In this series of articles based on the Lab’s 100 Urban Trends glossaries, our writers are focusing on “trends” that are meaningful to them, and sharing insights on urban issues that shape our lives. Today’s trend: Emotional Cityness.
For those of us up north, summer is upon us, which means that biking season is in full swing. And we all know what that means, right? Flirting season. Yes, bicycle flirting.
Don’t deny it. We all do it: the stop-sign smile; the bike-beside-you banter; the “accidental” cut-off conversation. Let’s face it, for all the endearing and often-celebrated qualities of cycling—the health and environmental benefits, the easy-on-the-wallet and coolness factors—the fact that cycling is the ideal vehicle for flirtation is by far one of its most grossly overlooked and unsung attributes.
Several studies over the years have produced statistics identifying cyclists as the happiest of all commuters. After years of rigorous fieldwork studying the bicycle flirtation phenomenon firsthand, I would argue it’s no coincidence—that many of the qualities that give cyclists the most joyful commute are the very same that keep cycling high on the mode-share flirtation index.
For starters, there are the endorphins. We all know that cycling, like running or other forms of exercise, releases endorphins in our bodies that, well, make us feel good. They relax us, and put us in a better mood. I don’t know about you, but I’m not much of a talker, let alone a flirter, when I’m cranky. Science may tell us that cycling puts us in a good mood, but I don’t need science to tell me that the better the mood I’m in, the more likely I am to flirt. So, in a way, you could say that simple biology alone predisposes cyclists to pro-social and flirtatious activity.
But there’s more to it than chemicals. Along with an abundance of opportunities for interaction comes an element of control over those interactions that other travel modes don’t offer. Drivers and transit commuters alike report that the sense of feeling trapped, or out of control of their commutes, contributes to their frustration. The flexibility of the bicycle gives cyclists a sense of freedom.
That sense, I think, transfers over to our interactions with other people. You may be able to strike up a conversation while walking, or riding mass transit, but the nature of those modes makes it a riskier move: if the interaction is unwelcome, or doesn’t go well, there is no graceful and subtle exit like that which cycling provides. Someone speeding up their pace while walking in order to get away from you after you’ve complimented their shoes will leave you looking and feeling like a Class-A creep, especially since all the people around you probably heard the interaction. Even worse, a bus or train will leave both you and the subject of your flirting cringe-worthily trapped in cramped quarters. Awkward.
But the natural speed, flow, flexibility of direction and route and slow-fast fluctuation of cycling frees both flirter and “flirtee” of this conundrum, making it easier to both create moments of private interaction and exit them. Even eye contact and a little smile—enough flirtation to mildly brighten one’s day—is less threatening when you know you won’t be standing inches from the person’s armpit for the next three stops.
Conversation starters are a heck of a lot easier to launch by bike as well. Compared to, say, transit riders, who don’t often have a part of their identity wrapped up in their transportation mode, cyclists, as a breed, like to talk shop. Starting a chat on a bike route about traffic changes, the weather (as it naturally relates to cycling), recent bicycle politics, or another cyclist’s bike gear, is a lot more natural than trying to strike up conversation about, say, fare hikes, or the buses’ new upholstery. For some reason, that’s simply odd behavior.
Mix that with the natural empathetic impulse and comradery that comes with a shared sense of purpose, challenge, and vulnerability, and you have a recipe for the bonding encounters that make us feel connected and a part of something—a recipe for Emotional Cityness, in fact. And that’s attractive.
So go ahead, celebrate the summer season right. Grab your bike, put on something cute, and get ready to find love.
( P.S. To ensure I wasn’t alone in my bicycle flirtation, I did some fieldwork on the bike route outside my house. Hear Vancouverites’ personal stories of bicycle flirtation, and their in-depth analysis of the phenomenon in the videos above. There is a sad note to the stories, though: a couple hours of coyly chatting up cyclists about their flirtation habits didn’t yield even a single date for me. Honestly, Vancouver.)