The Low Hanging Fruit

Crossover Commuter

Surveys show that a large majority of bicycle trips in the U.S. are made solely for recreation and exercise, with only a small percentage made for commuting and other utilitarian purposes. These numbers support my experience. I know many dedicated cyclists who ride their bikes long distances for recreation and/or training but don’t use their bikes for commuting or even short errands.

I believe these existing sport cyclists represent our best opportunity to increase the number of transportational bicyclists on the road. They already understand the health benefits of bicycling, they’re well-invested in gear, and they’re well-acclimated to riding in traffic and sharing the road with cars. The only thing missing is the desire to use their bicycle for transportation.

A majority of existing recruitment efforts appear to be directed at non-bicyclists, with what appears to be only minimal efforts directed at existing sport cyclists. These already enthusiastic riders are the low hanging fruit of transpo bicycle advocacy. I believe advocates need to bridge the gap between sport and transport and figure out a way to persuade these existing cyclists to consider using their bicycles to replace at least some of their car trips. Solving this puzzle is likely to result in a high success rate and good return on investment in the effort to get more people using bicycles for transportation.

I’m curious to know how you came to riding your bicycle for transportation as an adult. Did you start out riding for recreation or fitness first, then later come to use your bicycle for transportation, or did you take up riding for transportation right from the start?

Why did you first start riding a bicycle as an adult?

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86 Responses to “The Low Hanging Fruit”

  • Mike says:

    I disagree with your assessment, Alan. You may be right, and I’m sure some of those sport/fitness/recreational cyclists could be more easily recruited to the ranks of transportation cyclists than could the bulk of non-cyclists, but my feeling is that you’re wrong about how easy it would be to “convert” the majority of them.

    People who are used to sport/fitness cycling (in my experience) tend to equate bicycling with exercise, and therefore sweating. They may be well-equipped for sport cycling, but that doesn’t mean they’re well-equipped for commuting or running errands by bicycle. On the whole, people with racing bikes don’t want racks or fenders, and their bikes aren’t great for pothole-ridden city streets, anyway. They think they can’t wear street clothes on a bike, and that they can’t get somewhere without sweating profusely.

    Non-cyclists may think it’s impractical or unpleasant to run errands or commute by bicycle, but I think there are lots of sport cyclists who *know* that it is.

  • Pete says:

    Interesting idea, but I wonder if a large number of these folks haven’t already “compartmentalized” cycling pretty thoroughly. I think a lot of us here in the bike blog-o-world think of cycling as a lifestyle or ideology, or at least a pretty obsessive hobby, but the vast majority of people who own or buy bicycles don’t. I’m thinking specifically of 2 groups: the “sport” rider is the one who straps their $3000 road bike on top of their BMW and drives 3 miles to the start of their Saturday morning group ride; the “recreational” rider hangs a couple of department store cruisers off the back of their Explorer and drives to the nearest bike path to ride back-and-forth for an hour. They are also often seen bringing bikes on vacation – somewhere I guess they assume has been safety-fied enough.
    To the sport rider, the bike is a piece of gym equipment (and/or a status symbol). They drive to their rides just like they drive to the gym. They see no reason to forgo their car for transportation or utility functions. You wouldn’t expect them to run errands on a rowing machine or stair-master, would you? And you can’t leverage the fitness argument with them – they already pound out enough miles to justify driving as much as they please.
    There is perhaps more hope for the recreational rider, but their primary obstacle is most likely fear. I think the appearance of separated facilities would help them a lot.

  • Luke E says:

    As you know, during my time at Breezer I wrestled with this question daily. The Finesse was Joe Breeze’s answer to the ultimate recreation/fitness/performance cyclist’s OTHER bike. A roadie with a high-end carbon race bike would lust after the dyno lights, low drag internally geared hubs, etc. ‘Twas not the case in reality. I agree with Mike in the respect that converting these riders is a difficult proposition. Even those die-hards I came in contact with had a similar sentiment: “$2000 for a commuting bike?!?”

    For whatever reason it seems the best way in the current US market to reach those most receptive to the concept of bikes as transportation is non-endemic fashion marketing. Yes, the commuter as a wardrobe accessory. Take the tweed rides, clothing store windows, the recent Marketplace NPR radio piece… they all attach the look and lifestyle of bikes and fashion very successfully. My only concern is the very real possibility that next season the fashion world will be on to the next trend, and commuter bikes will be so last year.


  • Alan says:

    A number of studies have shown that the fear of riding near automobiles is the #1 reason more people don’t ride their bikes for transportation. While I totally agree that better and more bike infrastructure is key to getting new people on bikes, with the current state of the economy we may be waiting a very long time before we see enough infrastructure upgrades to make a widespread impact. In the meantime, I believe existing sport riders hold great potential due to the fact that they’re already acclimated to riding near automobiles. I understand the obstacles related to viewing bicycles as sporting goods, but that seems to me to be a lower hurdle to clear than the fear of cars.


  • Pete says:

    I think what Mike and I are saying is that a lot of these riders don’t WANT to be converted. They know how to ride, they know that bikes can be used for transportation and utility, they have no problem spending money on bikes, clothing, and accessories, and they have chosen not to. The assumption being made is that every cyclist would want to be a commuter/utility cyclist if only they were shown the way. I don’t think that’s the case.

  • Eric says:

    @Pete: I respectfully disagree. I started out using home gym equipment for recreation and fitness but eventually made the jump to commuting to work by rowing machine three years ago. Disclaimer: I work from home and live by a lake.

  • MU says:

    A majority of existing recruitment efforts appear to be directed at non-bicyclists, with what appears to be only minimal efforts directed at existing sport cyclists.

    I’m not saying this is wrong, but can you back it up at all?
    A lot of campaigns to encourage cycling are going to focus on some of the basic aspects of using a bike. To the experienced eye, that may seem to be solely focused on non-riders. But I suspect the people developing these campaigns are just trying to hit everyone possible so they tend to talk to the lowest common denominator.

    The debate about who to advertise to also hinges on the goal. Aggressive campaigns to existing sport riders might create more utility riders in the short term. But I think the bigger issue is getting a broader swath of the people on bikes or open to the idea that bikes are a valid form of transport to shore up continuing support. The mode needs to be “normalized”, not just the numbers popped up slightly.

    I say, go after new riders. The sport riders will come around on their own.

  • Alan says:


    “I’m not saying this is wrong, but can you back it up at all?”

    Not with numbers, but it seems intuitively obvious after spending a lot of time observing and thinking about this issue over the past couple of years.

    Again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to recruit new riders, but it doesn’t seem productive to keep hoping on hope for new infrastructure to assuage the fears of newcomers when it’s very likely to be slow to come in this economy.


  • John L. says:

    Very interesting post, Alan. I answered the question literally, saying that I first started riding a bike as an adult for recreation, which is true. That was 20 years ago, and back then it simply wouldn’t have occurred to me to ride a bike for transportation. Back then, in my mind, “real” cyclists wore lycra and rode the fastest, lightest bike they could afford. I later gave up sport cycling after developing knee problems, having kids, and building my career. I’ve taken up commuter/transportational cycling in the last couple of years and made it a part of my life, for reasons that are primarily environmental and ethical. Fitness is a nice side effect. So, in my case, I began as a recreational cyclist, but I can’t honestly say to what extent it paved the way for my commuter cycling. However, I hope you are right in your theory that recreational riders can be persuaded to take up commuter cycling.

  • Alan says:


    I agree that using fashion as a marketing tool may end up backfiring in the long run. I saw this when I worked in the fly fishing industry. The movie “A River Runs Through It” had a remarkable short-term impact on sales of fly fishing tackle and travel. The romantic vision of fly fishing as portrayed in that movie is not unlike the romantic vision of bicycling being promoted today (I’m at least somewhat guilty of it myself). The problem was a disconnect between the “fantasy” as portrayed in the movie, and the reality of actually fishing (fly fishing is more physically demanding and technically challenging than many newcomers anticipated). The result was that many new people came into the sport, but after just a few years, nearly just as many left. My concern with marketing transportational bicycling in this way is that it may result in a surge followed by an exodus similar to the one we saw in fly fishing in the 1990’s.


  • CedarWood says:

    Every sport cyclist I’ve had the privilege of talking to thinks I’m nuts for fetching my groceries by bike. They won’t even consider running errands by bike, so how can they be converted to do just that?

  • Sharper says:

    What’s this “recreation” stuff?

    Kidding aside, I had a first-hand view of some of the problem last week, and I don’t think it’s attitude as much as it is infrastructure. The girlfriend and I drove out to a relatively new subdivision near Folsom for a Craigslist purchase around 7ish PM. Along the way, we saw quite a few older, male, well-heeled riders fully decked out for their race/exercise reasons, but nobody else on a bike. As we navigated the wide, two-lanes-each-way roads (plus suicide lane) — with appropriate barriers to prevent high-speed head-on collisions, of course — heading from the clearly defined contemporary suburban mega-stripmall and into the clearly defined contemporary suburban mega-cul-de-sac, it reinforced for us how ass-backwards suburban planning is, even in a subdivision only a few years old.

    Contrast that with midtown/downtown Sacramento and how its interspersed residential and commercial opportunities and urban density and traffic patterns encourage transportational bicycling, even if the city leadership lags in doing so.

  • Alan says:


    My experience is that non-riders think I’m completely nuts, while sport riders only think I’m slightly off-kilter… :-)

    Seriously, your question is a good one that I believe is worth seriously addressing. I don’t see very many considering it at this point.


  • Sharper says:

    For extra credit, take a look at this Google map and tell me why transportation bicycling is an uphill struggle.

  • Sally Hinchcliffe (aka townmouse) says:

    It’s funny isn’t it that we do consider non-cyclists easier to convert to transport than the ‘wrong kind’ of cyclist. I think a lot of the responses above show how tribal cycling is – on BOTH sides of the wire. If we want sport/recreation cyclists to join us we’re going to have to stop talking about Lycra louts, weekend warriors and all the rest of it and embrace our fellow two-wheelers in every form.

    First step? Next time you see someone on a bike – even the wrong kind of bike – smile and say hello. If you get a chance, stop to chat. You never know, they may turn out to be human after all …

  • CedarWood says:


    On being slightly off-kilter — I wish that was the case for me. In conversations with local club cyclists or bike enthusiasts I happen upon, when they find out I run errands by bike, it’s like someone flipped a switch and any interest is gone. Usually the conversation ends right there. I would think there’d be a small flicker of curiosity, but there isn’t even that. Depressing.

    On the other hand, people who don’t ride bikes are really curious about mine, and we’ll have lengthy conversations about this or that part. Granted, this probably doesn’t lead to them riding to the store, but at least it’s not a taboo subject.

  • Pete says:

    @Eric- Congrats on making the leap from “recreational” rower to “transportation” rower! :-p

  • Richard Masoner says:

    @Luke – I appreciated Breeze’s attempt with the Finesse and I really liked that bike, but us avid cyclists already own a ‘good’ fast bike and we really don’t mind the lack of fenders and racks, especially here in California.

    In the Bay Area, a good many recreational enthusiasts are already commuters, and outside of urban areas most bike commuters are the avid cyclists.

    But recreational riders make up only a small part of road users. Mark Sanders (the guy who designed Strida) speaks to this in his Red Ocean presentation from a couple of years ago.

  • MU says:

    I wonder (but have nothing solid to back this up) if the debate isn’t being tilted by an urban vs suburban perspective. From my more urban viewpoint (Los Angeles), the big growth in cyclists is almost all practical and recreational cyclists. It is being driven by the rising awareness and “hipness” of cycling and the practical benefits (gas price is highly correlated). Even the “recreational” types often say that they want to use the bike more for transport, but want to rides on trails a bit to get comfortable first.

    The serious road bike warriors exist here too, but are generally ignored and only seem to exist in any large numbers in a few isolated areas. It just doesn’t seem like a group to bother proselytizing too. I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers are reversed once you get out of the denser cities where cycling really is more of a sport.

  • Happy Monday » Cyclelicious says:

    […] @ EcoVelo thinks enthusiast recreational cyclists are low hanging fruit to convert to utilitarian […]

  • Pete says:

    I think the crux of the issue is hinted at by a word @Sally chose: “convert” and a word Alan chose: “recruit.”
    Why do people who choose to ride for other reasons need to be converted? Why is transportation cycling the One True Cycling? Why do we have an obsession with proselytizing?
    There is certainly too much tribalism in our little corner of the world, and it seems to flow both ways – we are all dismissive of anyone who rides differently. I wave at pretty much every cyclist I see, carbon-riding hedge fund analysts and rust-bucket-riding immigrant laborers alike, because I appreciate that we are ALL part of a minority and think a little more camaraderie across factions can only help. And there aren’t even enough of us all in aggregate that my arm gets tired from waving!
    And that’s why I think the very concept of “converting” or “recruiting” other riders is perhaps a bit off the mark. They are ALREADY cyclists, and just because they chose to participate in a way that is different from the way we choose to participate doesn’t mean they need to change.
    As I’ve said before, it doesn’t matter if you ride for need, for speed, or for tweed, as long as you are out there riding it’s good enough for me.

  • CedarWood says:

    What I’d really like to know is… what do sport cyclists think of transportation cyclists? If I knew the answer, I might deduce how to attempt “converting” them. At least in my area, there seems to be a good deal of disdain aimed at transportation cyclists. Any idea why?

  • Brian in Okla. City says:

    I celebrated last week when a cyclist in our group made the jump to commuting to work. She was already an established cyclist, so the 24 miles r/t wasn’t her concern. She was concerned about traffic along a certain stretch. She did it twice last week, and was pumped about it.

  • Ken says:

    Many recreational bicyclists are also commuters. In my office, I think most of the regular bicycle commuters are also recreational bicyclists. However, a lot of other recreational bicyclists do not bike to work or to stores/restaurants/etc because they are really really scared of having their bicycles stolen. If cities want to encourage more of these people to bicycle commute, they have to do a much better job of installing high security bicycle parking in convenient locations.

  • John Ferguson says:

    @Townmouse is right on the mark – anyone who cares about cycling needs to let go of the idea that we should compartmentalize our interest in it any further than it already is. Bikes are bikes and riders are riders. I don’t care what you wear when you ride as long as you ride. Wear an acrylic panda suit for all I care, just keep riding..

    I’ve made @Alan’s point directly to the advocacy director of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition and he admitted that they hadn’t given any real thought to a recreational rider conversion strategy. I think their philosophy is essentially ‘build it and they will come’, which may be true but as @Alan points out we may not be able to build all of it for quite a few years. The stated goal is 20% of all trips within Marin county be by human powered means (bike, skateboard, feet, pogo sticks, what have you) by 2020. It has a certain numerical synergy for sure, but I have no idea how realistic it is.

    Personally, I’ve been riding to work on and off for almost 20 years. It greatly depends on where work is and where I’m living, all of which has changed since I started in the early ’90s. From an infrastructure perspective, things are definitely getting better but I have had the epiphany more than once that if I could convince even 5% of the recreational riders who ride past my door on any weekend day to use their bicycles for ANYTHING ELSE (including but not limited to: go to work, go to school with your kids, go to the store, go to the coffee shop, go to the movies or a show.. You get the idea), then the support for cycling as a fully vested member of the transportation mix would increase by a factor of 10.

    I’ve seen enough ‘long distance’ bike commuters in Marin county to think that perhaps the limiting factor here isn’t road improvements but endpoint improvements. A lot of transportation engineers and cycling advocates go on ‘discovery tours’ to places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam and think that all transportation cycling should in the end look something like it does in those cities. In my area, I’m just not convinced it ever will for many reasons including distance and topography. We have to work with what we’ve got, and what Marin has in abundance is commited older recreational cyclists. If I could offer them endpoint resources like secure attended bike parking, lockers, showers and some other associated facilities within, say 1000 meters of their work I could probably pick up more cycling transportation miles than I could with 10 more miles of class 1 bike paths. And it’d be way cheaper..

  • Alan says:


    “Why do people who choose to ride for other reasons need to be converted? Why is transportation cycling the One True Cycling? Why do we have an obsession with proselytizing?”

    I’m not sure I’d go so far as to describe bike advocacy as “proselytizing”, hence my choice of the word “recruit”, not “convert”. We’re splitting hairs now though. :-)

    The reason I’m passionate about seeing more bike commuters and transpo cyclists on the road is that every utilitarian bike trip represents one less car trip. Sport cycling is just that: sport. By definition it doesn’t reduce automobile use. I think most of us would agree that we pay a hefty price for our dependence on the automobile (and fossil fuels) in this country.


  • CedarWood says:

    It’s not that I’m trying to “convert” the sport cyclist to my obviously superior grocery-getting ways. Guess I shouldn’t have used the word “convert”.

    It’s that I’m tired of them looking down their nose at me because I run errands by bike, and would like to enable them to see equal value in transportation cycling. Which might encourage others to try transpo cycling.

  • voyage says:

    These online polls can be useful for discussion’s sake but are not scientific. In that context I think discussion could be enhanced by asking respondents two additional questions relating to age: 1) what was your age when you started riding and 2) what is your current age.

  • Sharper says:

    I’d hate answering the first question on a simplified web poll. I started riding around 5 years old on a crappy Huffy, rode my mountain bike every day through junior high and high school until I got my own car, didn’t touch a bike for five years or so, pedaled to work a few times here and there, and started riding regularly a few years ago and daily, despite the weather, last May. I couldn’t tell you whether I started riding at 5, 12, 23, 28, or 31, and I suspect I’m not alone.

  • Richard Masoner says:

    @CedarWood — what evidence do you have that avid recreational cyclists ‘disdan’ the utilitiarian? Does indifference count as disdain?

    FWIW, the only overt disdain in these comments seems to be aimed more towards roadies than anyone else.

  • Matti says:

    I am 57 years old. Youthful idealism and stubborness led me to use my bicycle in my teens (in the late -60s and 70s) as a transportation device to widen my experience of place, since I didn’t have a drivers license or car until my mid- to late- twenties. This was during the intial “ten speed boom” but it was an environment pretty much devoid of bike lanes or trails. I don’t really make a sharp distinction between transport and recreation riding (e.g. bike touring). I ride as a commuter and sometimes do weekend rides or short tours
    just for the heck of it. I am grateful that bicycling is much more accepted/encouraged than it once was. It is a very exciting time for cycling. I look forward to even more positive changes toward human powered transporation as we enter the era of peak oil.

  • Trevor says:

    One of my coworkers who is an accomplished weekend road warrior just started commuting to work. We would often talk about riding and his fear was always traffic-related. But, he finally took the plunge, picked up a cross bike, threw on a rack and is commuting to work two days out of the week. Last week, his new complaint was how heavy the cross bike felt in comparison to his road bike. He said he had a real hard time “getting in the zone” with his decreased average speed and aggressive, on-their-way-to-work motorists whizzing by.

    This moring, though, he caught me on my way into my office, and by his face I could tell he was really excited. “Getting back on my road bike after riding that heavy thing last week was amazing! The road bike feels so light!” Maybe we could bring this mindset to light- bike commuting as a training tool for your group rides. If nothing else it has encouraged my coworker to add an extra day of bike commuting to his week. I’m counting it as a win.

  • Alan says:

    @Richard, CedarWood

    This is nothing compared to the vitriol I experienced as a recumbent rider/blogger. At times there was real hatred exchanged between the upright and recumbent crowds.

    All of it is silly and counter-productive, of course.


  • MU says:

    Based on comments here and my experience, the things that keep people from transport biking are the same for everyone: perceived safety, parking, convenience, etc. I say keep addressing those issues and it doesn’t really matter what the audience is.

    That said, one place i do see a real weakness is industry support. I can’t believe how few bike shops, manufacturers, parts suppliers, etc. I see out there actively promoting transport cycling. Every other industry lobbies the government hard to get support for policies that benefit their industry. But other than some fairly small advocacy and charity ride sponsorship, I don’t see much. If I owned a bike shop, I’d be at every city council meeting talking about bike lanes, bike parking corrals, etc. etc.

  • voyage says:


    “I couldn’t tell you whether I started riding at 5, 12, 23, 28, or 31, and I suspect I’m not alone.”

    That’s an interesting answer! I think it indicates how people are in and out of cycling depending on age, career, stage of life, health, the economy, state of the industry, lot’s of things…

  • John Ferguson says:

    I think it’s time to try a little differentiation in why it might not be the best idea to drive to your destination. There are really (at least) two arguments; although we tend to conflate them it may be instructive to separate them as they have appeal to entirely different consituencies.

    1. Cars are bad because they emit gases that are harmful to the environment.

    Although this reason is disputed by some, it’s pretty commonly accepted in most areas. The tree hugger types who have money and don’t want to get around under their own power or on public transport have zealously turned to hybrid and electric cars to combat this. While helpful, your Prius is simply not as eco-friendly as my bicycle. Not by a country mile.

    It’s a little dangerous to pin your hopes on this one, as eventually we’ll figure out how to drive around without any kind of air pollution, and the argument against the environmental costs of large numbers of Lithium Ion batteries just doesn’t resonate.

    2. Cars are bad because there are too many people using them and you’ll spend most of your time stuck in traffic.

    Obviously this one has no resonance in rural or some suburban areas because it’s just not true there. In heavily trafficed suburban and urban areas, this is a great talking point especially among young people. It’s my personal favorite where I live, because you get a clear time benefit from riding past stopped cars and getting exercise (which you would have to budget time for anyway) at the same time. It’s a twofer! Which really appeals to busy professionals. This is the argument that can get sport riders to try riding to work. If you’re mostly self-interested and want to maximize your time, commuting by bike a couple days a week is a tremendous time saver.

    One comment for @Cedarwood – There is effectively no way to get anyone to think highly of what you do other than by just continuing to do it. If some racer types want to look down their noses at you, it’s really not your problem. If someone’s not interested in what you have to say, it’s time to stop talking. By just going about your business, you are modelling the change you want to see in the world. Keep doing it – you are making a difference and believe me people are noticing.

  • John Ferguson says:

    @MU, perhaps it’s not visible where you are, but the primary industry organization for the promotion of transportation cycling is Bikes Belong:

    They are supported by almost the entire U.S. domestic bike industry and they’re pretty active at the federal and state levels.

  • Stephen says:

    I have noticed, and have been quite surprised, in some of my discussions with sport cyclists that some aren’t necessarily as comfortable around cars as you might think. Where I live many sport cyclists train on our city’s extensive trail system and/or ride on the road only in group rides. Riding in a large group understandably makes them feel safer around cars. I get the sense, though, the thought of riding alone in traffic to run errands or riding in traffic at night with lights to go out to dinner, a concert or other event seems to make some sport cyclists more nervous than one might expect. I am also surprised that more sport cyclists than I imagined are fair weather bicyclists. I went to a Bike to Work week breakfast that was poorly attended presumably because morning temperatures were in the upper 40s. Somewhat chilly, but not unbearable by any means. And many are surprised that I ride in the rain.

    However, I do think because sport cyclists already have the mental and physical capacity to ride distances on a bike, they already have the skill and knowledge to begin riding bikes for transportation and could be quicker to try it than someone who is out of shape and cannot imagine riding a bike two blocks, much less two miles. Those who do not believe they are physically fit enough to ride a bike will not find the motivation to become a transportation cyclist easily. But sport cyclists have already cleared this hurdle. They know they are capable both physically and mentally. The challenge might be getting sport cyclists to realize that there is fun in transportation cycling even when not necessarily going your absolute fastest while hauling cargo and possibly wearing normal everyday clothes.

    I think the reason transportation cyclists want more recreational/sport cyclist to try transportation cycling is because the more bikes on the road, the safer we all are, one of the very same reasons sport cyclists enjoy group rides.

  • voyage says:

    @ MU:

    “If I owned a bike shop, I’d be at every city council meeting talking about bike lanes, bike parking corrals, etc. etc.”

    Good points. In my city the council meetings are more or less televised on the city cable channel. The LBS never show up. The agenda is mostly real estate developers, sharpies, and economically poor people.

  • Jim says:

    Alan, your post is a refreshing look at a topic I have been interested in for some time. Some advocates here actually seem to see sport cyclists as the enemy! Rather than as an easy allie. They espouse lycra and helmets and high viz as worn by many sport cyclists as being discouraging to new cyclists, and thusly assume such sport cyclists are owed their derision as a block to increasing the numbers of new cyclists.

    I think you are onto something, get the sports and fitness crowd to ride a bike more often, and they will be more visible, and people seeing more bikes think they are more acceptable for transport.

    More bikes = more bikes I reckon!

  • voyage says:

    Alan says in:

    @Richard, CedarWood:

    “All of it is silly and counter-productive, of course.”

    Indeed. Recumbents aren’t for me, but so what…

    “Snobbs are inescapable but you gotta laugh.”


    (there’s even a shot of a bike dog)

  • CedarWood says:

    @Richard Masoner

    Don’t know how to answer you without getting snobby or disdainful myself. Please understand I think there’s nothing wrong with road cycling for the fun of it. But…

    The local club scheduled a “Family Farm Tour” ride, and stated the farms would tag rider’s purchases for later pickup by car after the ride. I think this is silly, so I show up with light touring bike + Burley Travoy and keep up with their 15mph pace while hauling my farm produce home. Yup, some were indifferent, some thought I was nuts, while others were openly scornful. I don’t ride with them anymore.

  • Matt DeBlass says:

    What Luke was talking about is really interesting: finding a bike that makes a good commuter for the sport rider. The idea of spending a big chunk of money for a utility bike is uncomfortable to a lot of people – especially if they have to leave it locked outside while they’re at work – but a cheap bike might feel heavy, slow and uncomfortable to someone used to a racing bike.

  • Sally Hinchcliffe (aka townmouse) says:

    Ok, sorry about using the ‘convert’ word – sloppy use of language

    @Stephen’s point is a good one, that sports cyclists aren’t that comfortable in traffic – which may be partly to do with the bikes – you’re a lot safer on a slower, upright bike than head down, barrelling through traffic on your drops.

    @Alan – wonder if it’s worth guest posting on a more sport oriented forum to see if the same ‘us and them’ attitudes get expressed? It would be interesting to hear from the roadies themselves what would get them to consider using a bike as transport as well as for sport, what the perceived barriers are or whether it turns out there’s a bigger crossover than we think, it’s just that the roadies don’t dress like roadies for their rides to the market?

  • John Ferguson says:

    @Matt DeBlass – I spend all week riding to work on my 28 lb commuter with an additional 12 lbs of gear on it. When I take my 16 lb road bike out for a weekend spin, I pass almost everyone who isn’t serious or half my age (or both..). Having a heavy commuter is a quite excellent training tool!

  • kanishka azimi (new england!) says:


    i’m not big on advocacy. i’m happy there are people out there who are. and of course i love helping any individual people who come up to me for advice on transport cycling.

    but in regards to your point, i feel like mass transit riders are a stronger potential category. the willing ness to consider alternative transportation other than a car, the patience to take possibly more time on a trip, i see a smooth path to a more bicycle involved lifestyle is:

    start putting your biike on the front of the bus you ride, or your folding bike in the train you ride. then start taking some detours ont he way home or to the office, pick up some small groceries. then grow usage as you see fit from there.

    the main obstacle as someone living mostly in suburbs the past few years, is the mindset of embracing any alternative transportation. to the extreme, where i know people who use cars even when taking a shuttle or other method woudl be faster and cheaper! its the ability to imagine using other transportation that i seek in people

  • Alan says:


    “It’s the ability to imagine using other transportation that i seek in people.”

    Agreed! Sounds like a form of bike advocacy to me… ;-)

  • Robert says:

    I live in Cedar Falls, Iowa, USA. Cedar Falls is part of a small metropolitan area with the larger town being Waterloo; combined the two towns have a population of a bit over 100,000.

    The area is blessed with a very good bike trail system that I use for recreation as well as commuting to and from work. Without that trail system I’d be very unlikely to use my bike for transportation, I think it would be foolish to ride on the streets with cars going by at triple my speed. I love to ride but I love my family more and hope to spend many more years with them.

  • Susan says:

    I started riding for transportation and fitness. Easiest way to get your workout in and its fun!

  • Simon says:

    I’m of the opposite view. Sports cyclists aren’t the low-hanging fruit – they’re the people who have gone right up to the edge of transportational cycling and then explicitly rejected it.

    It’s easier to convert people who haven’t ever considered transportational cycling than people who have considered it and rejected it.

    Also, I agree with MU on the urban vs suburban division. My experience is urban, where nearly all cyclists are transportational and the sports cyclists that do exist are a small, weirdly dressed niche, rarely seen. Why would you aim at such a small, non-representative group that appears to have nothing in common with the mass of transportational cyclists?

  • Mike says:

    To the “we’re all cyclists, it’s all good” argument, I disagree. It’s like saying that the people out playing a game of soccer are the same as pedestrians walking from place to place. It’s an entirely different category of activity. Sure, they’re both on feet, but that’s where the similarity ends.

    A sport cyclist who tries running errands on a utility bicycle is likely to focus on performance comparisons to his racing bike. A non-cyclist who tries it is more likely to compare it to his usual mode of transport. Which do you think is more likely to come away with a favorable opinion of the experience?

  • Garth says:

    Marketing efforts may be more often targeted at non-cyclists because there are exponentially more of them. The category of motorist encompasses most of the adult American public. The numbers of sport and recreational cyclists are finite and fragmented. Many may have ridden a bike at some point, or have a department store Schwinn moldering in their garage. A few have some specialized knowledge and experience, but are a hard target to define – there are roadies, there are mountain bikers, etc. Specifically tailoring a marketing campaign to such a small and amorphous group is difficult, and probably appears to have little value to large organizations attempting to reach larger audiences. Better in their minds to assume no special familiarity in the audience when drafting marketing material, to have a broader appeal. Thus Alan’s perception that most marketing is aimed at non-cyclists.

    I could see a case being made for local advocates to reach out to small local clubs as a ready made audience of cyclists when seeking more personal contact. However, I am not sure the “sport-cyclist’s” experience really translates all that well to transportation cycling in the end. Assuming a person with a road bike and lots of mileage, they certainly know how to ride and have the strength and stamina to do so. However, as others have pointed out, we cannot assume traffic sense. Training rides on open roads, or in the safety of a group, with your head down in drops, does not necessarily mean you will be comfortable riding with traffic in an urban setting. Navigating traffic patterns is a very different skill.

    I also think that a sport-cyclists will tend to bring a different set of perceptions and prejudices to the table. They already have a definition in their head about what a bike is, and what biking as an activity means. These definitions may make adopting the idea of the bicycle as transportation harder than an individual who is a blank slate. A bike is actually not a bike. They would no more think about using a bike to commute or run an errand than they would about using it to fly or swim. To a non-cyclist, a transportation bike is a novelty. To a sport-cyclist, it is something foreign and inferior to what they ride.

    To the extent we’re going to make a run at them, I think the best approach is through the bike they’ve already got, just like any other individual, not a $2k Finesse or anything else. I love Breezers, but that seems like a solution to a different problem. These cyclists already have bikes. They lack motivation for a particular use. Suggesting they must give up their 16 pound sports machine for a bike with a rack and fenders is likely to make them as nonplussed as suggesting to a guy with a sports car that he must start driving a minivan. This also avoids Pete’s comment by not suggesting that any form of cyclist is superior. As Alan has suggested in previous posts, we tend to prefer what we ride. Challenging that preference is not a good place to start.

    Of course, no motorist is a blank slate. As Kanishka said, what we should look for is the ability to imagine using forms of transportation other than the automobile. John, I understand your feeling. However, we will get nowhere by villifying the car, or alienating motorists. And indeed, the automobile can be a useful tool when confronted with distance or passengers or payload or disability (at least until our infrastructure changes to afford us some more choice). What we need to do is show the illogic in choosing that tool for every transportation need. Using a car for most daily transportation is like using a sledgehammer to drive a thumbtack into a cork board. 77% of American workers commute to work alone. The average working family spends perhaps 30% of its budget on transportation. Why are they paying for gas, parking, insurance, and financing to haul their car around with them all the time? Have we become so disconnected from life that we need that empty metal shell for company? Really, an iPod will do the same, and for much less. Studies show that happiness decreases with the length of a worker’s car commute. Even if you take a worker who works, say, 14 hours a day, he’ll be a lot happier on average than one who works 12 hours but commutes 2 hours a day, even though the amount of time spent is the same.

    John, I think the number one selling point for ditching the car has got to be an appeal to peoples’ selfish interests. The environmental data is simply a fashion statement at this point, and Alan’s concern as to that tactic holds. Your bike is undoubtedly superior to a yuppie’s Prius, which must still get energy from a coal plant even when running on electricity, especially when you add in the costs of trashing the perfectly serviceable car they probably junked to incur the resource costs of building that new Prius. But again, telling them that will only alienate them. Moral superiority is an attitude we cannot afford. And heck, I am a motorist too. The goal is not to destroy the category of motorist, but to make more efficient transportation options available, so that when we look around we do not see motorists, or cyclists, or pedestrians, but individuals who just happen to be utilizing different modes of transportation at that given time.

    The costs of car ownership and use are disproportionately high, and there are a number of other options that allow for financial savings and increase health and happiness. The bicycle is only a piece. We need to make our cities more walkable as well, and improve mass transit. As John suggested, the European system is not necessarily the answer, especially in the U.S. where commuters are more likely to face significant distances and the last mile problem. Probably a combination of solutions is the answer. Look at how well the public bike share is working in China. Of course, here we face the challenge of overcoming the massive advertising budgets of the car manufacturers, and insurance companies, and all the other auto industry dependent sellers. I think the key lies in showing Americans that the current autocentric culture is robbing us of transportation choices, and that we deserve access to transportation solutions that are better suited to all of our needs than the automobile.


  • Molnar says:

    A few of points:

    1. You can see even in these comments that some people are hopelessly bigoted on the subject of people who use bicycles differently from the way they use them; it’s unfortunate. Sure, there are jerks in lycra and jerks on Surlys. So what? That doesn’t generalize to everyone in lycra or everyone on a Surly.

    2. Alan’s question doesn’t seem quite applicable to me because I started riding as a child, and I did it then (as now) for both recreation and transportation. There was no clear dividing line from that to adulthood.

    3. How do you know whether someone in lycra on a racing bike is commuting or not? You can probably tell he’s not returning home from the grocery store, but I commuted on a racing bike before I had a dedicated commuting bike, and I know people who do that still.

    4. Alan, didn’t you have a guest post a while back written by someone who disdained transportation cyclists until he saw that Andy Hampsten used a bike for transportation (yeah, I could search for it)? If you want to convince a racing/sport cyclist that transportation cycling is a good idea, you can’t beat having a winner of the Giro d’Italia as a model.

  • Alan says:


    “It’s easier to convert people who haven’t ever considered transportational cycling than people who have considered it and rejected it.”

    In the U.S., transportational cycling is such a foreign idea outside of the big urban centers that I’d argue many sport cyclists have never even considered it. Many times racers have asked us about our bikes. They often don’t know what to make of them (they often say they look “retro”), and honestly, we don’t always know how to classify them in a way that makes sense. Our bikes don’t neatly fit into the “racing bike”, “mountain bike”, “hybrid”, and “cruiser” categories commonly used in mainstream bike shops. This is a common issue in the suburban shops we visit, and I believe it’s an obstacle to reaching these potential transpo riders.


  • Alan says:


    “Alan, didn’t you have a guest post a while back written by someone who disdained transportation cyclists until he saw that Andy Hampsten used a bike for transportation…”

    That doesn’t ring a bell. Was that over at Bike Hugger perhaps?


  • Sharper says:

    “It’s a bike. You know, a two-wheeled device that’s faster and more efficient than walking, but still slow enough to enjoy going wherever you’re going,” should work. If it doesn’t, we can tweak the language.

  • Alan says:


    That’ll win ‘em over. :-)

  • SB Tim says:

    On my commute in Santa Barbara, many of the bike commuters I see every morning and evening ride road bikes and wear lycra. Maybe I see more road bikes because my commute begins on the road that is a main route to the next town over. Maybe there is a higher percentage of road bikes where people are commuting longer distances. If you live and work downtown, a beach cruiser will suffice.

    Outside of my daily commute to work, my rides have always been a mixture of recreation and utility…Except for mountain biking, there are no coffee shops on top of the ridgeline or in the back country. Actually in a way mountain biking is utilitarian as well, because many of my trail rides have been driven by the desire to explore new places, and the bike is the tool I use to get out there farther than I could hike in a day. A fun tool :)

  • Matt DeBlass says:

    Alan, as far as our transportation bikes looking “retro,” that reminds me of an article I was reading by Dave Moulton about the old British club racing scene. Apparently, decades ago when car ownership was lower, most of the club riders used the same bike for transportation and racing (the horror!). Come Saturday, they’d strip off the fenders and racks, throw a change of jersey and some tools in a musette bag and ride to the race course.

  • Erich says:

    My gut says Alan’s got a good idea. To my mind, a shift in thinking happens and there is a necessary “crossing over.” I do think the LBS should and can play a bigger role to support (maybe even drive) that–though it’s my impression that the large retailers such as REI and Performance are way ahead of them.

  • Bob Bryant says:

    If all of these sport cyclists start commuting, there will be a need for a Campy commuter component group, an 11-speed rust-buster chain, and a lot more carbon fiber commuter bikes ; – )

  • David Bolles says:

    I started riding for fun and the began commuting so much that my “sport” riding decreased. I do commute in lyrca and a jersey though. And oh my goodness… there are a lot of other people commuting in lycra too! What’s wrong with this picture?!?!

  • Mike says:


    As John suggested, the European system is not necessarily the answer, especially in the U.S. where commuters are more likely to face significant distances and the last mile problem.

    This position assumes that certain aspects of the problem are immutable, which is not true. David Hembrow argues extremely well that there’s nothing special about the Dutch people or cities that makes it impossible to build similar high-quality transport infrastructure elsewhere, and anywhere it is built, it gets used. Doing so in an American city would make it far more pleasant and safe to be there, which would attract those people who moved to the suburbs during the last century. People wouldn’t live as far from their workplaces in such large numbers. Housing developments wouldn’t be built far from shops, connected only by divided highways.

    Real large-scale change requires a long-term plan, and that means better infrastructure. By far the best models we have for this can be found in the Netherlands. It sure would be nice if a North American city would actually *try* Dutch-style roads and cycle paths before declaring that “it can’t work here”.

  • John Ferguson says:

    Actually, NYC is building infrastructure very similar to that found in European cities. They have built ‘bike boulevard’ corridors on the west side of Manhattan and they’re working pretty well. As with all infrastructure change, it’s slow going in terms of miles built and public acceptance but we’ll get there. The real challenge is in connecting the closer suburbs to the downtown core. I’d say that this is where recruiting more sport oriented cyclists will have the biggest impact

  • Darryl says:

    The best possible thing that could happen (to entice sport riders to be transportation riders too) would be a hearty endorsement from several famous sport cyclists. Since I don’t follow that sport, the only name that comes to mind is Lance Armstrong, but you see the point. If a half dozen of these guys endorsed transportation cycling, I think you’d see a multitude of followers. At least they would try it and hopefully discover that slower cycling can be fun and useful.

    My observations are that sport cyclists tend to be more group oriented and team focused than many of the transportation cyclist, using only myself as a judge. Because of this tendency, they might also be more prone to try it if a respected sport biker was also doing it. This is a very broad generalization and will certainly not fit all. But there will be some.

  • Roland Smith says:

    What if you never stopped riding a bicycle?

  • andrew says:

    I don’t think this is a good distinction. I like riding my bike, and so i ride it to work as well as on weekends. Many of these trips are not for a specific purpose, but rather include a few errands, going to work, a short mountain bike ride after work, stop for dinner someplace, come home, and so on. I think that’s part of the beauty of biking – that one can have fun while running errands, or get exercise on the way to work, or combine experiences in some other way. I’d rather not make distinctions about the purpose, but rather try to have fun on the bike whether I’m headed to the grocery, the office, or to the top of the trail.

  • Joe says:

    I agree with one of the other posters. The primary reason recreational cyclists don’t commute is convenience. First as a recreational cyclist, it takes 15-20 min. to get dressed. You need to check the weather, decide if you can get by with just shorts or will you need to wear tights. Do you have a jersey that doesn’t smell too bad. Does it go with the shorts you’ve chosen. If I take the road bike I need to find my Sidi’s with the speedplay cleats. If I take the mountain bike I need to find my spds. Do I need to take a jacket in case it’s raining after work? Decisions decisions.. This is justifiable when outfitting for a 2-3 hr. ride, for the 30 min. commute to work it’s a poor return on investment. It doesn’t have to be this way, but this is how many recreational cyclists begin their “ride”. I’ve considered myself a cyclist for about 35 years. I’ve only started commuting regularly to work in the last year. I’m intimately familiar with every excuse :)

  • Michaelniel says:

    I have to admit that even as a long-time bike commuter AND sport rider, I only seem to have motivation for one or the other in my weekly schedule. On weeks that I prioritize riding to work, I rarely get in a sport ride, and vice versa. In fact, I recently purchased a new sport bike (specialized roubaix), and my trusty commuter hasn’t seen any action in weeks. Week after week, I have that little talk with myself that I’m going to do both, but it just never comes to pass. As a result, I’m getting a lot lower gas mileage on my daily commute than I would prefer!

  • voyage says:

    Perhaps the low-hanging fruit would fall for carbon folders:

    The Surpaz series (CR1.0, CR87, CR3.0)

    Bring money, I think.

    Interestingly, Norco is listed as USA/Canada dealer.

  • Britt says:

    I like this sentiment. I think increasing ridership for everyday means is a great call. When more and more people get out and do regular errands or commute by bike- biking will seem like a mainstream transportation choice- and not just a fringe choice or hobby.

  • Mike says:

    @John Ferguson:

    Actually, NYC is building infrastructure very similar to that found in European cities.

    Not to imply that New York City isn’t making substantial good changes, but I have not seen anything from StreetFilms or others that makes me think they intend to build real Dutch-style cycle paths and road junctions. Take a look at this video and tell me if you’ve seen anything like it in New York:

    Also, there is a wide variety of European bicycle infrastructure. Here’s a comparison of German and Dutch cycle paths:

    We’ve got one example of a country that has solved most of the transportation problems we talk about. But instead of emulating Groningen or Amsterdam, New York is emulating Portland. Why?

  • Eli says:

    I learned to ride a bike at age 30. My wife and I moved from a sprawling suburb where we had to drive everywhere to a lively urban area. We were surrounded by coffee shops, restaurants, theaters, &c, too far away to reasonably walk to but close enough that I felt like a jerk driving to them. My wife said, “They’re perfect bike distance.”

    So I got into cycling specificially for transportation. I had the mindset from the get-go that a bicycle is something you use to get around and do stuff, not something you throw on the back of a car to take someplace else. I’d watched Olympic cycling races, and I understood mountain bike racing, but until I became more involved in bike culture, I had no idea that ordinary people did centuries and multi-day rides and…Velodrome? Seriously?

    As a transpo. cyclist, I *love* that I can throw on my helmet and hop on my bike in pretty much whatever I’m wearing (even a skirt). I love that I can stop by the library on my way home from work and toss a book on the front rack. I have no interest in shiny, fancy racing gear, and the thought of planning and executing a century (gel packs and energy drinks and bike shorts, oh my!) makes me tired.

    Many sport riders, OTOH, thrive on challenge. How far can I push myself? What old threshold can I smash? Where’s the challenge in toodling a mile and a half, with traffic and stop lights and speed limits, to the grocery store? Maybe, if we can find a way to make it a game of some sort, more sport riders will be interested in transpo. cycling.

  • Garth says:

    @ Mike, I think that piece of my comment is a little out of context. I absolutely agree that many individuals could choose to live closer to work. Many make the tradeoff of long commutes for lower housing costs, not realizing all of the implications and costs. We need to do a lot better at considering our priorities. And I would love segregated bike infrastructure. However, I still do not think the Dutch infrastructure is necessarily a panacea, and there are other considerations.

    American cities are generally much newer and have been built along different lines. Sadly, mostly autocentric lines for the sprawling suburban model. We first need to redesign our urban spaces to make them livable and pleasant for humans, rather than merely convenient for cars. I think that actually means primarily walking, with bikes only a secondary consideration, and cars far down the list. We also need to make our urban land productive again, so that we are not offloading all of our food and material production to distant rural land, which creates a lot of waste. Frankly, we also need to make housing more affordable, even after the housing bubble burst. How we do this on top of the current poorly planned sprawl is a real challenge, and right now most cities lack the foresight or will to even attempt it.

    Obviously, if people had shorter commutes, the bicycle would become a more effective tool, and we could lessen our need for mass transit. However, we also have a much more dispersed population than European countries. Long distance traveling cannot be entirely avoided by shortened work commutes. I live as locally as I can, but doing so without a car would be impossible for me with our current infrastructure. I think considering all options and systems is worthwhile in attempting to figure out what will work best. If I could hop on a train when traveling out of town for work, and grab a local bike to ride a mile or two to my destination, I probably would not need a car at all.

    Joe, bike commuting should be a lot easier than what you are describing. If a commuter cannot find a way to make it easy and efficient, he is going to be seriously discouraged from continuing. With practice, you can find techniques to streamline the process, and take full advantage of time savings elsewhere. For instance, it is much quicker for me to get in or out of my office building on my bike – just hop on the elevator and ride out the front door. The car takes a lot longer, getting to the parking garage, driving down the ramps, and exiting. Even if I am changing clothes, there is no net loss of time for me, especially if I am really only dressing once more than I would have to without the ride (and sometimes I’ll just wear work clothes). And seriously, how can it take you 20 minutes to get dressed for biking? That’s longer than my entire commute, including dressing. You must cut a stunning figure on your bike! :)

    @ Michaelniel, I too find that I have minimal energy for recreational or sport riding. When it’s the weekend, I generally want to do things _other_ than bike. I get enough of that during the work week.


  • Mike says:


    You’ve got cause and effect reversed. We can’t first get people to move closer to their offices, et cetera, then build the infrastructure for bicycling to these places. Likewise, we can’t wait until we’ve got a large modeshare for transportation cycling, then build cycle paths. The infrastructure is what causes people to start using bicycles for transportation en masse. It’s what causes people to move closer to where they work.

    Obviously, if people had shorter commutes, the bicycle would become a more effective tool…

    No. If well-designed infrastructure was in place, the bicycle would become a more effective tool, and people would want shorter commutes. Now, most people don’t see any advantage in changing their commute from 30 miles to 10 miles; either way, cycling doesn’t seem like a viable, pleasant way to get there. With safe, segregated roads and junctions designed to eliminate conflict, there will be a reason for people to make different transportation choices. Waiting until people have already changed their habits, then giving them a reason to change those habits is a nonsensical idea.

    Recruitment efforts and education are fine by me, whether we’re engaging sport cyclists or non-cyclists, but the only thing that will make a significant long-term impact to decrease waste in transportation (and all of the negative externalities incurred) is major changes in infrastructure. Why keep making these excuses?

    As far as redesigning urban spaces to make them more pleasant for humans, the best way to achieve that is by reducing automobile use. Walking is nice, but bicycling gets people much farther, faster, with less effort, and allows them to carry more to boot. High-quality cycle paths that turn automobile trips into bicycle trips are a very effective way to make things more pleasant for pedestrians (and also for both cyclists and motorists).

  • John Ferguson says:

    @Mike: ‘Take a look at this video and tell me if you’ve seen anything like it in New York”.


    It’s not exactly the same, and we aren’t building bike paths to the building side of street parking, at least not that I know of. I can think of arguments for and against both ways of doing it, my main point being that we *are* starting to build true class 1 (segregated) bike paths in the urban core of some U.S. cities. Some of what you see in the video you show can be considered class 1 and some not. It doesn’t really matter to me, my point was that we are starting to build segregated bike facilities in the urban cores of some of our cities. Can be do better? Certainly, but it’s disingenuous to suggest that we’re not trying at all.

    @Garth – I actually have moved further away from my work twice in the last 10 years for a couple of reasons. I wanted to live closer to protected park space and I wanted to have a longer bike commute. I realize that I’m not in the majority of people in wanting a longer commute, but in my experience a one way commute of 5 miles or less is too short to bike on a regular basis to be happy with it.

    I’m now about 8 miles from a ferry that I sometimes take and 25 miles from my house and I ride all the way in a couple times a week. I see lots of ‘sport riders’ who are clearly riding into the city for work. They rarely are using transportation bikes as we’ve defined them – most are on racing bikes wearing lycra and carrying their stuff in a backpack. Even though I ride with a rack and panniers, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked about how that’s working for me. I seriously doubt that they have any interest in buying a bike specifically for commuting. I have no idea if they have other bikes they use for local shopping trips and other short distance rides, but in riding to work they are meeting the criteria we’ve set for ‘converted sport cyclists’.

  • Garth says:

    Mike, I am not sure what conversation we are having. I never said that infrastructure must wait for a change in behavior. This post is about the efficacy of marketing transportation cycling to sport cyclists. I think we would generally all agree that more bikeable infrastructure would make that marketing job easier. As Alan pointed out, the biggest deterrent is being uncomfortable riding in traffic. That was the basis of his hope that sports cyclists who have ridden in traffic would be more amenable.

    Like I concluded in my initial response, I believe that the only real hope to effect a change in behavior is to provide more efficient transportation choices to the public, including building bike infrastructure. In other words, your position agrees with mine. I think the sad reality is that if we waited for better infrastructure to ride our bikes, we would never get to ride. If you have a better idea of how to jumpstart intelligent city planning and land use, and get the cities to build us better infrastructure, please share it! My city council is currently mired in efforts that seem designed to make the situation worse.


  • Mike says:

    @John Ferguson:

    That video shows a very nice recreational multi-use path (though at least there’s a separate sidewalk for pedestrians). Not the same thing at all. It borders a river on one side, so it doesn’t really have any street junctions. One of the most important features of the Dutch cycle paths is the design of the intersections, and that’s what’s in most dire need of improvement in American cities. The fact that you seem to think the New York City Greenway is in some way equivalent — or even superior — to the cycle paths that exist on almost every city street in the Netherlands is very disheartening.


    I think the sad reality is that if we waited for better infrastructure to ride our bikes, we would never get to ride.

    I agree. But we’re not talking about you, or me, or Alan, or almost anyone else who reads this. We’re talking about the vast majority of people who are not riding their bikes for transportation. I’m saying that only way to get more than another drop in the bucket is to build that infrastructure.

    If I had a trick for getting governments to see the light, I’d be using it. Where I live now (Winnipeg), the city just got through “building” a whole bunch of new bike lanes — in door zones and debris-filled gutters. There’s a “bike boulevard” at the end of my block, and I usually go to the opposite end and use a parallel street instead, because they did such a bad job of it (it’s great for driving really fast, though!). I would definitely recommend reading David Hembrow’s blog, if you haven’t already, especially the link I included above about excuses.

  • John Ferguson says:

    All this talk about getting sport riders to use their bikes for transportation got me thinking about riding my sport bike in to work. I brought extra clothes and other stuff I need at work in over the last couple of days and this morning I rode my 16 lb carbon fiber road bike in to work without a backpack or anything. It was awesome – hills were a breeze, I was flying on the bike path at 22+ with a slight tailwind. I seriously doubt you’ll be able to transfer that experience to a fully equipped commuter bike unless it has power assist..

    @Mike, if you watch the Dutch cycle path video you posted above the narrator talks continuously about all the problems with that particular system, including commenting on dangerous intersections, trash and pedestrians in the bike lane, etc. No system is perfect and the Dutch system is no exception. I’m sure it’s better than 95% of what’s available in this country, but I’m just as sure that it’s not solely or even primarily responsible for the transportational modal share that the Dutch system carries.

    If you plopped a complete system of cycle tracks akin to the Dutch system you so adore into Kansas City or Des Moines you would certainly improve the mode share of cycling there but not even close to the level that it’s at in the Netherlands. It’s likely a combination of a lot of things, some of which are in our control and some of which are not. Infrastructure improvements are a necessary but not sufficient part of it, I think.

    There’s a sticky little component to increasing mode share that maybe we can agree is called culture. How do you change the culture in an area to be more open and accomodating of cycling as a primary means of transportation? Infrastructure plays a part in this, certainly, but there are lots of other hurdles to cross as well. Sounds like the topic for perhaps another post..

  • Alan says:


    In the Netherlands, besides having so many incentives to ride bicycles, they also have many disincentives to stay out of their cars. I don’t believe we’ll see anything close to what they have until we adopt a similar carrot/stick approach. And I totally agree, it will take a fundamental shift in our culture away from our current auto-centricity to see the kind of bike ridership we’re hoping for.


  • Mike says:

    @John Ferguson:

    Please watch that video again, and pay attention to both sets of captions. One set (in blue) is quotes from those who argue against separated paths for cyclists, mainly from vehicular cyclists in North America and the UK. The green comments are the ones that apply to the Dutch cycle path that is seen in the video. The whole purpose of the video was to illustrate that those arguments against sidepaths are not true, at least if the roads are well-designed and well-maintained.

    @John, Alan:

    I put it to you that the “cycling culture” in the Netherlands, inasmuch as such a thing exists, was created as a result of the high-quality infrastructure for cycling that has been built in the last few decades.

    You naysayers may be right, but my main point is simply that there is no American city that is even attempting to build roads and junctions that are up to Dutch standards for eliminating conflict between bicycles and automobiles (in either time or space). There are plenty of people who argue that “it can’t be done here”, but I haven’t seen any reason why not. I’ve heard a lot of excuses, but there are easy answers to all of them. Many of them are based on faulty assumptions, and the assumption that American car culture is immutable is probably one of them. Car culture didn’t exist until the government created an infrastructure that made it cheap, convenient, safe (sort of), and pleasant to drive cars everywhere. If we make it cheap, convenient, safe, and pleasant to cycle instead, what makes you think that people would continue to reject that option in the long term?

  • Alan says:


    Before I respond to a couple of points, let me say that I agree with almost everything you’ve said.

    “There are plenty of people who argue that “it can’t be done here”, but I haven’t seen any reason why not. I’ve heard a lot of excuses, but there are easy answers to all of them.”

    I’m all for widespread bike infrastructure as seen in the Netherlands. The question is how to get it built in this economy and political climate. I’m sincerely interested to hear your thoughts on how to solve the twin problems of insufficient funding and insufficient political will to implement such sweeping changes to our transportation infrastructure.

    “If we make it cheap, convenient, safe, and pleasant to cycle instead, what makes you think that people would continue to reject that option in the long term?”

    Perhaps you’re right, though I’d argue that bicycling is already cheap, convenient, safe, and pleasant in some locations, yet it seems that isn’t always enough (the lightly used bike trails in my hometown provide one example). I believe we may also need to discourage automobile use by making driving more expensive and less convenient.


  • John Ferguson says:

    @Mike, @Alan:

    I guess we went off topic again – but since this is a topic of almost endless discussion anywhere that bike is spoken I might as well continue the thread. We have a bit of a chicken/egg problem that we can’t directly resolve.

    Biking is as cheap as it’s going to get and about as easy as it will ever get in my area – we have very good facilities and I think it’s extremely safe to ride where I live. Climate is good, lots of bike parking. And we can’t crack 5% mode share. I personally don’t believe that making things better for cyclists would convince enough people to switch to make a big difference in that number. Maybe we get to 7 or 8% with the best infrastructure currently in use. If prices go up or convenience goes down for driving, then we start to push into the double digits.

    I had an epiphany while on a cross country tour years ago (when I had the time for such a thing!) – In America, Comfort is King. The issue with bikes for most is that they’re just not comfortable enough. They can’t compete with a steel and glass enclosure that has a stereo, 6 way adjustable seats and air conditioning. I think that’s the bottom line, and unfortunately there’s very little that can be done about it. We can make it expensive, we can make it hard but that won’t change the basic equation in most people’s minds.

  • Scott says:

    “They already understand the health benefits of bicycling, they’re well-invested in gear, and they’re well-acclimated to riding in traffic and sharing the road with cars. The only thing missing is the desire to use their bicycle for transportation.”

    The other thing that’s missing is a practical bicycle. They get converted by trying to commute with their “recreational” bike and a backpack and see the downsides of it. Hopefully, they’ll see people riding more practical bikes with racks and fenders or get turned on to websites like this one to help show them the way.

    I encourage people to keep multiple bicycles. Lots of recreational riders have both road and mountain bikes anyway, so the concept is familiar to them. I tell them to just get a nice used touring bike and build it up as a dedicated commuter.

  • Mike says:


    Since I’m only familiar with the bike trails in your hometown from your beautiful photographs, I have two ideas for you to consider. The trail(s) that I’ve seen in those photos do not appear to be near roads, which certainly makes them more pleasant to ride on, but…

    1. Do these trails form a complete transportation network in your town, or do they only connect to a few endpoints? My wife would ride her bike every day to get to work, but she takes the bus instead because the only ways to get there involve either a very circuitous route or a very busy high-speed street with narrow lanes and parked cars. We’ve got quite a few bike trails in Winnipeg, but almost all of them were built for recreation; they don’t really go anywhere, and whereever they cross a street, cyclists are expected to dismount and walk.

    2. Perhaps there’s a visibility issue that contributes to the lack of usage. Many “trails” are essentially invisible to drivers. The Minuteman Trail in Massachusetts goes right through the centers of both Arlington and Lexington, and if you’re in a car driving past, you have to be looking for the entrances in order to spot them. I don’t see any roads in your photos of bike trails. It’s possible most people simply don’t know they exist, or don’t know where they go.

    @Alan, @John Ferguson:

    You both said that you already find cycling for transportation to be safe, convenient, cheap, and pleasant. So do I. But most people I meet (and there are quite a few people who stop to remark on the bakfiets I ride) obviously do not. John, your supposistion about the small increase in mode share with the best possible infrastructure is not supported by any evidence (as any prediction I could offer would be likewise unsupported).

    You do make a very good point about comfort, but there are many kinds of comfort. Even if we’re talking strictly about physical comfort, I’ve spent two winters in Winnipeg now. The first I got around in a car, and the second on a bicycle. I would say that I spent a lot more time being uncomfortably cold in the car; it takes a while for the engine to heat up when it’s -30 degrees Celsius. On the bike, I was almost never cold. In the summer, it can be truly horrible to get into a car that’s been sitting in the hot sun for a few hours, but one can ride a bicycle at a pace where the motion of the body through the air provides more cooling than the exertion causes heating. These ideas may seem odd and far-fetched to many people, especially sport cyclists, just like the idea of riding a bicycle in a fully-upright position, but that’s how they do things in places where cycling has a large transportation mode-share, and they do it that way because it works well, not because of some special properties of their culture(s) that cannot be replicated in fat, lazy North America.

    I put it to you that there is nothing special about the Dutch people or culture that makes them enthusiastic about cycling. As I understand it, most Dutch expatriates in America do not use bicycles for transportation. Perhaps we have a tendency to assume that they all must be obsessed with bicycles, because the only people who use them much around here are the few who are like that. We are the oddballs on one end of the spectrum. The way to get more people doing what we do is not to change the people and make them oddballs like us; it’s to change the roads so that ordinary people will want to do it, too.

  • Garth says:

    I agree with Alan, we also need to disincentivize the car, either with taxes comparable to Europe and/or by making it less convenient to get a car into and around the urban areas. However, there is still more at play here in the states. Cars are already cripplingly expensive for many, and, along with easy credit, have been impoverishing the middle class for decades. The difference between $2.00 and $4.00 gas is probably the least of it. The financing charges alone are insane. Unfortunately, people simply do not recognize these costs. That to me suggests that the car culture in this country is, if not immutable, extremely deeply ingrained. And any challenge to that car culture must overcome the massive resistance of the advertising budgets that inundate Americans with images of cars every day. I think at least 50% of the ads I see are car related, when you add up ads from the car manufacturers, the insurance companies, the banks, etc. And most of the other 50% of ads probably have cars in there somewhere too. That’s an awful lot of car culture to overcome. There have been some studies recently suggesting that the youngest generations are starting to abandon this car culture in favor of an electronics culture, but that will be a slow change, and I do not think cell phones with huge monthly access fees is that much of an improvement. In the meantime, any ideas to address the lack of funding and political will (the latter being the larger issue in my mind) are more than welcome.


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