2 March 2008

Terminology Folly

Streets
Waltzing around the cycle blogosphere it seems odd that so much terminology has spawned regarding what is, in fact, a simple pursuit.

Is it a result of the decades-old tendency in North America and other non-bike culture countries to nerdify cycling because it has primarily been viewed as a sport or a hobby for closed groups of "enthusiasts" - and not a reasonable and basic form of transport? Perhaps.

Let's straighten things out, shall we? What you see in the photo above, taken in Copenhagen, is something we call a "cyclist".

Not a "bicycle commuter", nor a "utility cyclist". Certainly not a "lightweight, open air, self-powered traffic vehicle user". It's a cyclist. Actually, to be honest, it's just a "bicycle user"

The Copenhagener above is not "commuting" - or at least she doesn't call it that. She's not going for a "bike ride" or "making a bold statement about her personal convictions regarding reduction of Co2 levels and sustainable transport methods in urban centers".

She's just going to work. On her bike.

And that's what she's riding. A bike. A "cykel" in Danish.

She doesn't call it "my city bike" or "my Alternative Transport Vehicle" or "my Dutch bike" [whatever THAT is...] - it's just her bike.

When she bought her bike at her local bike shop she didn't have a "fitting" at the "full service workshop and showroom". She probably walked into the shop and said, "I need a bike". The chap working there probably shrugged, glanced her up and down and said, "you'll be needing a 52cm".

"I like the black one, over there..."

"That's a 52cm"

"Is that basket included?"

"Yep"

"Great. How much?"

And off she went with her new bike. He didn't offer her any fancy, expensive "bike gear" or "accessories" and he didn't try to dazzle and confuse her with inaccessible, nerdy tech-nerd babble in order to make more money. He doesn't even have "cycle clothes" in his shop. He assumes she has clothes in her closet at home. A wooly hat for winter. A summer dress for... well... summer. She needed a bike. He owned a bike shop. It was over in 20 minutes. Although he probably adjusted her seat for her.

The bike she chose was a black one. Probably a good, reliable Danish brand. It certainly wasn't a "TerraTurbo Urban Warrior X9000". It was just a bike. What it is called isn't important to her. Just the fact that it works.

She doesn't know how much it weighs. Nobody she knows or has ever met could tell you how much their bike weighs. Likewise, she doesn't know how far she rides each day. It isn't interesting. She rides at a good pace, not too fast to cause a sweat, and the ride is nice enough. She likes the fresh air and she often sees friends on the bike lanes. She loves crossing The Lakes and seeing the transformation from season to season. That will suffice.

She doesn't wake up and make a decision to "commute by bike to work today". It's just a part of her day. She just walks out of her flat and gets on her bike. If it has a puncture, she'll walk it down to the local bike shop to get it repaired and then take the bus or train to work. Picking it up in the afternoon.

She isn't an activist, doesn't belong to a cycling organisation with a long acronym and she doesn't even think about the fact that she lives in something called a "bike culture".

She's just a bicycle user. Riding her bike to work.

She'll be doing the same tomorrow.

If other cities had more bicycle users and had advocates who worked to encourage more bicycle users, instead of bike geeks, they'd find that a "bike culture" would be achieved a lot more quickly.
Business As Usual

74 comments:

kevin said...

Interesting post. I'm not sure why it is this way, but yes, a lot of people here in London see cycling as such an intensive thing, I think it's a combination of the dominance of cars here and the fact that there has been a dedicated 'bike culture' going on for a while, who influence people when they start up. The 'commuting mafia'! I work in a bookshop part-time and cycle when it's convenient -- usually when I'm not meeting friends after work, because it'd be too bothersome to travel separately if we were going to a pub in different places and I can't take my bike on most public transport. If more people rode bikes, sure, this would be different. The clothing makes a big difference, the majority of people I see cycling have high-visibility clothing, helmets, even cycle shoes! People don't have to adopt this method. Maybe it's better for longer rides -- how long is the average Copenhagen ride, if there is such a thing? It takes me an hour to ride to work, I don't mind wearing my own clothes for that, and the same applies if I'm going to the cinema or pub etc etc...

I think the politicisation of cycling is both unfortunate for encouraging a hostility between motorists and cyclists in London and elsewhere, but then it does give it more publicity and encourage people to ride. Hm!

Zakkaliciousness said...

Thanks for the comment. Normal people wearing normal clothes and riding their bike are far more powerful tools in the advancement of bike culture.

The average Copenhagen commute? No idea. It's a city of 1.7 million and just as spread out as anywhere else. I would guess that an average one way journey is about 20-40 minutes. That's an average, of course. I know many, many people who ride much farther each day, year round.

although some cities are interested in stats regarding "inter-neighbourhood" bike usage. Berlin, for example. Since implementing bike lanes they find that people use their bikes more to travel between different neighbourhoods. Appropriate for London or New york, that's for sure. It's not always just about the commute.

London has growing pains. I've seen the comments on online newspapers. It's mad. But it will change for the better. More cyclists like the one in the post and people will realise how easy it is.
Here's another post to the same effect on our other blog

Karl McCracken said...

Hugely thought-provoking as ever - thank you!

It sounds like in Copenhagen you have a genuine critical mass of cyclists (compared with other cities' Critical Mass groups - note the capital letters), which means that the needs of the many are actually taken account of by city planners. As a result, it just makes sense for people to cycle. It's not a special thing for them to do, just the most obvious way to get around town.

I like that cycling isn't a statement Thing, not a political Thing, and not even an environmental Thing. The joy of cycling, combined with its immense practicality for getting from A to B is obviously enough.

The question is, how to make the UK more like that without ending up using all of those Things to convince the politicians, planners, and public that it's time to saddle up?

daniel said...

Yea! Someone whom thinks like I do! Here in the USA the magazines articles and advertisements are ripe with spin! I ride my bicycle when safe in the clothes I am going out in. I do wear a helmet but also a bright orange construction vest with reflective strips. I prefer orange over hi viz green because drivers here are taught from the beginning that orange is the color of caution. I said I ride when safe, meaning I ride when there is no snow and ice on the shoulders of the road. Auto drivers are endlessly, careless or distracted and some risks are too great. Pennsylvania is nothing but paved wagon trails and rarely is the cyclist considered when roads are made or widened. It is refreshing to know that places like Copenhagen exist in a world dominated by the automobile!

Em said...

We're in a tiny town in the US and I agree with the technobabble nonsense. Seriously, it's a bike. It doesn't take a bunch of gear to ride and you don't have to spend $2,000 on it. My husband was asking advice on finding a reliable bike to commute with next year and everyone kept recommending these seriously expensive bikes. I was like, you want to chain a $2,000 bike out in front of a college next to the $40 bike that a freshman bought at Walmart that he doesn't particularly care about? Uh, no. We got him a good reliable standard bike instead.

I do cycle with some gear because I pull my kids along with me so I have a trailer and I'll probably be getting saddlebags for kid necessities sometime soon. But I do think that people over complicate things. I don't wear special clothing other than my helmet and perhaps a longer shirt than I would normally or a skirt made out of material that won't go flying on the downhill.

2whls3spds said...

AMEN! This has been my contention for years! I ride in the clothes I wear every day, be it a suit or jeans and work shirts with my name on them. I don't cycle at extreme levels (don't plan to enter the TDF either) The only allowance I make is wearing a safety vest, perhaps a helmet and carry a rain poncho just in case. I am purchasing a good folder for use in multi modal transport (planes, trains and trucks) Other than that...carry on!

Aaron

The Krow said...

thanks for the great reminder that we sometimes romaticize the idea of bike commuting and make it elitist with our need for toys and clothes to look the part. It's important to see the side of it that your post talk about. This kinda of reality would influence more in the real world then the approach us hippy activist take focusing on the alternative transport, eco friendly way of life, or the need for appropriate levels of spandex.

blog.todddowns.com said...

You've put this so very concisely. I do love the "sport" of cycling and rely on it as a source of income, but I appreciate and admire a place where cycling is simply a part of everyday life, as it is in Copenhagen.

"Bike culture" exists in the US only as a counterculture, but it's out of necessity. As you so carefully pointed out, cycling is viewed as a hobby here and just isn't taken seriously as a manner of daily transportation, so anyone who chooses that path needs the support of others to make it a worthwhile endeavor. It's a shame, really; I blame Eisenhower (The decision was his and his administration's to build a transnational network of superhighways, rather than improving the country's rail infrastructure, but that's another gripe for another time).

The reason, I think: Fuel here is too cheap (even now at $3.00US+ per gallon, it's a bargain compared to the rest of the world) and cities are too sprawling for the majority of our population to consider bikes as a real alternative to the car.

I also read with interest your other post, Critical Miss or Critical Mass. This is a soapbox I've been standing atop for years. As you stated, Critical Mass is born of a noble enough idea, but it's a misguided effort that seems to do more harm than good. Choosing to clog major thoroughfares during evening rush hour with an aimless parade of shouting cyclists, like you said, is likely only to create angry motorists and reinforce a public view of bikes as a nuisance each and every time it happens. Wanna make a statement, people? Ride your bike wherever and whenever you need to go. Obey the rules of the road where it makes sense and use them to your advantage where it's safe to do so and where it won't negatively effect other road users who have the right of way. Relax. Just like you won't respect a jerk who squeezes you to the gutter in a rush to get to the next light, we as cyclists can't force motorists respect us by bullying them into a traffic jam on a Friday evening. It simply doesn't work that way.

Jennifer said...

i agree completely! Strange timing as I was just explaining to a friend that I don't want to look like a 'biker' just becuz I ride a bike as transportation. I'm a girl in Vancouver, BC. I ride in street clothes, so I can still look like a girl instead of non-feminine athletic bicycling clothes.
hehe, I'd prefer to spend my money on nice clothes instead of athletic looking stuff that i would use for only one purpose!
Thanks for this article, good stuff. :)

dr2chase said...

I think we have a different critical mass problem. Once you get cycling into the mainstream, then indeed, "just a guy on a bike". But, till then, the people on bikes are (largely) those who also ride bikes for sport, and have all the gear, and the people on bikes won't get the safety benefits of the critical mass of cyclists, so they will defensively deploy helmets and gaudy outfits. This just makes cycling look like an even more foreign thing to "normal" people. The safety hurdle for a new cyclist is also much larger here -- there's a lot more to learn, and fewer people to learn it from, and it actually is more dangerous, so it's no surprise that it is scary.

On a slightly different note, women also get better choices for fashionable winter cycling wear. Cycling in jeans is a recipe for chafing, but tights work just fine.

And another random thought -- what do they set thermostats at in Copenhagen in the winter?

Zakkaliciousness said...

goodness me, I woke up to a long line of comments this monday morning. thanks to everyone for taking the time to write.

glad to hear your points of view.

it's tough to reply to each one so here's a few thoughts:

-A place like Copenhagen does exist in a world dominated by the automobile. But remember, the car was once king here, too. We just acted to restrict it. Which means that it's possible for other cities to do the same thing.

-I'm glad to hear so many of you just wear your regular clothes. I've always said that if you make cycling look effortless then you will inspire others by merely doing it.

-I don't get the question "what do they set thermostats at in Copenhagen in the winter?" Do you mean it literally - the thermostats in our homes or do you mean "how cold does it get". If you mean the latter, then I'd say mid-winter features a lot of wind, rain, temperatures around 0-5 C with occasional dumps of snow.

Brad said...

Wait a minute. You live in a self described "bicycling capital of the world" and you don't fix your own flats?

Zakkaliciousness said...

as far as I know we don't have any aspirations to become World's Puncture Repairing Capital.
:-)

I ride my bike. I don't have any interest in fixing it. It's not my hobby. Sure, i give it a spring cleaning and keep it oiled, but I can't be bothered to fix a flat. Unless it's the front wheel and it's summertime. Otherwise I drop it off at my local bikeshop and then take my other beat up bike.

Anonymous said...

While I agree somewhat with the sentiment one thing that is overlooked is how flat Copenhagen is. My commute (I don't think it's a dirty word) is pretty damn strenuous. Copenhagen is the idyll but it's flat and the infrastructure is incredible, you wouldn't want to wear your day clothes for a 5 mile climb every morning and you definitely wouldn't want to do it on the traditional style bikes that are popular in your city

dr2chase said...

The thermostat question, has to do with the clothing. At least for my commute (10 miles), when it's winter, there's a fine line between too hot and too cold, and before I even step into a building, layers have to come off. The warmer the building, the sweatier I get when I step inside.

Obviously, I'm not riding at a relaxed pace, but it's 10 miles.

Years ago, living in Houston, I did commute in my "work" clothes, in the summer, but I did it by leaving for work as early as possible, putting the bike in the highest gear, and letting the weight of my leg carry me forward. At work, I had a sweater (so strictly speaking, I was not wearing my work clothes, but this was Houston, and Houston air-conditioning, back in the good old days, and I was not the only person with a work sweater).

Zakkaliciousness said...

I often have to ride longer distances but i just slow down if I start to sweat. If you're out to break records for speed, then dress accordingly. If you just need to get to work, you don't need to go fast if you don't want to. Slowing down, taking it easy, seems to work for most Copenhageners and Amsterdamers.

Regarding the "Denmark is flat" thing, we debunked that myth over at the Copenhagen Bike Culture Blog with this post - Debunking the Flat Country=Bike Country Myth. There are many, many cities in Europe where high percentages of people ride their bikes each day. Stockholm [hilly, snowy in winter], Berne, Basle [hilly, Swiss cities] - and I could go on, but it's all in the Debunking post link above.

So there went THAT old wives tale... :-)

Anonymous said...

the comment was regarding wearing heels and work clothes on traditional bikes - not other cities having cycling cultures which goes without saying (like my own)...

Zakkaliciousness said...

you'll find that the choice of bike in most european cities is largely the same as in copenhagen. traditional bikes with three, sometimes seven, gears.

and the swedes, swiss, germans, italians, what have you - who ride in their cities dress in their street clothes as well. we have a number of guest photos from around europe on the blog that highlight this.

Perkeleellinen said...

This was a good post. Regarding the flat country thing: I live in Gothenburg, Sweden which is pretty hilly and often windy but we have the same attitude to bikes as in Denmark.

Maybe I should bring my camera with me one day and send some pics!

2whls3spds said...

I think you have to look at the history of decisions made by various governments back in the 50's. Denmark and much of Europe had an energy/oil shortage. The USA had plenty of cheap oil available. Denmark and many other countries went one way and the US went another. The UK abandoned the bicycle in the late 60's early 70's when the North Sea oil fields came of age.

Personally I think Denmark made the right choice. The UK had the same option(s) but chose not to follow suit. The US went off in a completely different direction. We each are now reaping what was sown. ;-)

Aaron

Svend said...

Copenhagen is far more cycle friendly than the rest of Denmark despite sharing the same high fuel costs and car taxes. Why is this so?

Zakkaliciousness said...

Göteborg/Gothenburg... great town. Great bike culture - style over speed like in København/Copenhagen.
Please send some cycle chic photos if you take any!

Regarding the dubious decisions that created car culture, you're right. Although normally we regard the birth of the car age as back in the 1930's when America started building freeways and Hitler began work on the Autobahn net.

Ironically, in the States, a bike organisation called The League of American Wheelmen got 100,000 cyclists to mobilise to advocate paving roads for their bikes. Their successful effort led to the national highway system. Cue dead bike culture.

Denmark was just as clogged with cars as anywhere in the western world in the 1950's and 1960's. Fortunately there were some visionaries in city hall and pedestrian streets and bike infrastructure began being developed. Cue rich bike culture.

Regarding why Copenhageners ride more than elsewhere in Denmark, I have to be fair. Odense and Aarhus are great cycle towns and you'll find bike lanes everywhere in the nation, including 10,000 km of national bike routes. But Copenhagen has the infrastructure. Although Denmark still ranks super high in the amount of kilometres ridden per annum, per person. I have a post about it HERE. The Dutch and the Danes ride around 1000 km a year on average. Third place goes to Belgium, 300 km per year.

dr2chase said...

The difficulty with the "just slow down if you sweat" advice is that, of course, I don't want to. A consequence of this is that I wear different clothes for biking and working. Nobody's ever accused me of being fashionable.

It may be that I have arrived at this attitude because I grew up biking in Florida. "Just slow down if you sweat" would have you completely immobile. It's a problem for biking; my brother is trying to figure out how to commute to work by bike in the summer (in Florida), and is not sure that he even has the option to shower off at work. (The difference between "sweat" in New England and in Florida is like the difference between a damp rag that you cannot wring water out of, and a damp rag that drips all on its own. Without air conditioning, Florida would probably lose 75% of its population.)

Somersetbiker said...

This post rings a lot of bells with me.

In the past I mistakenly thought that increasing cycling in the UK would need political backing to get it going.

How wrong I was.

I quickly learned that politicians are motivated by just two things.

Power and Keeping Power. Everything else they do serves those things. For Power they need Votes. To get Votes they must follow the Mob and Do The Mob's Bidding.

Until I started lobbying politicians I thought the above was just others being cynical. But it's true (unless I've got cynical, too).

In Britain, as we all know, the Car Is King. We have a “society” that is so shallow that people are judged by the car they drive. Cyclists are regarded as a lawless underclass, freeloading road space paid for by the Ruling Motoring Class. This perception is gleefully promoted by the right-wing gutter press – encouraged, of course, by the all-powerful motor lobby. No matter that many adult cyclists are also car owners – that just complicates matters. Too many people, too lazy to think for themselves, happily swallow whatever the gutter press (and these days, that's all of it) feeds them; and equally happily, unthinkingly regurgitate the stuff at will. Even quite senior politicians, both local and national, buy into this even though they well know how the public highway system is really funded. Wilful Ignorance is part of any politician's stock in trade.

So, the only way to get cycling conditions approaching that of Copenhagen, Stockholm and elsewhere is, to put it crudely, put more Bums On Saddles. More Bums On Saddles means more Voters On Saddles, means the politicians will have to come running with their voting papers.

So, here's the Catch 22.

How do we get more Bums On Saddles without help from The Establishment And Their Paymasters?

Time to let the imagination run riot here...

I'll kick off the Brain Storm with this:

Double cycling: own a spare bike and invite a friend or relative to go out for a short spin with you. Drive to the local Greenway if you must – just get 'em in that saddle, and hooked.

Just keep things simple and make it easy, and it'll come.

Next Mad Idea, please.

Over to you.

Zakkaliciousness said...

fair enough, dr2chase. You feel the need for speed. nothing wrong with that.

my point is not that you and everybody else MUST ride slow and stylish. we have speedy cyclists here, too. no problem with that.

it is merely that if more cyclists made their way onto the roads, riding in street clothes on bikes that look 'normal' and not products of a sub-cultural nerdy hobby group, they will inspire more people than any demonstration.

i just try to present the simple point that a regular person on a regular bike is more likely to influence those who see said person. the very basic "if he/she can do THAT, I can, too!" idea.

somersetbiker:
I understand your point completely. old habits are hard to quit. 'double biking' is a fine idea. If only ten cyclists made their brave way along Cromwell Road or along The Embankment each morning and back again each afternoon, every day of the working week - riding calmly and defensively, taking it easy - then my wager is that they would be joined by others after a time. And then others after that.

while I'm often shocked by the militant attitude presented in the British press and especially the comments section on online versions, i am somehow quite convinced that Mad Ken's ideas will reap rewards in time. If you build it, they will come. The whingers will become the willing.

Every little bit helps, like your idea. It's the militant 'cyclists' in their 'gear' that cause more harm than good in cities with emerging bike cultures.

Zakkaliciousness said...

addendum: what amuses me the most about the 'cyclists freeloading at the expense of the tax paying motorists' complaint is that with less cars and more bikes, the roads will suffer far less wear and tear.

that will drastically reduce maintenence costs and the manhours lost when road repairs block the way.

more cyclists means better roads. roads that last longer before they need repairing.

i'm still searching for someone who has done the maths regarding this simple fact. how much does a car weigh and how much stress does one car put on the asphalt? put those factors up against a bike on the road.

bike advocates should get those figures worked out and use them accordingly.

dr2chase said...

There's an actual problem with claiming that bikes will save wear and tear on the roads. Long before we have a critical mass of cycling commuters, we'll have fair-weather cycling commuters (and I am one of those). Roads are damaged much more quickly when they are wet; the action of the tire pumps water into cracks and grows them larger, and water in potholes sloshes and jets out carrying away road material. With fair-weather cyclists, commuters will drive only on those days when they do the most damage to the roads. I could not find mention on-line of how much more quickly asphalt roads deteriorate when wet, but to my eyeball it looks like at least 10x.

You will also find people (certainly in the US) who insist that the proper metric for road damage is the pressure of the vehicle's tires, which obviously, and nonsensically, ascribes the greatest damage to bicycles with racing tires.

Here's two articles on washboarding, which is not really relevant to a (modern) urban environment:
http://www.gi.alaska.edu/ScienceForum/ASF12/1291.html
http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20070818/fob7.asp
I am a little curious about how this interacts with bicycle tires, because I don't see washboarding on some trails that are never graded. (I live in a town where the unpaved paths are smoother than many of the paved roads.)

Fritz said...

If it's so simple and everyday, why blog about it then?

Em said...

dr2chase:
I'm in southern Georgia. There's nothing to be done about the sweat issue but on the upside if you're well hydrated and sweat often it doesn't smell as bad. My summer clothes are are lightweight stuff that dries quickly (NOT cotton). I'm not sure how practical this is for a guy though. My husband commuted on his bike all last summer and just brought his work shirt with him along with some extra deodorant (I highly recommend the baking soda based stuff as it keeps commuter stink at bay better).

Anyway... as for the jeans and chaffing issue you mentioned earlier... this is a little personal but changing to a different type of underwear helps. I wear boxer briefs with my jeans and have had fewer chaffing issues since. FYI - non biking tights chafe more than jeans and wear out really quickly so unless a woman is going to invest in bike tights the grass isn't much greener over here in the land of two X chromosomes.

Zakkaliciousness said...

dr2chase: interesting stuff and i enjoyed the links. funny claim that a bike tyre is 'more destructive' on asphalt than a car... :-)

fritz: the IDEA is simple and everyday. In practice, in this country and others like it, it is also so. One blogs to share ideas and learn from others and their ideas.

Em: Thanks for that hands on fashion guide to sweat! :-) Very cool.

Daniewcz said...

I sweat like a horse no matter what time of year it is. I'm 260lbs (fat, not muscle)and I have never had a chaffing problem wearing jeans. Probably TMI for you but I find it interesting! I pack a fresh tee shirt and change as soon as I get to my destination. I work in close proximity to others and nobody has complained yet (at least not to my face). on the subject of getting more people on bikes, the people I try to convince tell me the same thing; they are scared to death to ride along with traffic.

David J said...

Good point... Politically pointed but philosophically sound.

Of course people can choose to relate to whatever aspect of cycling appeals to them and I thoroughly enjoy reading about utility bikes etc... But, the conservative practicality of the European model of cycling is so very appealing and un-contrived that it must be the coolest way.
Where I live I can't wear my work clothes on the bike because most days are over 30 degrees C and humidity is usually high. There is no bicycle chic in Darwin. :(
Thongs,shorts, and a T-shirt doesn't quite fit the bill

disgruntledcommuter said...

I ride in my normal clothes (and pack a spare t-shirt if I'm likely to be sweaty), no helmet, but I can't quite bring myself to abandon the high-visibility jacket. Particularly at night. Until we get some critical mass (small letters) of cyclists, I just don't feel visible enough on London's roads to not wear something unmissable and reflective. But I see more and more people out there who are braver than I am...

Zakkaliciousness said...

daniewicz: thanks for you candid comment! great to hear.

david j.: Darwin Cycle chic! Start the movement! :-) What about shorts and long socks with a white shirt and tie?! The Aussie clerk uniform! And for the record, david means flip-flops when he writes 'thongs' - although the US 'thong' on a bike would certainly generate hits.

disgrunltedcommuter: great to hear that you're seeing more and more people out there on the streets. not braver than you, but just as brave, i dare say.

Anonymous said...

thank you.

Anonymous said...

can't be botherd to fix your own flats?!?!?! I dunno about that.

If you are going to tout that cycling is a way of life, then I believe that you should advocate that so is BASIC bicycle repair. ie. lube, tighten, fix flat.

I have to admit that I find it appaling that someone who presents themselves as a leader in cycling chic and is an everyday rider in the such a cycle friendly city won't be bothered by flats...
-15 blog credability points

crotach said...

This entry, and the comments, have been fantastic food for thought. I struggle back and forth with many of the ideas expressed. In my community I involve myself in bicycle advocacy. But I have noticed that many of my "fellow activists" really do not commute much - and when they do they look like they are starting the Tour or something. They are, for the most part, road racers and mountain bikers. I try and chat with my fellow commuters - those wearing their regular clothes and riding simpler bicycles - and, for the most part, they are not involved in advocacy. As has been stated, they just ride. I find myself constantly torn by this. I do believe those of us in the US who want to increase the use of bicycles as transportation need to advocate that position - hard. But there is a long history of most bicycle advocates being the "hard core" types, which can alienate and deter regular Joes and Janes from mounting up. It's a tricky balance and I appreciate the thoughts, links and comments here.

As for fixing your own flat, I'm all for learning how to do things on your own. But heck, why would I want to hunker down on the side of the road, getting cinders all over my pants, and fix my own flat when I could just push my bike for a few minutes, drop it off at my local bike shop, and flirt with the staff while they fix it for a couple of bucks? (And if my partner reads this comment - just kidding about the flirting honey!)

Zakkaliciousness said...

I don't see it as a problem. Nor does anyone else here really.

If I walk out of my flat in the morning, on my way to drop off my son at kindergarten and then head off to work, and I discover a tyre is flat, I'll take to the local shop. I don't fancy changing a flat in my work clothes. I could change it when I got home but there's no guarantee that I'll have the time. If I don't have the time, I'm stuck without a bike the next day, too. I know very few people who actually fix a flat tyre.

That's one thing. The other is basic economics in my local environment. If you draw a cicle around my adress, 1 kilometre in diameter, you'll find close to twenty bike shops within that circle. Everyone has bikes here, so these bike shops don't sell bikes everyday. They cater to the neighbourhood's needs and that involves fixing flats and bikes in general.

If we stopped using our bike shops in this way, they would close. Not good for the person who owns the shop or the dynamics of the local economy.

That's the way it is here. Sorry if that 'appals' you. I'm 'shocked' and 'horrifed' to hear it... .-)

Zakkaliciousness said...

great comment crotach. thanks for that! sometimes the silent, determined minority is more powerful than the loud, vocal adovcating minority.

by the way, my comment above was a response to the 'appalled' comment above, not yours.

Anonymous said...

Location matters.

People need to bear in mind that, without the slightest exaggeration, US roads are a daily bloodbath. 40000 deaths a year. More people are killed in just a single year on US roadways than all the deaths attributed to locomotive accidents in 100 years of train transportation in the entire world.

Because of this, cycling -- and even walking -- in the US require a degree of defensive skill and preparation that is not comparable to most any place in Europe.

This different kind of preparation requires a level of commitment and mental and physical dedication, as well as different kind of attitude, from the person undertaking this activity than would be required or expected of someone in Europe engaging in the same activity.

These factors account for the majority of differences between the two populations of bike users in these respective regions.

Undoubtedly this is a highly lamentable state of affairs, and will probably persist until such point as the US population discovers that, primarily for economic reasons, they cannot continue to carry on as currently usual.

The New Oregonian said...

Hurray! As one who rides her bike to work in Houston wearing dresses, black suede boots and anything else imaginable, I salute you. Thank you for showing that riding a bike to work doesn't have to be a big deal.

Chris the Biking Penguin said...

I concur wholeheartedly that a person on a bike is a cyclist. The reason is immaterial. But as to creating a cycling culture, location is key. When is comes to cycling, Canada is about the same as the USA. Clothing isn't the key.

From my perspective, here are the major points (in no particular order)
- I cycle 1 000 km per month, not per year, 'regular' clothes will not do for me. They are uncomfortable and restrictive. I wear cycling clothes, and I like them. For people to say (and it does happen other places than this blog) that by wearing cycling gear I am hindering the effort to make cycling 'mainstream' is ridiculous and counter-productive.
- In all the surveys done in Canada & the USA that I have heard of, the biggest obstacle to getting people to cycle regularly is motor vehicle traffic. Most people are simply scared $h!tless of riding on the roads when there are motor vehicles about, which is all the time unless there is a dedicated bicycle path. To say that if everyone just obeyed the rules of the road and everything will be fine is a specious argument because it doesn't work that way. The motor vehicle drivers don't even pay attention properly to each other when they speed along in their 1->2 tonne death mobiles @ 60-70 km/h and crash into each other with alarming regularity. A novice cyclist is unsurprisingly scared of being put into this scenario.
- cycling infrastructure is built by the powers that be, and those powers (politicians) pay attention to votes, not logic. Critical Mass is a way of getting the attention of politicians as to the numbers of potential cycling voters, whether people think CM is a good idea or not. Cycling lobby groups are separate entities, which is good, as then the group doing the advocacy is not the 'rabble rousers' of CM.(yes, I'm a CM-er)
- whatever reason a person cycles is good. If somebody chooses to ride a bike to 'go green', to save money, to exercise, or to show off fancy clothes (and I mean of any kind) it matters not. The more bikes the better. It just so happens that unless the vast majority of motor vehicle users switch to something like the bicycle, the planet is screwed.
- "local bicycle shop" convenience depends on where one lives. I live in a suburb, and there are 2 shops near me. "Near" is 1.6km and 2.0 km, but I think it is close. The next nearest shop is 15km away. So fixing one's own flats in such a situation is a big concern. (as an aside, Zack, does your bike shop mend your puncture, or do you get a new tube put in. Most shops here put in a new tube, thus contributing to waste. I often ask for the 'garbage' tubes when I go to my lbs, for whatever reason, and use them as spares or make other things from them.)

2whls3spds said...

zak,
You commented on the fact that there are approximately 20 bike shops in a 1k range of your home. I wish! I live about 18mi(28km) from a city of over 120,000 people . We have a grand total of 2 bicycle shops, neither of which is commuter oriented(this appears to be typical). One will order whatever I ask for, but it has to be ordered. This does not include all of the "big box" stores that also happen to sell bikes, like Dicks, Walmart, Sports Authority, ad nauseum. Small businesses in America have mostly been destroyed by the big chains. A few of us still hang on, beating the big boys by providing exemplary customer service, convenient location (like that matters) or a custom product that is not available in the big stores. But on a whole Americans shop price first, "name/brand" second. Not the type of thing you are apt to find at the neighborhood store. (sorry about the rant)
My wife and I both enjoy your blog and look forward to visiting Copenhagen in the relative near future. In fact I am trying to convince her that a sabbatical is in order so we can spend even more time there!

Aaron

Zakkaliciousness said...

Thanks for commenting 2whls3spds. It's similiar in Denmark, out in small towns. They're all pretty homogenous, with the same shops. But small shops do survive like hardy bacteria... :-) and they'll survive any catastrophe that befells us.

it's different in copenhagen, as with many cities. more diversity. more chance for small shops to survive.

glad you hear you're doing what you can.

Di said...

"If you mean the latter, then I'd say mid-winter features a lot of wind, rain, temperatures around 0-5 C with occasional dumps of snow."

Wow, Zak! That's great weather! I know a lot of people in my state who would kill for that so they could comfortably ride their bikes. In my state, Michigan, especially in the most northern part where I am, temperatures in the winter typically average 0 to 15 F (-17 to -9 C) and we're sometimes blessed with 20 to 25 degree days. It very rarely gets above freezing until spring. We typically get over 200 inches of snowfall annually including a blizzard or two. Living six miles out of town and from work, and eleven miles from school, a 4WD SUV is necessary for me on some days (I will drive during a blizzard). :-)

Another difference is that my area has respectable elevation changes. When I drive, the route I take has an elevation change of over 500 feet in less than two miles. I've managed to find a route that spreads that elevation over four miles, but it's a constant climb.

The "slow down so you don't sweat" philosophy doesn't work in my area. We have many days in the summer where you break a sweat just sitting on the couch drinking a glass of ice water.

I just wrote a post for my blog about dressing for winter riding. You can bet that a combination of cycling and ski clothes are on the menu.

I would love to be able to wear normal clothes, and even put a lot of thought into it, but it really isn't the wisest choice for my situation. I do really appreciate that many sports companies are producing cycling clothing that looks like normal casual and is made of breathable materials. That will make summer commuting less of a hindrance, including the sweating aspect. :-)

Thanks to our cycling community, our small town is now considering how to make itself more cycling friendly. :-) Living in the US, I consider that a miracle.

Zakkaliciousness said...

Sure, Di, loads of snow make it difficult, if you don't have snowploughs for the bike lanes. Not much to say there.

But as for the temperature, I am only referring to Copenhagen. Let's not forget all the other cities in Scandinavia that seem to manage fine. Västerås, in Sweden, boasts 33% daily bike usage, despite weather that competes with yours.

Or Trondheim or Bodø in Norway. Great cycle cities with adverse weather conditions, especially the latter far above the arctic circle, and with higher bike usage rates than any North American city except Davis, California.

As for hills, 25% of the populations of Berne and Basel in Switzerland cycle each day and those cities are more mountainous than hilly, with several 7 degree grades. Or Gothenburg or Stockholm in Sweden. And the citizens ride the same bikes as we do here in Copenhagen. Maybe seven gears instead of one or three, but that's about it.

We posted about this over at Copenhagenize.com - Debunking the Flat Country = Bike Country Myths.

Copenhagen is flat, but our second city, Aarhus, is very hilly.

My Dad recalls the icy winters in the 1940's and 1950's where the seas around Denmark froze and the temperatures were 30 below C.

Didn't stop the bikes.

With all that said, my point is aimed at the vast majority of the planet who live in climates that are cyclable. Of course there are your Minnesotas, Alaskas, etc, and tales of snow. But I try to address the overwhelming majority when trying to explain that urban cycling is effortless and that all you need is a bike.

It's wonderful that you are influencing your town. Great to hear! More power to you.

Anonymous said...

I wish I lived in a place where someone on a bike was a cyclist. It was such a great post but just not realistic for the US, at least the are I am in.

I hop on my bike everyday -work, groceries, visiting friends, etc. I wear regular clothes but I do wear a helmet. It's the way I choose to live so it's easy for those on the fence or who would like to but are too scared, it is very justifiable. In my area cyclists, literally, have no rights. A driver who hits and kills a cyclist walks away without even a fine. This happens day after day. Regardless of any accident, the cyclist is at fault because the cyclist is "allowed" to use the streets but is not considered a legimate form of transportation.

It requires a great deal of confidence, preparation and acute awareness to be a cyclist here. It also isn't for those easily intimidated or concerned about image. I have had beer cans thrown at me, parents AND children (together) spit on me, a guy reached out his door and pushed me over at a stop light (I'm a woman). At work I constantly receive comments such as "it's so sad you can't afford a car" or "one day you will own a car and things will be better." For me it doesn't matter because I'm confident and enjoy cycling. But I have a many a friend who really wanted to try cycling but it only took a few incidents to discourage them.

Your site is important. People in regular clothes are important. But your post is unrealistic for this American culture. We need some political pull on our side as well.

Zakkaliciousness said...

thanks for that comment, anonymous.
very interesting.

although I think it's time for you to take a road trip to Portland, passing through Davis, California along the way.

You'll find that it IS possible in America and it's happening right now. Here's hoping it spreads.

George Darroch said...

Thanks for the interesting blog Zak. I live in Canberra, which is somewhere between the two ends of the spectrum: a lot of people ride to work and university, and there are a reasonable number of bike paths, and there are at least 5 bicycle shops within 2-3kms of here. We don't get snow or extreme heat or winds either, so things are very pleasant year round!

Unfortunately there is still a lot of lycra and helmets and "bike culture" out there too. Luckily, we have our own cycle chic blogs ;) (Fahrradsozialismus), and more people are riding, so perhaps we can change that!

I just had a question - do Copenhageners use lights? They're required by law here, and are needed on the unlit paths that go through forests (which feel unsafe for all). But they aren't sold with the bike, so they become just one more piece of tech that goes with cycling. Hopefully we can get more lighting, and then dispense with the lights

Zakkaliciousness said...

Thanks for the comment, George. Firstly, I just posted about Canberra today... if you hurry you can catch the exhibition.

Bike lights are required by law here. I have a post about it in detail.

Most new bikes come with lights these days.

Zweiradler said...

Speaking of commuting ... today I saw a Kildemoes bike in Germany which was called "Commuter" (it was written on the frame). Is Kildemoes adopting the American vocabulary? Scary :)

Zakkaliciousness said...

that kildemoes bike name is for the German market! only for export!

Anonymous said...

When I see people riding round London on normal bikes dressed in normal clothing I often compliment them. Me, I usually wear bike clothing because I ride as fast as I can and I find it gets me to the other end less sweaty, but I love to see people riding bikes with baskets.

someone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

This is an interesting point. At first, I wanted to yell "No! It's different in the States!" but I realize that you're really just suggesting an idea for how to spread the movement.

I am a student, I live in Boston MA (a very condensed city, but one with terrible weather and drivers, mostly terrible roads, a few big hills, and very few bike lanes), and I ride a bike to school and work. All of my friends (and most of my acquaintances) bike, and we all wear normal clothes.

I have been biking for a couple of years, mainly because the public transportation here is very unreliable (and driving is worse), and I recently convinced a few of my friends to pick it up as well. And the way I did it was exactly how you said - I made it look and sound easy. The biking "style" in Boston is not nerdy/tech-y but still quite distinct: fixed-gear road bikes that are custom-built are most common. And there's a certain kind of waterproof messenger bag that I don't even know the name of, but everyone has those, too and they're around $100.

I ride an old Schwinn cruiser from the 1960s. With a basket. That cost $50. And I reminded my skeptical friends that I'm not particularly athletic, or daring, or motivated, or anything. I just bike to work because it's convenient. This summer, three of them whom I never thought I'd see biking ended up trying it out, and falling in love with it. I don't think they ever would have tried it had they only been surrounded by the intense and intimidating "fixie" subculture that surrounds the world of biking here.

(PS I know I'm a little late on the commenting, but this blog post was recently featured on kottke.org)

Zakkaliciousness said...

you're never too late! thanks for sharing your point of view.

Peter said...

golly - i don't know how i stumbled onto this old post, but it cracked me up.

i will say that bicycle advocacy seems to be a very necessary thing in San Francisco at the moment. you know that we can't even install a bike rack at the moment, right? :D

seriously. it's america. and this one doesn't even have anything to do with george bush or bill clinton.

but, point taken. funny. :D

Daniel M. Perez said...

I commented about this on my blog, Slow Bike Miami Beach:

http://dmperez.com/cycling/2008/09/18/terminology-needed/

Anonymous said...

I lived in Copenhagen as an expat for a year and biking comes out of necessity for many. Cars are expensive (180% tax), gas is expensive, parking is hard to come by especially in the city, and traffic is bad. People rely on public transportation and their own 2 wheels to get everywhere. I didn't own a car and biked to work at least 3 days per week (about 15km each way). On the days where I didn't bike, I rode public transportation.

Danes are highly taxed everywhere (income tax is usually around 55%) but the government takes this to take care of its residents. Bike lanes are marked almost everywhere, even in the country, and some urban intersections even have special bike traffic lights. There are special rules for cyclists and everyone follows them without question.

The only thing is it is very common to have your bike stolen and Danes just saw this as the way it is. I found this shocking for a culture that usually follows the rules so religiously.

Bikes are just a way of life. It is not unusual to see a woman riding in high heel boots on her heavy granny style cruiser bike, smoking while on the mobile phone with bags of groceries dangling off her handlebars. I looked totally out of place in my bike shorts, helmet and road bike.

Anonymous said...

hiya --

20 bike shops within 1km -
no wonder you don't turn any wrenches.
there is no - push my bike to the shop and find another way ...

i have to go 10 km
inside the city .. to find one decent store

John said...

Hello from Athens, Greece. I think tha Nothern europe has the perfect climate for cycling, unfortunately even with a low pace anyone would get extremely sweaty in Athens from March to November (temperatures range from 25C to 45C). I only cycle on my spare time, never while commuting to work). Commuting by cycle in cities is doomed in Southern Europe...

Mikael said...

greece isn't hotter than the south of spain in the summer, or many other places. and they seem to manage fine.

and what about australia? where cycling is booming? bicycles are perfect for every weather condition.

Verônica Mambrini said...

Hey, Mikael. Don't be unfair. I agree: activists are terribly boring. But they are making their point here in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I've seen them riding, then I started "commuting" by bike, left my car in the garage after buying lots of cycling clothes that now are really useless. Now I grab my bike and go everywhere in nice summer dresses (it's summer almost the whole year in Brazil!) and high heels, because of your blog. But it takes time to change a culture. I'm trying to add something and created a local cycle chic blog, gataderodas.blogspot.com. I wish we could be free from activism and just ride, but the car culture is so intense here that activism is a step to reach the bike culture point, when we won't have do worry so much about achieving rights and making manifestos for peace in the traffic.

milohurley2004@yahoo.com said...

Mikael,

The beauty of Copenhagen cycling is that it is ordinary, autonomous and profoundly sane. No conscious 'statements' about anything, except the naturalness of the moment.
After 15 years in the US, I'm discovering that the picture back in Australia is very different. Here in S.Australia cycling is dying. Outside Adelaide in the country towns, cycling scarcely exists. You rarely see another cyclist.
The research I am reading suggests something odd: cycling began a slow decline after the introduction of compulsory helmet-use in 1992. The perception that cyclists need protecting from themselves, that they need to 'dress up' to avoid being ironed into the pavement by ordinary people in passing cars, seems to have caused many to give up. The constable who ticketed Sue Viro confessed that he, too, had stopped cycling when the no-exceptions helmet law was introduced.
What various bits of current research seem to have found is that, consciously or not, the helmet law signalled a subliminal message that defeated its intent: 'The Government has determined that the riding of bicycles results in crushed heads.
Cultural factors fed into this disastrous decision. Australians are passionate about sports. All through the 70s and 80s, the only sort of available bikes, good and bad, were racers. Attempts at touring and commuter bikes produced de-tuned racers. Unsuitable bikes meant that many gave up cycling; the comforts of cars and middle-age further marginalized cycling. Now, back in 1992, people were being told that all cycling was dangerous, a minority avocation; like art or contemplative prayer or learning Danish, it would end in tears.
Recently the New Zealand Minister of Transport admitted the helmet law may have had unforeseen effects: the data suggested less people were cycling. This unforeseen result, for which there are echoes in Australia, means that should the pool of regular cyclists continue to decline, the most important single safety feature in all cycling in a car-dependent age, safety-in-numbers, will be lost. The more of us on the road, the better. Few see the biycle as anything other than a poor man's exercise machine. Outside racing, few take the bicycle seriously as transport to work, or as an adjunct to shopping. Maybe the country is too big. Perhaps our imaginations are too small. Yet there are exceptions: some people ride out of Sydney and do not stop at Darwin. A trickle crosses the Nullarbor; You Tube has clips of adventurers riding through the Northern Territories for Port Augusta.
What worries me is that Copenhagen-style cycling will be misunderstood here and seen as a fashion-conscious statement with the bike as photo-prop by people who will not take cycling seriously. Australia lacks a national organization to promote the needs of cyclists-like the CTC and Sustrans in the U.K. Future decisions affecting cycling will remain in the hands of politicians only, for whom cycling constitutes few votes and no advantage. Will they kill it by trying to 'improve'
it?
The man who clipped me at an intersection recently, destroying my front wheel, was apologetic. But something in his manner remains with me. He was astonished, amazed, that I should be on a bicycle at all. (Couldn't I see how inconvenient this was for him?).
In a peculiar way I feel more vulnerable on a bicycle here in sleepy, country Australia than I did in America, whether in cities or cycling over the Rockies to San Francisco.
In the US I never wore a helmet. Here in Australia I don't wear one either, though I've tried. They are too horrible and unnatural. They will do little for you in a crash; some research suggests they make things worse. Milo.

Sylvia said...

My brother was in a cycling accident about a year ago. They said the reason he didn't have major brain damage was because he had a helmet on.. so I am a major helmet advocate. I don't let my kids ride anything without them! I'd rather be safe than sorry.. and I've never read research that says it's better to be without a helmet.
-Sylvia
Digital Scales

Mikael said...

Sylvia: maybe you haven't read any research that is helmet-sceptic because you didn't want to/weren't looking for it.

A good place to start is The Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation.

Whoever told you that he avoided brain damage because he was wearing a helmet clearly didn't know many facts about helmets. The fact is that there is nowhere in the world where helmets have proven effective in reducing serious head injuries and/or death.

The reason is, quite simply, that they aren't even designed to protect the head against anything but non life threatening injuries in solo accidents under 20 km/h.

Milo said...

Hey Mikael,

Cycling is not 'booming in Australia' 2nd Februaury '09. It may be busting (except for racing). I question whether the bicycle is suitable 'for every weather condition.' I no longer cycle in 45'C (112'F). Dermatology is expensive for ageing skin even if the rest of me is in great shape. Australia needs cycling like Denmark needs winter, though I take my hat off for Sue Abbott.

Milo.

Elegant_Androgyne said...

Hi - I live in Lodz, a second-biggest city in Poland. We have some "bicycle culture", especially Critical Mass of ca. 400 people, and some other events. There's obviously a cycle chic movement - see http://lodzcyclechic.blogspot.com [Witek and Hubert do a fine job selling imported city bikes, photographing fine ladies and gentlemen, fighting for bike-friendly traffic amenities such as "not concerning bikes" plates under "no traffic" / "no entry" signs, bike lanes, traffic lights etc.]; I adopted the idea wholeheartedly in May, and since my old and badly-fitting "supermarket mountain bike" was breaking up non-stop, I bought myself a Dutch roadster... much creativity, effort, time and money went into repairing and hot-rodding it [with a side effect of learning a lot about bicycle repair and equipment!] - now I ride it every day and am very proud of the machine. Of course, I don't wear cycling/sports clothes, that's not my thing because I experiment a lot with fashion, esp. avant-garde/retro/genderqueer/gothic styles. You would see me on my bike dressed just like I'd be on foot [with an exception of a long coat ;)], or in an even more creative way - unfortunately, there are a lot of chavs/machos/idiots in the streets, and I feel less likely to be assaulted when on a saddle.

Lawrence said...

Look, Dutch people calling them 'Dutch bikes' ... in Dutch: http://www.google.ca/#hl=en&source=hp&biw=1276&bih=811&q=%22hollandse+fiets%22&aq=f&aqi=g2&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=&fp=abf023fa88c5b3eb

Alan said...

I tend to be inconsistent about wearing a helmet, but I'm certainly glad I was wearing it when I had a crash a couple summers back (I had been drinking and was watching Fourth of July fireworks and didn't notice a curb). I ended up with various lacerations, two badly sprained wrists, and a mild welt across my forehead where the impact of the helmet against the concrete transferred some of the energy. At the speed I was going and the way my helmeted head slammed into the corner of a hard concrete curb, I guarantee you I would have been MUCH worse off without the helmet!

Mikael said...

How do you 'guarantee' that? Did you test your theory by doing the same topple without a helmet?

If you know about the science of helmets and the industrial design of them, you'll know that helmets aren't even tested for impact on the front, sides or back, only on the crown of the head on a flat surface.

The Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation has an article about these "a helmet saved my life" claims.

False faith in sub-standard 'safety' equipment is dangerous.

With that said, that topple could easily happen as a pedestrian, so be sure to keep the helmet on at all times. In cars, too.

And here is a TED talk about helmets and the culture of fear.

'Xander said...

The silent advocate is what Toronto needs more of. No need to over complicate what a 5 year old already knows.

love the post.

digital-weight-scale said...

this post is great, thank you!

katelyn Hale said...

I'm wondering if she told you all of these things, Mikael, or if you are speaking for her.