Baby Steps

There are many perceived obstacles that keep people from riding their bikes for transportation. A few of the reasons I’ve heard include:

  • Fear of cars
  • Poor cycling infrastructure
  • Inclement weather
  • Excessive distance to essential services
  • Excessive distance to work
  • Embarrassment/stigma
  • Lack of physical conditioning
  • Fear of bike theft
  • Lack of mechanical ability

And so on…

I hesitate to call these “excuses”, because they’re real feelings and fears, and until someone is psychologically ready to ride for reasons other than recreation, these mental roadblocks are plenty powerful enough to keep them off the bike. (Of course, sometimes there are real reasons a person can’t ride a bike for transportation, including physical limitations, remote location, etc.).

I’d like to encourage people to not worry so much about the “car-free” label, and just consider doing whatever they can while staying within their comfort zone.

I think a big part of the problem is our natural tendency to throw the baby out with the bath water. I see many bloggers (this one included) talking about “making a commitment” to going car-lite, if not 100% car-free. This is all well-and-good, and if someone is ready to make a big change, that’s wonderful. The problem is that an all-or-nothing approach stops some people from taking any steps at all. The anxiety of committing to such major changes, when our lives are already complicated enough, is a show stopper for many people: “Going car-free is too much to think about right now, so I’ll just keep on driving the car.

I’d like to encourage people to not worry so much about the “car-free” label, and just consider doing whatever they can while staying within their comfort zone. If a 20-mile commute is too big a step, how about a quick trip to the post office or pharmacy on the bike? Or maybe throw the bike in the trunk and ride it to pick up lunch at work one day a week. Every trip by bike, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is one less trip by car.

It’s not so much specifically what a person does, or that they make a “commitment” per se, but that they take whatever baby steps they can that fall within the realm of “doable”. By doing so, over time their confidence will increase, and as their confidence increases the benefits of utility cycling will outweigh their prior hesitations and lead to increased bike riding and reduced car use. And who knows, there’s always the possibility that one small step will eventually lead to a car-free lifestyle.

13 Responses to “Baby Steps”

  • Gordon Inkeles says:

    You could add “laziness” to that list.

    Nice blog, Alan. Keep it up, whatever it is.

  • Alan says:

    Thanks Gordon. I had neglected to add your blog to my blogroll, but it’s there now. Keep up the good work yourself.. ;-))

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Hovah Freeman says:

    Even though I’ve been struck by a car while riding a bike (58 stitches, lost 3 teeth), argued strenuously that there is a lack of biking infrastructure (far too few bike lanes) and despite a lack of physical conditioning (that one is my fault), I would love to commute. However, I’ve had two really good bikes stolen despite my best efforts to prevent it. The cost, for me is prohibitive. Perhaps understandably, bike theft isn’t a high priority with the police. However, I’m simply not taking a chance on having my newest bike stolen. I’d rather take a bus and walk than have another bike stolen. Anything but driving a car.

  • Alan says:

    Hovah,

    I’m sorry to hear about your accident.

    I too work in an area where leaving a bike locked outside is not an option. Have you considered a folding bike that you can take in with you and store inside your workplace? I keep mine under my desk and no one knows it’s there. Just an idea..

    Regards,
    Alan

  • arcadiagt5 says:

    Nice post, and one that I gleefully linked to.

  • Remy Huen says:

    I also have excessive mileage to drive. I try to ride everywhere under 20 miles for anything but commuting to work

  • john riley says:

    Utility cycling vs rec cycling: My bikes tend to be outfitted for rec cycling. Fair bit of stuff mounted. Computer, bag with misc. stuff, bag with tubes and pump. What would I do with all this stuff if I used this bike for errands? Leave it on the bike and risk getting it stolen, or go through the hassle of taking it all off and carrying it with me where ever I go?

    I use clipless pedals on my rec bike. In theory my cleat/shoe combination is walkable, but in practice the shoe wears down and I am on a slippery cleat.

    In any case, I’d still have to carry a helmet around with me when I was off the bike.

    I watched young people in Miami Beach utility cycle on cruisers . They have a lock, that is it. No helmet, no bike clothes (hardly any clothes at all ;-) Just unlock and go. I suspect that is how they do it in Europe too. IMO The further you get from this, the greater the dis-incentives, as far as utility cycling goes. Recall the studies in countries other than the US that suggest requiring helmets cuts down on bike use.

    I am not arguing against helmets; just pointing out how subtle dis-incentives can be.

    If one is _commuting_ and has a secure inside storage place, none of this matters much.

  • Alan says:

    Good points John.

    I use an “accessory” lock to secure my bags to the bike. It’s a 7′ long, relatively lightweight cable that I use in conjunction with a small, high quality combination padlock. I loop it to one bag, run it through the panniers, etc., and lock it to the larger bike lock. If I don’t want to carry in my helmet, I can also run the cable through one of the helmet vents. I leave my spare tube and air cartridges in the bags – I figure if someone really wants them that bad, they can have them. My other valuables come with me (phone, wallet, etc.). Once you’ve used the accessory cable a couple of times, it’s really not an inconvenience; it only takes 20-30 seconds to thread it through and lock it. In my opinion, if that’s too much trouble for someone, they really need to re-examine their priorities… LOL. I might mention, I only use combination locks and set them all to the same number. That way I don’t have to fumble with multiple keys and risk arriving at my destination only to find I’ve left the proper key at home.

    Some will argue that a pro could cut through the cable in a second, but a pro could probably do the same to the heavy-duty lock used for securing the bike. Considering my $1500 bike replaced a $30,000 car, I can afford to lose a few bikes before the threat of bike theft becomes a dis-incentive to ride.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • john riley says:

    “Considering my $1500 bike replaced a $30,000 car, I can afford to lose a few bikes before the threat of bike theft becomes a dis-incentive to ride.”

    I think that would be a minority view! Here in Toronto I think people deal with theft mostly by riding cheap bikes. Still, for students and poor people, it hurts when the bike gets stolen. Many of these people don’t have cars, so I guess they aren’t really the ones you are addressing.

  • MikeOnBike says:

    John asked: “What would I do with all this stuff if I used this bike for errands? Leave it on the bike and risk getting it stolen, or go through the hassle of taking it all off and carrying it with me where ever I go?”

    I typically keep the bike with me or near me.

    If the errand is grocery shopping, the bike comes with me in the store and becomes my shopping cart. When the panniers are full, I know it’s time to go to the checkstand. 8-)

    Other places (like restaurants) I’ll cable-lock the bike near a window so I can watch it from inside. I leave all the bike stuff (rack trunk, panniers, helmet) with the bike.

    I use street shoes with Powergrips or plain pedals.

    This is in the ‘burbs. I’m not sure this would be secure enough in the inner city.

  • Alan says:

    “I think that would be a minority view! Here in Toronto I think people deal with theft mostly by riding cheap bikes. Still, for students and poor people, it hurts when the bike gets stolen. Many of these people don’t have cars, so I guess they aren’t really the ones you are addressing.

    Don’t get me wrong, I understand that for some people, their bicycle is their only means of transportation; not so much by choice, but because of their financial situation. In those cases, having a bicycle stolen may very well be a devastating event. But you’re right, I’m not addressing those that are already using their bikes for transportation out of necessity; I’m addressing my friends and neighbors driving around the suburbs in their SUVs looking for reasons to avoid riding their expensive bike to the corner market. It’s funny, I frequently hear the fear of bike theft used as a reason to not ride a bike for transportation, but I’ve never heard the fear of auto theft used as a reason to avoid driving a car…

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @MikeOnBike

    Your strategy is similar to what I do in the suburbs, though often with the addition of the above-mentioned accessory cable. In the big city, all bets are off, and the folder comes inside with me.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    My bicycle is insured as part of my home insurance. Here in Sweden the insurance companies have a list of approved bicycle locks. Use one of those, and register the frame number, and you get a new bike if it gets stolen. You have to pay 1500kr which is about 300 dollars for getting the new bike, but if you like, you can pay an extra premium to have that charge eliminated. The new bike has to be bought at the same store you bought the first one, and it has to be the same brand.

    Maybe your insurance company has something like that, or maybe you can insure your bike through a bicycle club.

    Regarding bags, I just unclick my pannier and carry it using the shoulder strap. I don’t bother with a pump, spare tubes etc; I just get a taxi if something brakes, and fix it at home. Or let the bike store do it!

 
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