LJWorld.com weblogs Rolling along

Blatant bike bias


As a middle-aged, middle-class, white male of average height and weight, I’m fortunate to be among the least discriminated-against people in the history of, well, people.

In fact, as a member of a group that’s far more likely to discriminate overtly than be overtly discriminated against, I don’t even like to use the D-word.

So I hesitate even to bring it up when I say I felt a little discriminated against the other day — because of my preferred mode of transportation.

Yep, I was the object (you’ll notice I didn’t say victim) of bike discrimination. In truth, I’m discriminated against on my bike regularly. Every time somebody goes out of turn at a four-way stop sign just because I’m on a bike or tries to put me into a curb or takes one look at my perpetual helmet hair and goofy bike-inspired get-ups and assumes that because I’m a grown adult on a bike, I must have done something wrong to get my drivers license revoked, they’re passing judgment on me based on my preference for two-wheeled transport over four.

Whoop-de-doo. Judge away.

Last week, however, I was told I couldn’t do something I wanted the way I wanted simply because I prefer pedaling over driving.

Here’s the story:

Awhile back, I saw a notice that Meals on Wheels was looking for volunteers to deliver meals to needy seniors. Had it specifically mentioned “drivers,” I might not have considered it.

But I read “volunteers,” and immediately the puny, runt-of-the-litter hamsters in my little noggin dutifully mounted up the creaky, rusty wheel in my head and barely made enough revolutions to squeak out a thought.

Maybe, I hamster-wheel-thought, I could do a route on my bike.

I googled “Meals on Wheels by bike” and was encouraged to see two bike-friendly communities — Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore. — had Meals on Two Wheels programs, whereby volunteers did, in fact, deliver meals by bike. I picked up a couple of tips and figured I’d find a trailer capable of hauling a couple of coolers and be good to go.

I called the local group, explained I wanted to volunteer and requested a route that would make it easier by bike. I was told no problem.

But a couple of days later, I received a message stating I’d be welcome as a volunteer, but that I’d have to cover my route by car.

Honestly, I didn’t see it coming.

I figured if they were so in need of volunteers, they’d be glad to have me and never once thought my bike preference would be a factor.

After a few days, I called back to learn why and was told there were “many reasons” I couldn’t deliver by bike. It would take too long, I was told, and there was no way I could manage a route of a minimum of five stops with two trays of food at each stop.

“That would be 10 trays,” I was told. “You couldn’t put 10 trays in your bike.”

I wanted to explain with the proper route, I could make the rounds almost as fast on a bike as a car and that I’m sure I could find a trailer big enough to carry the coolers big enough to contain the trays and that at least two cities already had Meals on Two Wheels programs established.

But I didn’t.

I said I’d think about it and let her know in a few days.

The only other time in my life I recall being so blatantly denied because of my transportation came when I was young.

I must have been in late elementary school, after I was given a bit of free rein but before I and my peers decided cycling wasn’t cool. (In retrospect, if I had kept cycling into my junior high years, I likely wouldn’t have become so fat and could have covered a lot more ground with much less embarrassment than came from relying on rides in the family sedan, but peer pressure’s something else, man).

Anyway, I rode my bike to my parents’ bank, proudly pedaled up to the drive-up window, deposited several coin rolls in the carrier and waited to be rewarded with crisp bills. Fully expecting the bank to balk, I was ready to declare that, yes, I did, in fact, have an account there.

But the tinny voice that came over the loudspeaker didn’t question my membership. Instead, after the coins thudded to a halt in the chute, the voice informed me I’d have to come inside to the lobby.


Bikes aren’t permitted in the drive-up. Insurance reasons.

Again, I didn’t see it coming.

A couple of decades have passed, and I’m not sure the bank’s insurance cared about bikes in the drive-through. Had I been an adult, I probably wouldn’t have been turned away.

I suppose I could have complained or pressed the issue, but I didn’t. Instead, I parked my bike in the bushes and went inside, where a friendly teller gladly exchanged my coins for bills.

Same deal with Meals on Wheels, I guess. I have to decide if I’m willing to compromise my transportation preference to do something I know will benefit others, or if I’ll look to find some other way to volunteer that won’t force me behind the wheel.


NewbieGardener 7 years, 9 months ago

I wonder if contacting the two "bike friendly" Meals on Wheels groups would be helpful. They might have found a way to constructively work around the biking with multiple trays issues...and whatever excuses the national organization may have come up with at first.

Seems like a great volunteering activity and something that Lawrence cyclists could get involved in to do our part.

christy kennedy 7 years, 9 months ago

That's too bad they won't go for the trailer idea. Good for you for getting exercise and having a smaller carbon footprint than most. Surely something good will come of your willingness to volunteer and someone else's need for help.

When I was in high school I worked in a small business right across a narrow and quiet street from a drive through bank (no lobby). To make deposits I just had to go out the door, walk past my boss's truck and cross the street to one of the drive up things—usually when I did this, no other cars were there. Most days this was okay but sometimes a bank employee would tell me I had to be in a vehicle, so I would walk back across the street, get in my boss's truck and turn into one of the drive through lanes. "Happy now?" I would ask. They usually didn't answer. And they usually didn't say anything the next time I walked over.

avhjmlk 7 years, 9 months ago

I wish I could "like" this comment. Classic!

guesswho 7 years, 9 months ago

do a shopping google for bike cargo trailer and there are some great options. I may get one for grocery store runs as I am too far to walk but hate taking the car.

grimpeur 7 years, 9 months ago

Solomon = pathetic weakling, and not just mentally.

RKLOG 7 years, 9 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

MeAndFannieLou 7 years, 9 months ago

That business about not being allowed in the bank drive-through is bunk. That teller was making that up. If that ever happens to me, I'm staying put until I get service.

Maddy Griffin 7 years, 9 months ago

It's not bunk. When I managed a fast food restaurant I had to tell the walk-ups to the drive-up window the same thing.It's an insurance liabiity issue. A car in front of you is easier to see than a pedestrian or cyclist.

parrothead8 7 years, 9 months ago

Most cyclists, sitting on their bikes, are at the same height as the direct line of sight of someone driving a vehicle (other than a dump truck or tractor-trailer, which probably shouldn't be going through a drive-thru.)

If people (who are barely moving while waiting in line at the bank/fast food/other drive-thru) can't see eight feet in front of their car, they don't need to be driving.

Shawn30 7 years, 9 months ago

I hate to say but our streets are not made for cyclist. It's not safe. I would stick to off road trails. As for the cycling accomodation for Meals on Wheels, I would say they are just being honest about what will work and what won't. I think it's funny that you have a problem with that. Sounds, like to me somebody needs the attention.

David Roberts 7 years, 9 months ago

"I hate to say but our streets are not made for cyclist. It's not safe. I would stick to off road trails."

Yeah, that's what a Lawrence Police Officer told me when I tried to report a car running me off of the road and threatening me. Truth is, there will be a gradual slide toward alternative transportation in the coming decades as the price of gasoline rises (Hubbert's Peak), and municipalities, state governments, and the Federal Government realize the huge costs of maintaining an aging transportation system.

Our roads don't have to be unsafe for bikes. Note all of the recent discussions on civility--common consideration on the roads can ensure that travel is relatively safe for everyone.

parrothead8 7 years, 9 months ago

"I hate to say but our streets are not made for cyclist."

Shawn is actually correct. Our streets were originally made to accommodate horse-drawn carriages. As for people riding their bikes on them to get places, I would say that's just being honest about what fits our growing transportation needs. I think it's funny that Shawn has a problem with that. Sounds like someone needs a whole road to make him feel special.

Icy_Flame48 7 years, 9 months ago

Really horse-drawn carriages? I thought the paved roads were made for things like cars, and truck?

Ken Harris 7 years, 9 months ago

@Shawn30: The streets are plenty safe for cyclists. I ride to work most days. Commenting about other people needing attention is rather ironic.

CHKNLTL 7 years, 9 months ago

Nobody wants a truly "tossed salad" for their lunch! Liability issues are probably the cause. Get over it. Enjoy where you can ride. If Bob Frederick's wife wins that negligence lawsuit against the city, it may become very much more difficult to ride that bike of yours in this town anyway....

Michael Rowland 7 years, 9 months ago

While motorized transport is the predominate kind of vehicle on the road, then services such as drive-ups, drive-throughs, and delivery services will prefer the motorized transport. While most people can have good control over their cars, accidents happen, and an accident between a couple ton moving piece of steel and a tens of pounds (if that, how much do those things weigh?) will usually be won by the car. Now, don't quote me on this, I am not a lawyer, but I can see that such an accident happening on private property, say a bank drive-up, would have to be covered by the insurance covering said private property, unless explicitly posted otherwise (like the "We are not responsible for damage from misplaced shopping carts" signs at the stores).

I do see the right of bicyclists on the road, but while bicycling around is a preference of a minority, then the expectations beyond the simple movement from point A to B with only your own things must be checked.

Kirk Larson 7 years, 9 months ago

Shout out to Douglas County Bank drive-through on Tennessee. I ride through all the time and get great service.

YouPeopleAreCrazy 7 years, 9 months ago

Oh look, another negative blog about poor, discriminated bicyclists. You people give Napolean-complexer's a run for their money. "Oh, look at this great thing I want to do to help my community and look at how I'm being discriminated against. The humanity!"

Get over yourself. Those people need those meals more than you need to ride your bike to deliver them to them. So suck it up and drive your car.

monkeyspunk 7 years, 9 months ago

Why should he have to drive his car?

Ride your bike fatty.

YouPeopleAreCrazy 7 years, 9 months ago

Because that's what their rules are?

I do ride my bike, and in fact I'm starting to wonder if there is a correlation between bicycling and negativity. But, shockingly, I don' t think the world revolves around me just because I ride a bicycle and I feel like there are better things in the world to worry about and write about than grass clippings or cracks in the road or whether or not Meals on Wheels will accommodate people who are obsessed with bicycling.

Hey, how about you go pick up trash on your bike? It's a community service and you're free to do it by whatever mode of transportation you want to. Go get a bag of change and ride by the beggars on Mass Street and throw it at them. Ride around with a cape and a bullhorn and searchlight through the student ghetto at night to keep our helpless, drunken college students safe from Topekans. I don't care.

Just don't act like Meals on Wheels is preventing you from performing a community service because you can still do it in your car. Or you can take up some suggestions I mentioned previously.

pizzapete 7 years, 9 months ago

"Ride around with a cape and a bullhorn and searchlight through the student ghetto at night to keep our helpless, drunken college students safe from Topekans. I don't care." Dude, that would be awesome, someone need to do that!

parrothead8 7 years, 9 months ago

Oh look, another comment from a self-righteous, arrogant know-it-all. People like you give televangelists a runs for their money. "Oh, look at how right I am and how wrong you are. Rules should never be bent to feed people!"

Get over yourself. Meals on Wheels needs volunteers more than they need to enforce this rule. So suck it up and recognize that anyone is free to question a rule.

sandrews 7 years, 9 months ago

Andrew - I work for Meals on Wheels and More in Austin, Texas and wanted to say thank you for mentioning our Meals on Two Wheels program in your post! Our bike program has been around since 2008, and we currently offer bike delivery on several routes. One thing I would like to mention is that these routes were specially designed by staff members from our Nutrition Services department, since the routes need to be able to be completed by volunteers within a certain time period in order to maintain safe food temperatures. We also only offer the program in "bike friendly" areas of town, where bike lanes are available. But it's been a big hit with many volunteers, and we hope to continue to grow it over time! Best, Sarah

Todd Hiatt 7 years, 9 months ago

Thanks for the information, Sarah. Nicely - and politely - said.

Graczyk 7 years, 9 months ago

Hey Andrew,

If you really want to do some good, you can bring me some Chinese food. And a six pack while you're at it. I don't care if you peddle, paddle, or perambulate.


bearded_gnome 7 years, 9 months ago

"Ride around with a cape and a bullhorn and searchlight through the student ghetto at night to keep our helpless, drunken college students safe from Topekans. I don't care." Dude, that would be awesome, someone need to do that!

---Drunk@$$man? lol. just started thinking of name and costume for this superhero/superheroine.


Andrew I am disappointed in this your column and your attitude. you are calling discrimination when you are actually asking MOW to rearrange themselves just to suit you.
organizations like MOW have limited dollars and limited volunteer/paid human time.

you are also trying to substitute your judgment for theirs on how to do their work.

get a grip Andrew.

and by the way, you are wrong. white males are now indeed the most discriminated against group in america.

Andrew Hartsock 7 years, 9 months ago

bearded_gnome: I have to disagree with you. I didn't ask MOW to rearrange itself one bit. When I first contacted them, I expressed interest in delivering by bike and said logistically it would be easier and faster if I had a route by the hospital, where the meals are prepared, or somewhere between the hospital and my home. Whether I deliver by bike or not, the MOW folks probably try to accommodate people geographically as much as possible. Had I been told the only available route was in, say, Eudora, that obviously wouldn't be practical by bike and I wouldn't have considered it. I didn't ask them to rearrange anything, nor did I ask any existing volunteers to vacate their routes. I simply asked if there was a route that would be close to the hospital or my home and was told initially that shouldn't be a problem. I realize organizations like MOW have limited finances and volunteers and had hoped to add to the available volunteer bank, at least. And I didn't pass judgment on their work. Had I been told meals need to be delivered within a certain amount of time to be safe, then the onus would have been on me to prove I could meet the deadline or, again, it wouldn't be practical by bike. Instead, I was told something about not being able to handle the trays. I didn't ask them to change the way they package their food to accommodate me, and if I hadn't been confident -- thanks in part to the examples set by Austin and Portland -- that I would be able to haul their meals by bike, I wouldn't have pursued it. I was confident that I could have helped them in their mission without either of us having to change the way we do things.

Brad Maestas 7 years, 9 months ago

You should ride to the office on a Surly Big Dummy and see what they think. You could hold a ton of trays on that thing! Certainly you could get a trailer big enough to hold that many trays or more. I'm kinda surprised but also kinda not. It doesn't seem to be much of a stretch to assume that these folks think the only portage on a bike is a handlebar basket or panniers (if they even know what those are). It's a nice gesture on your part and one that should not be overlooked out of ignorance. Good on ya whatever you do.

bearded_gnome 7 years, 9 months ago

Andrew, thank you for your answer. however, I would argue that you are asking them to reorganize their routes, at least the way I read your blog.
and obviously you presented them with the alternative of delivering MOW by bike and they said thank you, no.
I think they have more experience in delivering MOW meals than you do. then, you present this blog which easily can be taken to put MOW in a bad light, at least when viewed from some [bike enthusiasts] in our community.
I tend to respect people who are doing their job and doing a good job at it. the local MOW leadership probably will give your issues more concern and will perhaps consider that there are other untapped volunteers. that's good.
but they're the ones right now in the trenches.
if you want to serve, be willing to serve, not change the current situation to fit you.

anyway, thanks for a classy disagreement.

bearded_gnome 7 years, 9 months ago

Andrew, here's what looks like you wanted them to reassign/rearrange their routes for your desired mode of transport: I wanted to explain with the proper route, I could make the rounds almost as fast on a bike as a car and that I’m sure I could find a trailer big enough to carry the coolers big enough to contain the trays and that at least two cities already had Meals on Two Wheels programs established.

But I didn’t.

---"with the proper route." a route for bike service might not be the best use of their support resources and might not be the best way for them to coordinate with other volunteers in the field.
you want to give them the benefit of your vast bike experience [not meant in sarcasm] but they're the ones putting meals in the hands of seniors and others day by day now. you and other posters simply assume they are ignorant of biking as an alternative. this might not be so.

if you want a volunteer opportunity using your bike, look for an activity using bikes now or one that might be developed through your own innovation. for example, perhaps seniors in lawrence need a volunteer old fashioned messenger boy [no, not being sarcastic]. I remember in the old movies the runners and messenger boys racing around on their bikes in the financial districts of San Francisco, New York, Chicago, etc.
then, the old fashioned would be new again as you and your team of volunteers use modern tech like Ipads etc., to coordinate your work.

Andrew Hartsock 7 years, 9 months ago

bearded_gnome: Thank you, too, for a classy argument. I won't belabor the point except to say, I thought it a good fit. Had I been told a bike-appropriate route would not be a good use of their limited resources, I wouldn't have had an issue with it. I respect the folks of MOW and their mission and in no way am I trying to tell them how to do their jobs. I simply figured, perhaps naively, that it wouldn't much matter whether I deliver by bike, Hummer or hovercraft, and I didn't try to get them to bend their situation to fit me. I initially asked if I could be fit into their situation and was told I could. Then I was informed -- politely -- that I couldn't. In no way did I mean for this to reflect poorly on MOW. My overwhelming reaction to this is disappointment that I won't be able to help in the way I had envisioned -- and originally was told I could.

BigPrune 7 years, 9 months ago

I have total blatant bike bias against bike riders who ride on Clinton Parkway (in the road) instead of using the brand new multi-million dollar 10' wide concrete bike paths on both sides of the road made for cars.

Carry on.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.