I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the last couple of posts here that dealt with the rise of bike commuting have generated so much interest and feedback. I guess this isn’t surprising considering the attention to commuting by bike that I’m increasingly seeing in all areas of the media (and the huge increase in bike commuters I see on the roads).
One particular comment from Justyna on this recent post made some great points about where she sees the problem with getting more people to commute by bike – and it’s “not about the stuff”, as she puts it. She linked to a post she wrote following her trip to Interbike last year where she caught an interview we did on our “Good Morning Interbike” show from the Media Center with Tim Parr and Sky Yeager of Swobo. (Here’s a link to the video – you’ll have to sit through Ned Overend and John Tomac, Lennard Zinn and Jonathan Vaughters…lots of enthusiast candy in there).
This discussion of what it is that is keeping more Americans from cycling is complicated and very interesting at the same time. Same goes for the issue of why people do cycle already. I don’t want to go through the whole Coasting thing again, but Shimano has spent a lot of time and effort trying figure this out (yes, so they can sell these people more stuff, I know…) and, among many insightful observations from their research, determined that the culture and environment of bike shops is off-putting and intimidating to many non-cyclists.
Justyna wrote that what is needed is more of a “bike culture” here in the States. While more awareness and acceptance of cycling and cyclists by society is always welcome (and what I guess she really means), I would hazard to guess that the nature of the existing bike culture (that most shops are great at nurturing) is one of the reasons that many don’t currently ride. As a commenter on blogger BikeSnobNYC’s great post today, “Get Over It: Surmounting Obstacles to Cycling”, mentions:
No “culture” is as inclusive as it thinks it is. It’s only a few individuals that make it inclusive.
It could be the fear of looking silly in lycra, of complicated bikes, of fixie hipster attitudes, of riding in traffic, of small hard bike seats, of confrontational critical mass’ers, of the arrogant racer shop clerk, of expensive bikes, of not being accepted by experienced cyclists – all these are bike culture components whether real or perceived. What needs to happen is a lessening of some of these cultural components from the general image of cycling held by society at large. As the Snob himself writes:
If I’m hard on the fashionistas and the gear whores, it’s because I think one of the greatest obstacles to new cyclists is the uniform and equipment it seems necessary to own in order to join in the fun. From the outside you’d think you can’t own a fixed-gear bike without having full sleeves and a HED tri-spoke, and that you can’t own a road bike without having an SRM and a pair of wheels that costs over $1,000.
As the Coasting project determined, we (as an industry) have done such a great job of framing cycling as a sport or fitness endevour, that people who just want to ride feel intimidated, or worse, don’t even give cycling a moments consideration. My point (and Bicycle Retailer’s in the article I discussed in my post) on the question of whether bike shops are selling the right bikes, is that (most) bike shops are set up to service the enthusiasts (think the “Lance Effect”, etc.) very well and cater to that culture and as a side effect, turn off many of the non-cyclists who aren’t part of the clique. To these people, a skate shop, fashion boutique a friendly website or even (gasp!) a Wal-Mart or Target could provide a more welcoming environment to take the plunge into cycling. They just want to buy a bike and ride, right?
A final note: I know there are many great shops out there doing a wonderful job at encouraging new cyclists. In my work in the industry, I calculated once that I’ve visited about 350 of the best shops around the country, and have seen many awesome shops and met many passionate cyclists. By no means is this an indictment on all bike shops, but a critical look at ways in which we as an industry can take feedback from a group of outsiders newly interested in being “one of us” and ways we can encourage them.
Enjoy the ride!