The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Monday, October 31, 2005

The Invisible Riders 

Bicycling Magazine is running a surprisingly political feature in their December issue which hit my mail box not too long ago. The feature is called "Invisible", and has the author, Dan Koeppel, in the heart of Latino Los Angeles looking at people who have to use their bikes to survive, as opposed to all his readers which ride for recreation. By the end of the whole article, I was pretty mad. Not necessarily at their plight, but rather his writing. I'll explain.

The story starts out following a particular gentleman named Francisco Orellano on his rides through the city to various locations where day laborers are picked up looking for work. He explains how much money he pulls down a week (about $200), and talks about his family in Central America. We find out that he is a refugee with a green card. He can't leave the U.S., because it will not grant him re-entry.

"I try to earn $200 every week," he explains, which barely covers food and rent while leaving him a tiny extra amount he can send back to El Salvador, where his wife and children are - though he quickly adds that his kids are no longer kids.

Of course, they also throw in details on the cheap department store bike he rides, and the traffic that he has to negotiate day in and day out. They talk of how long it takes to earn the money to buy such a cheap bike. Its a hard story, and it has me drawn in.

And then we leave Francisco and ride through the streets trying to talk to other people. Most of them are illegals (or undocumented workers to use the magazine's euphemism), and are afraid to talk to him for fear he is with the INS. Finally he is able to talk to one man...

While there, I noticed an Invisible Rider on a Trek with clipless pedals and bar-end shifters. Octavio was hesitant to talk, but he was fascinated by the Seven I was riding (which again, I felt totally embarrassed to be on). He told me he'd bought the Trek for transportation, but then expressed a passion for his bike that was unusual among the Invisibles.

"This is all the car I'll ever need," he said smiling.

Several times, to Octavio's increasing anxiety, I asked where he'd gotten the Trek. "I bought it from a friend," he said. A few moments later, he told me it was a gift.

The bike's customizations, a Blackburn rack and a Brooks saddle, almost surely signaled that it was once somebody's prized possession. But Octavio had discovered a genuine enthusiasm for riding. I found myself thinking a strange thought: Maybe he deserves this bike. Even if it is stolen. This notion came to me even though I'd had two bikes stolen from me, less than a mile from this spot.

How dare him! How dare he talk about those two people as if they're the same person. How dare he talk about the plight of a refugee here legally in one breath, and in the very next breath utter that garbage about an illegal immigrant who has stolen a bike from someone. I wonder if the owner of that prized Trek would feel as generous as you do. But of course, you have the moral authority to say what you did, as you have had two bikes stolen don't you? Lord have mercy, we have another Cindy Sheehan riding a bike now. So long as his stolen bike has given him an appreciation for the joys of riding... then it's alright? Suddenly I'm disgusted.

Now the article has us finding out about all the different stores that give credit to people who have no social security numbers, and others who cater to these undocumented laborers, trying to side step the law to help them get along. We're finding out about the dangers these people face since they come from areas of Central America where road rules work differently, and they don't always understand the road signs here, often with tragic consequences.

Then we come to the end...

Why not build bike paths, and safer streets, and secure parking, and inexpensive, practical bikes, and financial incentives for riding, and all the other things we recreational riders dream of - and which riders like Francisco actually need?

First of all... I'm a rider and I don't dream of those things. I don't dream of making non-riders pay for my riding. In fact, the state of Wisconsin has been given many new bike paths and similar pork projects as part of the Transportation bill... all of which I would like to give back! And notice how he mentions Francisco's name... but not Octavio. After all, to the author, Octavio is just like Francisco. Are you suggesting that Octavio our bike thief deserves these same rewards with his new found joy of riding?

The real question, the one that must be asked first, says Kastle Lund, executive director of the L.A. Bike Coalition, is, "Why do so many of us fail to see these groups as constituencies that even exist, let alone that we need and are duty-bound to serve?"

Francisco is not invisible. These riders, on these streets, in the peril of traffic and smog, have not somehow made themselves hard to see. If I hadn't seen them in 15 years of daily riding in Los Angeles - and if you haven't seen them in your cities - it's not because they are transparent.

It's because we are blind.

No sir, it's because you are transparent. These are not constituents. Most are illegal immigrants who have broken our laws, and as you have reported so mercifully, continue to break our laws in this country. The fact that the only name you mention continues to be Francisco, the one legal person mentioned in this article, only highlights your transparency.

The only real tragedy here is that he continues to be lumped into the same category with all the rest of those you mention. The only insult is that he is made the equal of Octavio by you. I wonder how much more visible these people would become if we actually enforced our immigration laws, so that people like Francisco would stand out more, and not be lumped in with those who thumb their noses at our laws. It is all those who come here illegally, who disrespect all those who have stood in line to get here legally that are to blame for their on condition.

The whole thing makes me want to cancel my subscription. Stop with the political puff pieces already.

Update: I have responded to some of the comments in this update. Go check it out.


This nation's economy would collapse if these undocumented aliens disappeared for, oh a week or so. They're forced to do the dirty work that the clean, white Americans wouldn't get caught dead doing. I found the article terrifically enlightening.

  Posted at November 07, 2005 8:43 PM by Anonymous Anonymous  

Damn, you're bitter. We're you screwed over by an illegal? Do you have something against immigrants?

"Invisible Riders" isn't about immigration, it's about people riding bicycles for transportation. It just so happens that some of them are illegals. I'm sure this segment of the population was chosen because they are the most likely to be dependent on bicycles for transpotation.

Would this be any different if it were the working poor who were featured in the article? Just because some people are in this country illegally, it doesn't mean that they shouldn't be entitled to some degree of safety and respect. They're people, just like you, Nick.


  Posted at November 15, 2005 2:11 PM by Anonymous Anonymous  
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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.

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