Since I had developed several connections through my work at Bike New York, I was able to design senior anthropology project and pursue my questions of biking and combine some of my own experiences with the accounts of my co-workers. By the end of my research, I found that biking in New York City is a much more complexly configured cultural activity than I had originally thought.
A main aspect of a common identity of bikers in New York City is the political infrastructure. Geographic location is linked to the infrastructure that is present, and this all relates to the demographics of individuals living in an area. Gentrification is a main structural factor influencing whether or not there are bike lanes within a given area. One interviewee stated, “Even if minority neighborhoods wanted Citibikes in their neighborhood, those voices aren’t heard until there are white voices in the mix”. Citibikes has an elite connotation in New York, and the majority of the time they are linked to gentrification. Bike lanes are not put into neighborhoods until there are white upper middle class residents.
This unequal access individuals from lower socioeconomic groups have to biking infrastructure creates an exclusive bike culture in New York City. Whereas biking is seen as a right of passage for middle and upper class groups, biking is limited among lower socioeconomic groups. Since children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are excluded from bike culture at an early age, their participation in bike culture in general is affected. One of my interviewees discussed how bike shops can be “traditionally elite spaces that can seem foreign and prohibitively expensive if you don’t know what to look for”. If an individual is not educated about biking starting at an early age, they are also excluded from spaces like bike shops that as a result become known as a white, more elite space.
Yet, even though there are many obstacles for individuals of a lower socio-economic status to be engaged in the bike culture, I found that grassroots programs such as Bike New York are redefining the bike culture in New York. Smaller initiatives such as Bike New York are giving those without access to bike lanes and bike culture as a whole agency in navigating the bike scene in New York. These individuals who are excluded by political infrastructure are given a voice in forming their own bike culture. They are becoming a bike culture.