Mercedes Exploits the Daredevil Cyclist Stereotype

You might have seen it making the rounds over the last couple of days — the new Mercedes ad in which a bike messenger challenges a driver in one of the company’s luxury vehicles to a race from Harlem to the Fulton Ferry landing in Brooklyn.

There are many irritating things about the ad, including the lousy acting and the roundabout route the car takes (why the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and not the FDR?). At more than seven minutes (it’s in two parts on YouTube), it’s also tediously long.

But worst is the perpetuation of that old stereotype, the "maniac" bike rider. The driver says at the beginning that he thinks the contest will be unfair: "Sure, he gets to ride like a bat out of hell and we have to follow the traffic rules."

And of course, that’s the way it goes. No doubt, the risk-taking footage is fun to watch, and some local blogs have posted favorably about the ad (even Bike Snob NYC is mild in his critique).

But Mikael Colville-Andersen at Copenhagenize has it right when he says the Mercedes spot is an effective attack on the idea that riding a bicycle in a major city could ever be comfortable or normal:

This is brilliant "Car Empire Strikes Back" marketing from Mercedes.
After watching it if I had to choose between sitting in a Mercedes or
riding all sub-cultural like that — give me the Mercedes any day.…

[The car industry has] spent a century perfecting the art of marketing and now that they
are faced with real competition — the rebirth of urban cycling — they
are tweaking their adverts accordingly.

The acting in the
above advert is abysmal, but the point is clear. It reinforces the
misconception of urban cycling as being a lawless, adrenaline-based and
sub-cultural pursuit. The smug tone is brilliantly devised and

we start learning from the car industry’s marketing brilliance, as they
once learned from the bicycle industry, the battle is lost before the
foot hits the pedal. Marketing urban cycling for regular citizens like
we market every other product — positively. At every turn.

More from around the network: Utility Cycling asks whether Google’s new bike directions are a "game-changer." Hub and Spokes has a contrarian view on bike-sharing in Minneapolis. And The Transport Politic has the rundown on the top 10 transit projects completed in the U.S. and Canada over the last 10 years.

  • LN

    calm 3 speed cyclist having a nice ride down the greenway vs. fancy motorcycle stuck in traffic –

  • Masked Carrot

    The writing is plain idiotic. And what messenger in their right mind would issue a challenge that “forces” the driver to take the highway?! That’s just plain stupid. Why not make the driver ride thru Manhattan just like him? Oh yeah, that’s right this is not reality. Because if they showed their driver going thru Manhattan in the car trying to beat him, they would have to be aggressive and nearly hit pedestrians and blow through red lights.

    Though I agree with some that in some ways this does glorify riding like a maniac thru NYC and might even get more people on bikes. Strange.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Guess they didn’t like our “ad” which is more in line with reality:

  • Would anybody like to join me in making a seven-minute film that shows cars killing and maiming innocent people, the urban decay their infrastructure has caused, and the amount of natural resources they consume?

  • Wow, that is just plain old stupid video. The less attention it gets the better off we will all be.

  • I felt inclined to leave a comment on their site:

    “I recently viewed your video, “New York Challenge,” and as an American, I feel very offended that a German corporation would make such a mockery of my city and my country. I have spent an entire summer in Germany, and know that it is a place where, from an urban design perspective, human beings comes before automobiles. To sit upon your well-planned, public-transit rich high horse and make a mockery of my country, that it always has and always will be a place for automobiles, and not for people, is extremely offensive. Why do you believe that Americans should remain slaves to automobiles, while at the same time your own country is planned in such a way that puts human beings, and the trains and bicycles they use as transportation tools, first? Does your company believe that Germans are inherently superior people, and deserve to live in better cities than me and my American compatriots do? Why do you want my city to be a hostile place filled with cars, but your cities can continue to be more pleasant and livable? I would think that, especially given the history of your country, you would be a little more sensitive to appearing as an elitist. Unlike you, I have hope for the United States of America, and believe that we deserve livable cities every bit as much as Germans do.”

  • re: “Utility Cycling asks whether Google’s new bike directions are a ‘game-changer.'”

    This is definitely a game changer.

    A huge American company supports cycling as serious transportation.

    Now American transportation including federal and local transportation departments must follow the lead or explain why not.

    When will iPhone with AT&T and Verizon wireless get into the act?

  • Pursuant

    Well, it’s a good thing they weren’t competing against the A train. They both would have been toast.

    Just sayin.

  • flp


    YEAH, neistat brothers! yogurt vs. gasoline!!!

  • I liked this better when it was a challenge on Top Gear, Car vs. Transit vs. Bike vs. Boat. And gee, it even has a Mercedes in it.

  • Clarence


    If I had all the time in the world and a budget and some more filmmakers, making a “parody” of this ad with the truth would be an amazing response. But I hope someone does.

  • Mercedes sees bicycles as the competition? Sounds like good news to me.

  • The Bike Snob might have been mild in his critique, but I like his conclusion:

    “In the end, the advertisement makes its point effectively: If you’re in a big hurry, ride a bike; If you’re very wealthy, slightly ‘douchey,’ and you value comfort and ass warmth over efficiency, drive a Mercedes.”

  • I miss the “Ad nauseum” moncker y’all used to prepend to stories about transit or bicycling in advertising.

  • Brooklyn

    Holy crap is that awful acting. Nice that they start at Grant’s Tomb, however, a fitting homage to the racing that’ll be taking place there this weekend.

  • This HOWLER of a car commercial has to be the best corporate gift TA could hope for.

    I haven’t seen part 2, but I wonder… what happens?

    I hope TA will email their own “ad” (link above in a separate post) to Mercedes, and challenge the automaker to post the documentary on their corporate website.

    If Mercedes refuses, how about TA proposing a public “re-match” to challenge the automaker? In this re-match, the cyclist and the driver would be required to use a route available to both cyclists and Mercedes drivers.

    Should be a fun summer-project for TA, and would no doubt generate much coverage…

    PS: what self-respecting NYC bike messenger would ever wear a helmet like that?

  • oh, the biker won.

  • J:Lai

    I am really digging the idea that Mercedes Benz maintains a set of driver-agents in cities around the world specifically to deal with “challenges” such as this one.
    Most auto makers would tell a random bike messenger to F-off when he calls up to challenge them to race through Manhattan. Not Mercedes. They have a guy ready to go.
    It kind of makes me want to call them up to see what else I can get them to do. Maybe guy on foot vs. Mercedes S-class race to the top of the empire state building? Snowboard vs. Mercedes GLK big air contest?

  • molly

    It’s images of cyclists like this one that get entitled drivers foaming at the mouth at community board meetings whenever the issue of bike lanes comes up.

  • Kind of a quibble, I suppose, but Grant’s Tomb isn’t in Harlem.

  • Giffen

    LOL. It’s like the beginning of a bad porn movie.

  • It’s a much nicer ride through Central Park and or down the West Side Bike Path along the Hudson River than along the Brooklyn Queens Expressway which the close-ups of the car driver and the aerial shots don’t show.

    In truth, the comfort level can be higher cycling than riding in a car where the cyclist wins on both accounts.

  • Jeff,

    As a German-American I couldn’t agree with you more. Mercedes would be vilified in the national German press if they tried such and advertising campaign like this in Germany.

    I’m sure it came from Mercedes USA located just across the Hudson at 3 Mercedes Drive, Montvale, NJ 07645.

  • BicyclesOnly

    I’m sorry, but it was completely gratuitous for Austin to ride on and off path in Central Park. There’s no way the diagonal steeplechase cut was faster than the straight shot on the Loop’s asphalt. I bet they just told him to do it b/c they thought it would look cool, and wanted to make sure he broke every possible rule to exemplify the stereotype.

  • kapes

    Gross. Who would put their bagel down on a bench in Times Square, on a napkin and then eat it?
    Clearly directed by Germans used to clean streetscapes. Those pedestrian plazas have made it safe to walk in Times Square, not eat off of it.

    And since the guy in the video is (or was) a messenger and did often wear a helmet (and presumable has some self-respect) I’d say he is one self-respecting messenger who would wear a helmet like that.

  • It’s a shame that the mercedes ad overshadows the most ignorant thing on this page: the Hub and Spokes link.

  • Actually, I may have misspoken. I watched the second part. Was that three references to “doesn’t follow any traffic rules”? I don’t know if that tops that bad acting though.

  • almost seems like an acknowledgement by mercedes that the bike is superior and trying to capture some of the panache.

    actually, quite encouraging since kind of makes clear what is required to make bicycle and derivative transportation suitable as a welcome replacement for cars: comfort, practicality, ease-of-use and high accessibility

    that messenger wouldn’t have to do all those hectic gyrations dodging in-and-out of cars if the city is made more conducive to cycling which is being done.

    don’t really have to go that fast to be faster than other ways

    comfort can be improved with clothing and vehicle on-demand enclosures

    ease-of-use can be improved along with simple mechanical vehicle controls such as rails and guideways to move hands-free and in massive numbers when required.

    and, of course there’s always music on an iPod or cell; even places to hold a cup.

  • NattyB

    If you want to beat the car, just taking the hudson greenway. I’ve made it to the BK Bridge from there in 35 minutes before.

  • #29 NattyB, “just taking the hudson greenway”

    Yes, have done this several times to essentially the same location and opted to bike across the Brooklyn Bridge and West Side Greenway instead of getting a free ride there by car using over the FDR Drive.

    Cycling is nicer.

  • flp

    @mitch (#20), grant’s tomb actually is in harlem. its just that columbia u and the real estate industry have white washed morningside heights to disconnect it as much from its origins as possible. in a sense the same is happening with manhattanville which, contrary to what the CU board wants everyone to believe, is really west harlem a vital component of harlem and not just some long abandoned or forgotten neighborhood.

  • Andrew

    Morningside Heights isn’t Harlem, and I don’t think it’s ever been considered Harlem. Harlem is to its east and north.

  • flp

    time was when culturally speaking, almost everything north of 96th street was considered harlem – up to 155th at least.


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