I’ve been thinking about change lately. My original concerns were Charles Darwin, climate change and species loss, but my brain has spun off in a variety of other directions—ebikes, land access, bicycle design and how cycling treats women. It’s a lot to take in, especially if you try to consider them all in a single evening. It’s not something I recommend. Let’s just say I’m grateful you can ferment grapes and grains (just not all in the same vessel).
Back to Darwin for a bit. One of the ideas that comes through in his materpiece On the Origin of Species is that Darwin believed that the world changes very gradually. Descent with modification was the idea he was working with in that book. As a gradualist, he rejected the idea of the sudden mutation. But the world is full of examples of sudden, massive change, or saltation. Polydactyl cats are an easy example. There’s no way to go from five toes to six incrementally. One day a kitten is born with an extra toe. Boom. There’s no going from five to five and a half to six. Also, volcanoes. That’s a pretty big change.
Saltation is good stuff. It’s the establishment of a new country, like the United States. It’s the invention of the airplane. It’s the civil rights movement. Big changes like those come with a certain attendant upheavel, just like volcanoes. To go with a pleasant example, think about how air travel transformed societies and our ability to know, to see, the world on a first-hand basis.
The bicycle itself was a pretty radical idea. The derailleur? Saltation. The carbon fiber frame? More saltation. All those inventions emerge as a result of someone asking the question, What if?
In trying to project what the future will bring, there are two ways to consider it. The first, extrapolative, is charting how things change and then using the previous rate and amount of change to extrapolate where things will be in a year, in five years, or even 100. Folks who resist change dislike this concept, which is a bit like disliking reality, because the world does not stay the same. Any time someone argues that market forces should be our guide to the future, what you get is an extrapolative arc of change. It’s steady and predictable.
However, when someone asks What if?, we get the works of Shakespeare, the movies of Steven Spielberg, but also (and less delightfully) the Segway. We also get the establishment of democracy and Facebook. This is the domain of the creatives; psychologists call it normative thinking.
One of the ideas floating around in my head as I was judging Best in Show at NAHBS was how it is possible to incent change. By offering certain rewards we can guide the creatives toward certain paths. If there is one thing I’ve despaired of in looking at the bikes at NAHBS, it has been that the number of rando bikes vs. the number of full suspension mountain bikes does not square with the number of people doing those two things in this world. I was acutely aware that in giving a nod to a full-suspension mountain bike we would be telling the world that the awards NAHBS gives are pretty equal opportunity. The awards can’t only be about pretty. We need to recognize creativity across the board. In giving the award to Altruiste, I think that message will begin to get out.
The subject I keep returning to, though, concerns society. We have a lot of questions about what our political process should be, about what the healthy reach of social media looks like and how we achieve that, about how we treat women. I’m not the guy to answer any of those questions, nor do I wish to entertain a conversation on those topics here. I’d like, instead, to consider a small slice of that last issue: the treatment of women in cycling. On this subject I have two questions. Both are normative. The first is: What do we want the participation of women in cycling to look like? The second question is also normative, but adds in a dollop of saltation. That question is: What could women’s participation in cycling look like?
Imagine for a moment that women represented 50 percent of all cyclists—in each and every discipline. From track to trials, from group rides to gravel grinders, half of everyone you saw on a bike was a woman. Think about what that increase in population would mean for our visibility on the road, literally, as well as what it would mean figuratively in our visibility in the political process. Think about what that would mean for bike shops. Think about how that would play out for viewership numbers for races, both in-person and on TV. And think about what that would mean for advertising and sponsorship.
There’s a simple piece of math here—with greater numbers comes more sponsorship. That’s bigger sponsors entering cycling as well as all sponsors spending more money. And the amazing thing is that with a bigger audience to reach, not only do the women do better in their sponsorship, the men do as well.
Unlike with volcanos, we don’t have to destroy our world to make it fresh and healthy. From more participants at cycling events to bike shop revenue, every direction I shine the light, cycling looks healthier and more vibrant if more women participate. The question I put to us isn’t Do we want that? To argue against more women participating is to argue against a healthy sport. The question, really, is:
How do we get there?
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