One more on the topic of bikes

velorution caught a sensible bit from a London cyclist about how to make cycling more mainstream. It’s a great read. I’m generally a complete free marketer kind of guy, but this bit and the Morning Edition bit on London’s serious traffic tolls to enter downtown have me wondering if there isn’t more local governments could do…

I’m doubtful that much of this could work in the US – we’ve just accepted huge distances as a fact of life. Much as I’d love to bike to work, it’s not happening at my current job. But there is more I can do to include cycling in non-commuting activities.

Anyway… Here’s my take on a couple salient items:

I am asking you to Embrace the Midstream. We must convince responsible citizens –those with good manners, good grooming, and regular attendance at the polls– that cycling is a civilised mode of transport.

The importance of this can’t be overemphasized. We’ve gone to treating cycling as something that’s exceptionally hazardous, done only by athletes, and requiring huge investments in money to do “right”. It’s not. And it shouldn’t be.

Ban Lycra and DayGlo colours. Convincing people that cycling is civilised is a job that calls for natural fibres and earth tones. Lycra is comfortable, and day glo jackets minimise your chances of being mistaken for a parking space. But Lycra is, with few exceptions–and none of them in my age bracket–unflattering. And day glo colours are equally repellent. You can’t expect to be taken seriously when you’re riding around in the sartorial equivalent of a sausage casing and wailing car alarm.

There’s a couple of corollaries to this, though: First, build roads with adequate shoulders. One of the great things about Connecticut and Rhode Island roads is that most of them have literally feet outside of traffic lanes for cyclists. So it’s not quite as important to be day-glo to avoid being run over. The second is to put the visibility on the bike – cheap lights go a long way to making the cyclist visible.

Case in point – my lovely wife has resisted my pleas to get her on a bike more regularly mostly out of fear of pulling on lycra. Until she saw this skort in the LL Bean catalog. Yep, it’s got supportive lycra. But she also could see herself walking around downtown wearing it.

But as we thrive on our status as victim and underdog we unwittingly intimidate a large number of well-adjusted people who would like to enjoy the advantages of riding. Fake it if you must, but the sooner we start looking and behaving like ordinary commuters, the more we will be accepted as and then joined by ordinary commuters.

This, I think, is just a smart course of action in all areas of life.

The more people we can persuade to identify with cyclists, the more people will become cyclists. Of course there is a need for better, safer facilities, and more government-funded incentives. But we can’t underestimate the cultural obstacles and our singular ability to help others overcome them.

Amen, brothers and sisters.

9 thoughts on “One more on the topic of bikes

  1. great post, bill. when i start cycling to work again, i think i’ll change up my cycling outfit to have all the visibility on the bike and can the ‘bumblebee’ outfit i used to wear.

  2. I like that skort. I might get one. Oh. Um. For my wife. Who doesn’t ride bikes. Yeah.

    And I think you need to change the name of your blog to Cycle, Cycle, Cycle, Cycle, Splash, Splash, run too.

  3. Good post – riding near my house is like painting a target on your back & inviting rednecks to toss beer cans at you (maybe not quite that bad but…).

    Is there a good web site to get info on local bike events, races etc – sorta like runningintheusa.com? I’m always looking for rides the hubby & I can do.

  4. Wonderful post and you make some excellent points. It’s true that commuting to work is not a likely solution for many of us, regardless. But there are still things we can do to make things better here. I’m convinced of it. Even more so now after I read this.

    As for that skort, I absolutely *LOVE* it. And I noticed that L.L.Bean has some other pretty nice looking cycling shorts, as well. I may just have to purchase me a pair or two before too long. Thanks for sharing that little gem with me.

  5. I’m a slightly cycle-phobic person, but I really liked the take in this post. Good mindset. We’re buying my hubby a new bike this week, as he wants to get into some mountain-bike racing this summer. Oh, I almost forgot: … nice skort! (Think you’re going to get high google ratings for skort today?? :)

  6. Yes, plain clothes cycling. Grant Petersen of Rivendell fame is a big advocate. He says bug-eye glasses, neon lycra and alien helmets are off putting and he’s right. When I was in Germany and Denmark I saw exactly two cyclists that looked like they were out for a club ride or race training. Everybody else was wearing a blazer or earmuffs or something.

    For neca: tell us what ‘local’ is and I’ll give you some calendar ideas.

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