The highest historical gas prices we’ve seen in the U.S. were in 2008. That was the summer we saw $4 per gallon and a corresponding explosion in the number of bike commuters across the country. Locally, you could barely squeeze a bike on our commuter trains and waiting lists for bike lockers were running months long. That was also the year the bicycle industry woke up to the commuter market, with the selection of dedicated transpo bikes greatly expanding as a result. By December of the same year, gas prices dropped to under $2 per gallon and things went back to business as usual, with the influx of new bike commuters vanishing nearly as quickly as they appeared. The bicycle industry took a big hit the following year due to ramping up for a highly anticipated, but mostly unfulfilled, spike in business.
Retail gasoline prices topped $4 per gallon in California this week. The reaction doesn’t seem nearly as intense as it was in ’08. As a matter of fact, there doesn’t appear to be any reaction at all on the commuting routes I ride. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been there before, or perhaps it’s because people have been expecting it, but there appears to be a general nonchalance about the idea of $4 per gallon gasoline this time around.
I wonder what it’s going to take to trigger another spike in the number of bike commuters like we saw in 2008? A repeat of $4 per gallon gas is clearly not going to do it. I wonder if $5 will do it, or will it take $6 per gallon? What do you think?