in our everyday life, yet were bike-free on vacation. I couldn't help but wonder if most of the biking vacationers are the opposite: bike riding on vacation but never in 'normal' life. Who knows? Happily, our rental was well-located. We could walk to the beach, market, ice cream shop, and my sister's so we didn't need to take the car out daily.

It was great fun to see all the colorful bikes out and about in our vacation town. Beach cruisers everywhere. I especially love the ones rigged with racks to carry surfboards and couldn't help but think that someone selling longtail cargo bikes at the Shore would have a real market. However, I didn't see an Xtracycle or Yuba among the crowd. I did love the bright blue tricycle adorned with front and back baskets that a local clearly used for grocery fetching. I liked that there was a huge range of bike riders-- people of all ages, pedaling away, enjoying the sun and salt air. I've long recognized that every day I ride my bike is like riding in a convertible, no need to put the top down.

One thing that struck me is the total lack of bike helmets among the beach bike riding crowd. I've read bike blogs long enough to know that the mention of helmets can set off a firestorm of pro vs. con comment debate. Thankfully, I don't have enough blog readers to set off such a firestorm and truthfully, I am not interested in doing so. Ultimately, wearing a helmet or not is your business. As a parent, I feel it is important that I wear a bike helmet. My kids are required by law to do so, and I personally would have a hard time with the whole, "Do as I say, not as I do" thing around bike helmets, married with the fact that I have a brother-in-law who is still alive after being hit by a van while he was out on a long ride. He spent many months in the hospital and now sports a multi-inch scar on his head, but his bike helmet saved his life (and thanks, too, that the next car passing was filled with doctors). Now if I lived in a European city where bike riding was the norm and bike helmets were not, I am not sure if I would wear a helmet. But I don't live in a European city with a strong bike infrastructure or culture. I live in a city where there is minimal bike infrastructure, where drivers still aren't terribly accustomed to sharing the road with bike riders, and where a number of cyclists pay little attention to road rules. It isn't a great combination. So always a helmet.

Yet at the Jersey Shore, while bikes were abundant, helmets were a rare sight. New Jersey state law requires any rider under 17 years to wear a helmet, but this was clearly not enforced in the beach towns we visited. There were a few times we saw kids on bikes with helmets but they were not strapped. My husband speculated that maybe beach bike culture predates the whole bike-helmet-safety thing. It wasn't as if the streets were terribly bike friendly, many riders on the shoulders of two-lane highways that run north and south in town that see cars whizzing along between spaced traffic signals, with nary a true bike lane. A high school friend who lives year-round in one of these towns said that at the end of this school year, a letter from the local police was sent home saying it would enforce NJ's bike helmet law, but she sees no sign that this is actually happening. I can't help but wonder if the 'different rules for vacation' thinking is at work with the no helmets on bikes at the beach. You know-- folks traveling engage in activities they would never thinking of doing while at home. I won't mention examples like *cough* *cough* riding helmet-less and in flip-flops on a motorcycle across a certain small island in Thailand to get to town for fresh watermelon shakes or sitting atop a sack of rice on top of an overly-crowded public bus as it speeds its way on a narrow, windy road in Laos.

So, I'll leave that just as an observation with no criticism or conclusion.

And yes, I DID so love in today's NYTimes the photo in the left-hand corner the page of rich party-goers happenings, captioned "JUDY and JACK HADLOCK, who came on bicycles to avoid the wait for car service after the event." No, they aren't wearing bike helmets but damn, you've gotta love Mr. Hadlock's frilly shirt, bow tie, shorts, and long socks combo, and of course, ultimately the fact that he and his wife traveled to the shindig by bike. Brilliant.


MamaVee said...

I have a similar issue with having my bikes with me. The extra is at the cape but i'm not happy with it. When I visit friends elsewhere I iwxh I could bring my bike. Too bad cargo bike rentals aren't avail here

Andrea said...

Well, with Maine being not a very bikey place in general (and possibly due to "vacationland" status), most people do NOT wear included (despite a similar law here). Personally, I prefer helmet head to head injury, but that's just me. Now you guys need a fleet of collapsable bikes to take on vacay!