In the U.S., 40% of trips are 2 miles and under, and 90% of those trips are by car. I wonder how the numbers might change if we had to suit up to drive our cars. Imagine that every time you hopped in the car to run to the grocery store or the post office, you had to put on special shoes, a colorful shirt, tights, and padded gloves. Imagine that every time you picked up the kids from school you had to change your underwear and put on a helmet. If we had to do these things, I suspect we’d see a lot more walking and bus riding going on.
Cars are simply too easy and convenient. They’re comfortable and fast, with built-in carrying capacity for passengers and goods. They’re secure and provide an illusion of personal safety. Driving them doesn’t require a change of clothes or special safety gear. They provide a temperature controlled personal space that’s cool in the summer, and warm and dry in the winter. It’s no wonder they’ve been so stunningly successful. If we’re going to replace a portion of car trips with bike trips, we need bikes that are easy and convenient. They need to be as easy to hop onto, as cars are easy to hop into.
On a busy Saturday, we may get on the bikes a half dozen times. A typical day would start with a quick trip to the coffee shop, followed later by a soccer game, then lunch, maybe a trip to a friend’s house, and then dinner with relatives. If we had to change clothes every time we got on the bikes, there’s absolutely no way we’d use them for all of those trips.
Anything that is handy and convenient is likely to get more use. Artists, craftspeople, and musicians know that having their tools within arm’s reach can motivate them to practice their craft. Cooks know that having a well-stocked pantry and functional kitchen can motivate them to cook at home instead of going out. I believe bikes are no different. A bike that’s already set-up for immediate use—whether for riding to work, running an errand, or hauling something—is more likely to be used than one that requires an elaborate routine every time it’s ridden.
A bike used for everyday transportation should be ready to be ridden in street clothes and whatever shoes happen to be on your feet. It should be comfortable without the use of special gear such as padded shorts, padded gloves, and lycra. It should have guards that keep dirt, grease, and oil away from your clothes. It should have reliable lights that are available with the flick of a switch. It should be capable of hauling the day’s load of stuff. And it should be stored by a door for easy exit. A bike that’s this inviting will get ridden without a second thought, replacing many car trips and bringing that 90% number down to nearly zero.