A couple of days ago Sam sent me a Facebook message with a link in it. The link was to an advert from Pinarello, the high-end Italian bike manufacturer, for its new motorized road bike. In the ad, a conventionally gorgeous white woman appears in portrait orientation, smiling slightly; she is identified as Emma, 24 years old, a “couple rider”. The text beside her image reads:
“I’ve always wanted to go cycling with my boyfriend but it seemed impossible. Soon everything will become possible.”
I rolled my eyes. I may have laughed at first, though I was pissed off pretty much immediately, for all the reasons readers of this blog can easily anticipate. But I also thought the ad was more or less sexism-as-usual.
A sporting goods company doing something sorta douchy? Shocked. I was shocked, I tell you.
Sam said: “you should blog about this!!” Sigh. Probably I should, I thought. Except I’d already planned my post for this Friday (though not yet written it). And except that I couldn’t think of anything I could say about this issue that wasn’t already being said, loudly and well, from all corners of the public sphere.
TBH, even thinking about it made me feel tired: sexism-induced narcolepsy. Yup.
I hummed and hawed.
Then, while I was in the shower after what I can only describe as a very, very cold late autumn training ride (because, Pinarello: I’m pretty fast for a reason), I realized that the two pieces – my original topic, and the annoying Pinarello story – actually shared an important point of convergence. I could write about them both, making the post about that point.
So here goes.
(This image includes the male and female ads, and the twitter feeds attached to them. Both the man and the woman in the images are white, young looking, and fit looking. Which provokes the question: why do they need an e-bike to “keep up”?)
The Pinarello advert (which also includes a disparaging “male” version, in which the guy in the image claims he has no time for training rides but wants to keep up with friends at the weekend) is grounded in some pretty basic and also very, very wrong assumptions about women.
First, that women aren’t fast. Second, that women only want to ride because their boyfriends do. (Also: um, paging heteronormativity? Pinarello def doesn’t want the lucrative lesbian market, then…) Third, that women who ride wouldn’t want to, like, train to get faster; because that never happens, in any cycling club or women’s pro team, ever.
All of this is stupid and infuriating. But, for me, what’s most infuriating is that this grade-A sexist bullshit is coming from a bike company with a massive public profile, and whose bikes are ridden by BOTH pro men’s AND pro women’s teams on the World Tour circuit. For lots of people, Pinarello, like Castelli, or Cervelo, or Trek, IS high-level cycling; it represents in its brand not just its products, but a world of sports aspiration that criss-crosses gender lines.
With that kind of high profile in the cycling community comes, I believe, some public responsibility.
With this ad, though, Pinarello made pretty clear where its priorities lie – and it’s not with helping to promote cycling as a sport in which people of all genders (and colours) are welcome and respected for their talent and determination.
Quite apart from being RIDICULOUSLY retrograde in its representation of women and (older?) men, then, this ad works against the public good, where sports and fitness is concerned.
I’m not a philosopher like Sam and Tracy, but in this case I’m defining “the public good” as a set of values that support inclusivity and access for all, and that encourage the removal of barriers to access and inclusion, whether those are physical, emotional, financial, or otherwise. (It’s worth noting here that the Pinarello Nytro ain’t exactly cheap. No Pinarello bike is. Put a motor in one, and guess what?)
So Pinarello gave us this week a textbook example of working against the public good.
What might it look like, though, for an organization to promote sports and fitness as matters of the public good, and to get it, if not perfect, a great deal more right?
I’ve recently moved to Hamilton, Ontario, a city about 50km from Toronto (and 50km from Niagara Falls) at the western edge of Lake Ontario. The area is blessed with immense natural beauty, in the form of the Niagara Escarpment, and all kinds of woodland trails, rail trails, and mountain bike routes snake around and through the city.
Hamilton is in general incredibly green; there are parks everywhere, and the grounds of local heritage buildings are often free to access too.
Lately I’ve been noticing not just how pleasant all this well-cared-for green space is, but also how many subtle measures the city has put in place to help encourage citizens to get fitter and feel better while they are out and about in them.
For example, my local park, just up the street, features: a public swimming pool (a year-long pass to ALL Hamilton pools, all-you-can-swim, is just CDN$106, a massive bargain), tennis and badminton courts that are free to use, a bunch of outdoor, public access fitness equipment (again, free to use, and popular with the older residents of the area), a baseball diamond (you guessed it), plus well paved and maintained walking paths that are sympathetically laid out and are all wheelchair accessible. There’s a playground for the kids, a “paradise” butterfly garden maintained by students at the local elementary school, as well as a community garden – for a small fee local residents can rent a plot or garden table for their own use, or they can volunteer to assist with the butterfly garden if they’d prefer not taking on a larger garden project. (Ours is just one of many community gardens dotted around Hamilton.)
I can’t get over what an asset this space is; the community gets together here. There are always kids in the playground, folks on the fitness equipment, courts in use, and gardeners at their plots. Not to mention dog walkers.
Further up the road, about 1.5km away, my neighbourhood runs into the Niagara Escarpment, and access points for the (to central Canadians, anyway) famous Bruce Trail. Here, a radial trail for walkers and joggers links the mountainside trails, several sets of stairs up to Hamilton “mountain” (about 300 stairs each, and popular with cross-fit types and those looking for cross-training), a public golf course (through which we are invited to walk, while signs ask that golfers be aware of pedestrians!), and a bunch of signed stations where those jogging or otherwise exercising are invited to stop for squats, push-ups, lunges, etc along the route.
(These fours images feature the Dundurn, Chedoke, and Wentworth stairs from the top of Hamilton mountain. Two are from fall/winter, and two from summer. The two summer images include City of Hamilton statistics about the stairs’ annual use: the Chedoke stairs, wider than most and popular for exercise, log over 2300 trips a day, and more than 871,000 a year, according to the 2013-14 data.)
I’ve been going to the Chedoke and Dundurn stairs for about four weeks now, and they are a real pleasure. I realize they are not accessible to those without good lower body mobility, of course, but for anyone looking for cardio or leg-strength training at a bargain, they are a gift indeed. Safe, sturdy, and well lit (you can see the lit-up staircases from the freeway!), I would not hesitate to use them after dark, especially because both are very well used and are attached to well-lit traffic areas at their bottoms (a parking lot, and a bus loop).
Now, the City of Hamilton is not the same as Pinarello in any way. Its job is to support citizen well being by plowing the streets and paying the firefighters; Pinarello’s job is to sell expensive bikes and bike stuff to MAMILS (mostly). Hamilton is a not-for-profit civic organization that funnels income back into city costs and services. Pinarello is a successful capitalist, featuring the requisite bit of philanthropy on the side. Apples and apples this is not.
Still, what I want to emphasize here is how easy it is to act in the public interest, even when you don’t have to. Hamilton does not need to maintain a butterfly garden in my local park, where kids can get outside, play, breathe, and learn; it does not need to groom hundreds of kilometres of walking trails or keep thousands of mountainside steps safe in winter, so that even the poorest of our neighbours can get exercise and fresh air. It could just pay the firefighters and the cops and say the rest is too expensive; I’ve lived in plenty of places where that happens.
Similarly, Pinarello does not need to play the old “my boyfriend is so strong and fast!” card. Dozens of fantastic athletes ride their amazing machines every year; why not get a range of those people to promote the e-bike, de-stygmatizing it in the process?
That advert could have been easy, classy, and smile-inducing rather than tiny, shitty, and cringe-inducing. All it needed was some forethought about genuine inclusivity and diversity. In the name of the public good.