Bicycle clothing manufacturer Pearl Izumi stumbled clumsily into a consumer boycott of its products beginning in July, after posting a victim-blaming ad calling for bicyclists to “cut drivers some slack” on Facebook and YouTube. The one-minute video ad features a woman bicycling on picturesque country lanes with a voice-over proclaiming that greater respect for drivers on the part of bicyclists is the path to traffic safety and bike-car bliss. The ad also mocks “spandex” bicyclists and drone enthusiasts, yuppies, and geeks.
“And I get it. If I wasn’t down with our scene, I’d get irritated with us too sometimes. Out on country roads, where people live to be away from yuppies, and spandex, and geeky weird technology that nobody understands. I really get it. It probably seems like we’ve got all the time in the world to just ride bikes. Yes, the law says we’re allowed on the roads just as much as drivers, but maybe we could cut drivers some slack. And, maybe they could cut riders some slack. Slack. That is a weird word. Slack… slack.” – Pearl Izumi video Clear Thoughts – Everybody Slack
Not only that, Pearl Izumi posted an even stronger victim-blaming comment for the video’s description:
“When it comes to alleviating danger and tension out on the roads, it’s definitely a two-way street. Sure, people who drive cars can get a little aggressive sometimes. But people who ride bikes can get a little full of themselves too, behaving as though they don’t carry an equal amount of responsibility. So we have to remember that people who ride have just as much obligation to stay aware and follow the rules of the road as people who drive. And when we all respect and follow the rules of the road, we help break the notion that cyclists are self-absorbed problem-makers, that drivers are the enemy, and vice versa. Because we all have a right to be out there. But we all have to be smart too. No matter what vehicle we’re using.“
The backlash from now-former Pearl Izumi customers, avid bicyclists targeted a whole lifetime by negligent and reckless motorists, was harsh and swift. Bicyclists vowed they would no longer purchase the company’s products, pointing to the false equivalence given to car drivers who “get a little aggressive sometimes” and bicyclists who “get a little full of themselves”.
Most of the time car-bike collisions are caused by speeding, drunk, distracted, or reckless drivers who crash into bicyclists who are trying to navigate the myriad death traps built into modern urban streets, usually minding their own business. Even the state attacks bicyclists with cars on a regular basis, such as when a police officer driving an SUV struck a bicyclist stopped at a stop sign head-on five days ago in Peculiar, Missouri. Those outraged by the ad responded that bicyclists are overwhelmingly the victims of aggressive driving by scofflaw motorists, and that life-threatening harassment is common against people bicycling safely and legally.
“I attempt to be as safe as possible, and as courteous as possible while riding,” wrote Jim Sutterfield on the video’s Facebook comment thread. “That does not change the fact that drivers are behind the wheel of a machine that can kill me with a side mirror, much less a direct hit. I have been buzzed by cars, screamed at, had things thrown at me and my friends, and threatened simply because I am on the road. How many more cyclists have to die before you realize how tone-deaf this ad is? I am done with Pearl Izumi.”
“Bicycles are not legally required to keep up with the flow of traffic that consists of cars,” wrote Derek Brooks on the thread. “Bicycles are only legally required to maintain a reasonable speed for a bicycle. Bicycles ARE road-legal traffic.”
“I’ve never threatened a driver’s life with my actions. The same can not be said the other way around,” added David Cross.
“The difference: people in cars kill people on bikes, not the other way around,” wrote Jeff Loomis.
“For this to be a successful campaign and not feel like victim blaming you need to define what that slack is. People in cars kill 40,000 people a year, people on bikes kill how many? Where does the slack need to be given? What slack should cyclist offer to people in cars who are more concerned with their mobile devices than vulnerable road users or even their own lives?” asked Carson Blume. “Unless slack means follow the laws and be responsible, this is victim blaming coming from a company that’s customers are the victims.”
“I will NOT be buying Pearl Izumi,” promised Roger Meadows.
Some following the conversation defended Pearl Izumi, pointing to the ad’s hopeful message of cooperation between motorists and bicyclists on the roads. Others took the opportunity to call bicyclists “assholes”.
“The problem is a lot of riders act like they own the road,” wrote Jake Aronson. “They will take the whole lane on a busy road and have a line of cars behind them. That makes those riders assholes. I would say the same as someone who does it in a car, if you can’t keep up with the flow of traffic and you’re going to slow it down, get off the road.”
“I’m a cyclist and I’m all good with this ‘can’t we all just get along’ promo,” wrote Jeff Robinson. “I’m appalled at some of the cyclists that are so offended that they state they’re going to never buy Pearl Izumi. These are likely the same folks that are on the absolute busiest street in congested traffic talking about their right to use the road. Respect for each other is not that hard.”
Pearl Izumi remained unfazed by the loud calls for a boycott, simply repeating its message of universal respect at the end of the thread. “Let’s all work on respecting each other more and making our transit systems better for people who ride bikes and people who drive cars. We’ll all get someplace faster.”
Pearl Izumi is a subsidiary company of bicycle component giant Shimano, which purchased Pearl Izumi in 2008 for $70 million. Shimano has not commented on demands to remove the video nor to the emerging boycott targeting the company.
People Powered Press urges a boycott of all Pearl Izumi and Shimano products, and of all products sold by other Shimano subsidiaries, until the victim-blaming video is removed and a formal apology is issued to bicyclists.