horns of wilmington's cow

By anth

Smug Cycling

For issue 10 of citycycling:

smug: adj, Exhibiting or feeling great or offensive satisfaction with oneself or with one's situation

If there's one accusation that gets levelled at cyclists almost as much as the usual lines on pavements, red lights and tax, it's that they are 'smug'. I once asked a particularly aggressive online commenter why, given I didn't break any of the rules of the road being directed at me as cyclists' general faults, should I be treated poorly on the roads. Back came the response, because cyclists are smug.

Now it's an odd reaction anyway to smugness. The whole 'I believe I can drive past you in a dangerous manner because I believe cyclists to be satisfied with their lot.' So let's bypass the fact that this is simply just another excuse, what we actually have to ask is 'is it true?' Not wishing to insult any of my fellow members of the cycling fraternity I can only determine the truth of the sentiment by reviewing myself. So am I smug? Hell yes, of course I am!

The more pertinent question would be why on earth I wouldn't be smug. Lets compare a few urban commuting 'facts' to see just why this might be the case.

Bike is quick to the office, and has a commuting time that varies very little, unless I decide to stop anywhere en route; Car is slower, and journey time can fluctuate dramatically because of 'sheer weight of traffic' which is utterly unpredictable.

I don't need a gym membership, and can eat cake at lunchtimes, and have a beer in the evening, with little fear of the scales; Everyday drivers have to seek fitness from elsewhere, often paying extravagantly for the privilege of working out indoors. Or they get fat.

My bikes (mostly) cost under a grand, and save for the occasional worn out component cost virtually nothing to run; My car cost... Well... A lot. And filling the tank now crests £60 (which I fortunately don't have to do much because... I cycle to work).

Self-satisfied? You betcha. The thing is the word 'smug' implies that the feeling of having got this thing right is unwarranted. Just take a look at the very short, and by no means exhaustive, list above. This smugness is warranted time and time again. Is it an 'offensive' satisfaction? Well that depends on who is viewing it, and why it is seen as offensive. It would be easy to suggest jealousy on the part of anyone viewing the cyclist as smug. Though a line can be crossed if someone becomes evangelical. At that point smugness becomes less desirable.

But in general, when I think about how much better my life is because I cycle, I think a little smugness is not only justified, but also something which is not negative in the slightest. For if I'm seen as smug then I must appear satisfied, and if I appear satisfied it must be because I have a smile on my face, or seem settled or comfortable in how I'm going about things. If I wasn't smug then I'd likely appear to be unhappy or unsettled or uncomfortable. Someone who is miserable could never be accused of being smug.

So smug I am; and smug I hope I will be for some time to come. I'm no Rolling Stone. I can get satisfaction.

(back on a Brooks - then found the recurrent creaking wasn't coming from the old saddle. Ah well, t'was a good excuse for the new saddle)

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