A letter to Jacquie Phelan

jacquie phelan, charlie cunningham, gary fisher on mt tamalpais

Unless you’ve been an avid mountain biker for quite some time you’re probably not familiar with Jacquie Phelan. Please allow me to introduce you; With regard to getting women onto bicycles, the roots of mountain biking, and to those who regard bicycles as far more than fun toys for an occasional spin Jacquie is something of a hero. She’s also an outspokenly extreme character. Not “extreme” in the X-games jumping off burning skyscrapers with seatless unicycles sense, but “extreme” in the way she’s chosen to eschew many of the things most accept as normal and necessary.

Jacquie has a a blog you can read here.
Here’s a Wikipedia entry about her.
Jacquie is also the founder of the Women’s Mountain Bike & Tea Society (WOMBATS)

…and even a song about Jacquie Phelan.

I’ve met Jacquie a handful of times over the last 20 years and we occasionally exchange notes. Her recent blog posts have been pondering the all-too-enormous questions of where the world is headed and what we can do to influence that direction. Being the founder of a rather idealistically inspired and directed business I’ve spent many an hour considering these issues as well.

I began writing the following as an email but then decided it’d be better posted here on the blog… so here it is:

Hi Jacquie,
After many years pondering the subject of improving the world I decided that martyrdom (or self-flagellation for that matter) is a dead-end attitude that doesn’t serve anybody well. The vast majority of people do what’s most pleasant, convenient, easy, fun, seductive etc etc. We can hate that or accept that a part of human nature. Perhaps we can even consider it a part of human intelligence

Yeah, much of what goes on in the world sucks, probably because its easier to package and sell the things that aren’t for the greater good. That’s why Republicans win elections despite their (more) selfish and deceptive plans. Their stated goals are simpler and easier to express, and its far easier for them to get the support of large businesses and (self) interest groups. Its also why the auto and fuel industries are so effective: cars are seductive, lazy-making and fit the system that’s been built around their use.

I began WorkCycles because I recognized that business interests effectively run the world. They’re more powerful than governments and cross national borders effortlessly. I also saw that the others busy with workbikes were playing the guilt-ridden martyr game. But only select crowds respond to that and one doesn’t want those people as customers, colleagues or suppliers because once one gets caught up in the martyr game, everybody’s sour, nobody’s good enough and nobody has a right to provide an honest service for a fair price. To the contrary everybody is supposed to be martyring themselves for everybody else’s philosophical ideals. Its not fun or honest and it won’t grow to accomplish its ideals.

Instead of preaching to the choir I decided that WorkCycles would follow the lead of big commercial businesses, except with valuable products that enrich rather than impoverish the world: We simply make attractive products to seduce people into cycling for transportation. Its fun and it works; In the last five years we’ve built up a sizable customer base made up of all types of people and businesses, in many countries. It continues to grow quickly, bringing us further toward our goals.

Some see this approach as disgustingly “commercial” (when did that become such an evil word anyway?) but we simply regard it as egalitarian professionalism. Whether a customer is a vegan, yuppie, squatter, purchaser for an oil refinery or mom with twin babies they get treated with the same respect. Our interest is simply to get them and their colleagues happily riding bicycles instead of driving cars or trucks. Having them recognize the beautiful win-win minimalism of the bicycle as a philosophy and choose take it further into their lives or organizations is indeed our dream… but largely beyond our means.


ps: We’re busy upgrading WordPress and it won’t let me upload images today. I’ll add the matching picture ASAP.

One Response to “A letter to Jacquie Phelan”

  1. What part of KNOW don’t you understand? « Jacquie Phelan’s Weblog Says:

    […] is a joy then when someone like Henry Cutler writes from his Amsterdamse fietsvinkel to say hello, and give consummate reassurance to the woman […]

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