Bicycle Diaries: On the <i>HelpPoint</i> Ads

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1.5.08

On the HelpPoint Ads

a guest posting

A few weeks back I posted the two bike-themed ads from Farmer's Insurance asking readers to decide if they were dissing our noble steeds. And UffdaDave took me at my word, penning the following guest post:
Is anyone offended by the Farmer’s HelpPoint Insurance ads? You know, the ones showing a well-dressed business professional struggling on a bicycle because he didn’t buy the right insurance and because of nebulous situations he doesn’t have his car. In one ad the businessman struggles riding a child’s bike. The overburdened two-wheeler creaks as he pedals over highways and city streets. In another the businessman has traded in his suit pants for a pair of too-short shorts, white tube socks and sneakers. Too add insult to injury, a coworker makes some cutting remark about the bike as they smugly walk to the office, and away from their overpriced, gas-guzzling, carbon-emitting vehicle (I’m guessing a Hummer H3 because in the city four-wheel-drive is extremely important while one is social climbing).

Now I know that Farmers HelpPoint really didn’t set out to insult anyone, and to say I’m offended may be a little harsh. I will say that I am amused at the idea that our car-loving culture finds a bicycle a commuting inconvenience. I’m even willing to bet that the thought of finding the commercials insulting, offending, or amusing, in a manner not intended by ad creators and buyers, is enough for some people to claim that I may be just a little too thin-skinned. But it isn’t a matter of over-sensitivity that gets my eyes rolling whenever I see the commercials, it’s the implication (in my interpretation) that my life is somehow hampered because I don’t have my automobile at my beck-and-call. It’s the insinuation that riding a bicycle to a job, particularly a professional job, is demeaning and humiliating.


For many years I enjoyed the luxury of a five-mile commute between my home and job. The office even had a little used locker room, with a shower, where I occupied several lockers for shower items and work clothes. I commuted on my bicycle practically any day there wasn’t a blizzard or subzero temperatures. It wasn’t until I took a new job and moved my family to a new town that I felt hampered by my commute. The roads were too busy, too fast, and there were no bike lanes. I so desired to get away from a car for a part of the commute that I would routinely haul my bike to place six miles from my office and ride in from there.

I realize that I’m the exception and not the rule but my short bike commute was mobile rehabilitation. I so hated my last six years working for a public television station that the morning ride was the bracer I needed to face the bozos of administration, and the evening was my therapy for a day spent under incompetent leadership. After my layoff I spent more time working and consulting from home and less time in the car. Now when I look at another full-time job I seriously consider how much driving is required, and whether or not the job is worth the time in a car.

But I really am amused when I see the commercials. I’m amused that, at least in my mind, the folks who sneer smugly at the thought of a bicycle commute are most likely the same who will spend a thousand dollars for a spinning class at some exclusive club. My latest commuting bike costs me $10.00 at the Volunteers of America, and another $20.00 to fix it up. I’m willing to bet I get the same amount of exercise as those spinning – and I get to see more than the inside of stuffy room. Plus, not to mention, that when I commute via the bike I don’t have to worry about gas, parking fees, insurance and pesky traffic jams.

What a radical idea, when I commute by bike I get exercise, help the environment and save money. Unless I want to believe Farmer’s HelpPoint Insurance, then the damned bike is nothing more than an inconvenience.

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