Off the Computer and Into the Saddle: Local Cycling Media and Community Engagement


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Presentation at 2010 International Association for Media and Communication Research conference in Braga, Portugal.

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Off the Computer and Into the Saddle: Local Cycling Media and Community Engagement

  1. 1. Off the Computer and Into the Saddle: Austin Cycling Media and Community Engagement Chris McConnell University of Texas at Austin IAMCR, Braga, July 2010
  2. 2. The Project • Austin has seen the emergence of a few large casual bicycle rides in recent years • Participation in bicycle-advocacy has increased • What role have local cycling-oriented media such as blogs and ‘zines played in this?
  3. 3. The Study • Semi-structured interviews with 25 cyclists • Approached at two large rides, Critical Mass and Thursday Night Social ride • Subjects were queried about media use, social ties, participation in lobbying or advocacy • Additional 18 months of participant observation
  4. 4. Bicycles • Low-cost form of transportation • Minimal environmental impact • Lack of enclosure improves sociality • Sometimes difficult to integrate into motorized transport infrastructure • US is particularly bike-hostile
  5. 5. Austin, Texas • State Capital of Texas • Home to University of Texas • 786,382 population, 1,705,075 metro • Doubled in size in approx. 25 years • About 118,000 university-level students • Youthful population • Faces substantial transportation and planning problems
  6. 6. Cycling in Austin • Long home to a transportation cycling community • Lance Armstrong is a local hero • >1% of commutes are done by bike, about twice US average • Silver-level rating from League of American Bicyclists • Many streets have bike lanes or other accommodations, but no integrated network
  7. 7. A typology of Cycling • Sport – Rides for exercise, competition • Transportation – Commuting, shopping, utility • Casual – Rides for fun, some exercise or utility This paper is primarily interested in Transportation and Casual cyclists
  8. 8. Austin Cycling Media • blog listing casual rides with some commentary • advocacy site with forum and email list • Social Cycling ATX: spread across social media platforms like Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter • The Dropout: print ‘zine on bike culture • Variety of personal blogs, organizations
  9. 9. Critical Mass • Monthly civil disobedience ride in rush- hour, performed in cities worldwide • Performed since 1991 • Attracts about 75-80 cyclists in Austin • Furness (2009) performative/embodied communication practice. • “It’s kind of an outlaw ride,” Al, 60
  10. 10. “There’s something really empowering about riding with a big group of people. It’s a thrill you can’t get anywhere else.” -Melissa, 19 Critical Mass
  11. 11. Thursday Night Social Ride • Weekly casual ride, ends at bars • Began in 2008 by Social Cycling ATX • Organized and promoted through Facebook • Participants are expected to follow traffic laws, stop at red lights. • Draws as many as 300 riders in nice weather • Not overtly political, but engages in some advocacy
  12. 12. Thursday Night Social Ride • “The more rides like this, the better image we have. The more rides like this the safer it will be for everyone.” – Keith, TNSR organizer
  13. 13. Other Rides in Austin • Midnite Ridazz • Skellies • Tuesday Night Yoga Ride • World Naked Bike Ride • Full Moon Cruise
  14. 14. Information about Rides • Although SCATX and ATXBS broadcast ride announcements, most subjects indicated that they knew where and when rides started • New riders said they discovered rides through these sites. • Many riders said they learned of rides through friends.
  15. 15. Subjects on ATXBS • ATXBS was almost the only blog mentioned by subjects. • “It’s definitely created a sense of community.” - Sara, 28 • “There’s always a different ride.” - Joseph, 28 • Enjoy irreverent tone, presence of editor on rides
  16. 16. Bike Media • “Biking is kind of like an outdoor thing while the Internet is kind of a sit-on-your-ass thing.” Melissa, 19, “addict” • Most subjects said they did not go online to learn about cycling or bikes. • In fact, many subjects just thought this was strange • Few reported going online for information about bicycle advocacy
  17. 17. Motivations for Participation • Social Capital/Community – Participants go to rides to see friends meet new people, be around other cyclists – “I just like the social aspect of cycling; it’s just a real positive vibe.” - Troy, 60 • Identity – “Everyone doesn’t have to be the power- bar eating, spandex kind of biker.” - Rachel, 28
  18. 18. Politics and Advocacy • Few subjects reported the desire to make a political statement as a reason for participating, even in Critical Mass • Few subjects claimed to have an interest in bike advocacy, although they would like to see more bike lanes, better police treatment, etc. • Still bike-related political events see good turnout
  19. 19. Conclusions • The regular casual rides seem to be mostly about the formation and maintenance of social capital • Batterbury (2003) advocacy as social network rather than social movement, single-issue emphasis • Influential bike blogs like ATXBS can use their social captial to deploy cyclists for advocacy purposes
  20. 20. Further Directions and Questions • Conduct interviews at city forums and advocacy events • More interviews with media producers. • The local bike media does seem to have an influence over this bike community, yet the bikers don’t talk about it. • How is it that they influence this group?