Thursday, February 18, 2010

Focus on Riding, not Bicycle

This is basically my response to this piece on the Bike Portland blog... Bernadette posted a link on the Long Beach Cyclists page...

My personal goal is to help usher in the day when Long Beach is truly the most bike-friendly city in the USA and folks in Portland read the blog for inspiration. And one area where I hope we can take a different path is with what I think is a misplaced focus — where the focus is on the bicycle itself, rather than on the things you can do on ANY bicycle.

Portland seems to have stalled at around 10 % ‘bike mode share.’ I’ve seen Portland folks speculate that there’s a certain percentage of residents who look at cycling as a legitimate mode of transport, and that percentage is apparently around 10%. Right now, the Portland bloggers speculate, pretty much all the folks who WANT to cycle ARE cycling. If Portland wants to get their percentages significantly higher, they have to do things that will convince people to take another look at cycling and give it a try.

One way to ensure that this DOESN’T happen is to make people think that they need to spend thousands of dollars on their bicycles. While Marion’s article references others who found affordable solutions, when SHE elects to spend $700, it sends a strong signal — this is the optimal solution, and refurbishing a used bike or modifying a more affordable bike are less optimal solutions.

Now, I GET that yes, $700 is a GOOD DEAL for a bike that’s fully equipped, and that will last and last, and that will be passed down to the younger kids, and still have resale value at the end. But most Americans won’t spend that much on their OWN bike, let alone their kid’s bike.

And the other issue is the crazy idea that you NEED a bike with tons of features to ride around town. Marion wants a rack, fenders, hub generator, and lots of other features so her kid can get around the city. But while there are cool reasons why all these features are good for city riding, NONE of them is required. By spending too much effort and energy finding the perfect bike for city commuting, you necessarily send the message that city commuting is a specialized activity requiring specialized equipment that you can’t just attempt on any old bike. That’s not the way to significant bike mode share.

I think we need to be careful to de-emphasize the differences between different kinds of bikes in favor of embracing ANY bike as a perfectly good tool to do most tasks. Just get your bike, whichever kind it is, however much you spent on it, and get on it, and ride! Whichever city’s citizens take that message to heart is the city that gets a truly significant percentage of its commuters on bikes.

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