A fellow bike blogger recently asked me, “What is the one reason, above all others, that you ride a bicycle?”
By now, most of us are aware of the many benefits of riding bicycles for transportation, some of which include:
- the health benefits that come from daily exercise;
- the surprising amount of money that can be saved by eliminating an automobile;
- the greater connection with our community that comes from being out and exposed to our neighbors;
- the increased appreciation of nature that comes from daily exposure to the elements; and
- the smaller environmental impact that results from reducing automobile use.
But beyond all of these tangible benefits, the primary reason I always come back to the bike is the simple feeling of gliding through the world under my own power. Simply put, there’s nothing that provides quite the same sense of pure freedom and childlike joy as riding a bicycle. For me, all of the rational arguments for riding a bicycle pale in comparison.
While we’re at it, we might as well see how folks feel about those other nerdy bikes, recumbents. So, let’s ask the same question. How about you? Would you feel self-conscious riding a recumbent bicycle? Does the look of a recumbent turn you off or would you feel comfortable riding a bike on which you lean back into a seat? (I’m talking purely self-image here, not practical reasons related to bike design.)
PS – I rode recumbents for years, so I’ve earned the right to call them “nerdy”. —Alan
I get the feeling that one of the main reasons folding bikes aren’t more popular among urban bike commuters is the fact that they look different than “normal” bicycles (I’ve actually had people comment that they look like “those little bicycles bears ride in the circus”… LOL). After figuring out how incredibly useful they are for city riding and multi-modal commuting, I no longer see them as “weird” or “nerdy” at all. In fact, when I see a person on a nice folder, my gut reaction is one of admiration for the wise and enlightened choice they’ve made.
I’m not saying folding bikes are the end all, but they’re certainly powerful tools that would probably be much more widely used if they didn’t so strongly go against the grain of what we intuitively think of as “bike”. I suspect this is the same reason recumbents have never gained in popularity past their measly 0.5% of market share.
What about you? Assuming you had the need for one, would you feel self-conscious riding a folding bike? Does the look of tiny wheels turn you off or would you feel comfortable riding a bike with 16″ wheels? (I’m talking purely self-image here, not practical reasons related to bike design.)
“Roughing it” in the ‘burbs
I was chatting with a colleague the other day when the subject of commuting came up. When he learned that we’re a family of 5 with one car, we live in the suburbs, and that we use our bicycles as our primary mode of transportation, he seemed impressed, even awestruck. He thought car-light/car-free lifestyles are only for the young, hardy, and hip who live within urban areas. The idea that a garden variety suburban family in a garden variety suburb could live a car-light lifestyle seemed simultaneously puzzling and incredible to him.
It’s not heroic and it’s not rocket science. The fact that we can do it proves that riding a bicycle for transportation is a simple thing that almost anyone can do.
Here’s the news: we’re nothing special. We truly are just a typical middle-class family living a typical middle-class life. We’re not athletes; we’re not adventurers; we’re not risk takers; we’re not anything other than an average family who, whenever possible, just happen to rides bikes, walk, and use transit instead of driving a car. It’s not heroic and it’s not rocket science. The fact that we can do it proves that riding a bicycle for transportation is a simple thing that almost anyone can do.
We frequently talk to non-riders who imagine using bicycles for transportation is difficult. Consequently, we feel a strong need to show people otherwise (that’s one of the primary motivators for running this blog). With that in mind, we’d love to hear about how you incorporate bicycles into your unexceptional lifestyle. If you’re just a boring, run-of-the-mill bike commuter/transpo rider like us, we’d love to hear about it in the comment area below. Let’s let potential utility bicyclists know that it’s not difficult to leave their cars at home. Thanks in advance for sharing!
Mixtes were traditionally known as “women’s” or “girls” bikes, the concept being a low top tube is more well-suited to riding and mounting/dismounting in a skirt. As that stereotype has begun to fade in recent years, more gender-neutral frame designs with low-slung top tubes are showing up. Two examples that come to mind are the Rivendell Yves Gomez and the Civia Loring. When I was a kid, a boy wouldn’t be caught dead on a “girls” frame, but these days, more people of both genders are appreciating the ease of use step-through frames provide.
Ironically, some of the most “macho” frames out there have steeply sloping top tubes and nearly qualify as “step-through”. I’m thinking of modern mountain bike frames and some compact road frames. These frames differ from traditional step-throughs in that they don’t have the seat tube that extends vertically above the sloping top tube (thus requiring extremely long seat posts), but otherwise the top tubes can be nearly as low as on some mixtes.
Take a look at the photo above. I think it’s interesting that these designs are fairly similar, yet because they come from different lineages our perceptions of them are so different. The Raleigh on the right is clearly gender neutral, yet the mixte is clearly a “woman’s” bike. Of course, the way they’re outfitted plays a big part in this case; the pale blue paint and wicker basket exude a definite feminine vibe, whereas the silver and black motif of the Raleigh is more “manly”.
Rivendell came up against this self-image issue frequently enough that they took their Betty Foy mixte, painted it black, and renamed it the “Yves Gomez” for those men who wanted a step-through but didn’t feel comfortable riding what they perceived to be a woman’s bike. I have to admit, if I was going to buy a Betty for myself, I’d probably go with the Yves version instead. That’s probably a reflection of my own insecurities more than anything… LOL.
The bike that probably does the best job of blurring the line between what is traditionally thought of as a woman’s bike and a man’s bike is the Civia Loring (above). The top tube just slightly swoops, and it’s just barely low enough to step over, yet the bike doesn’t clearly say “girl’s bike” or “boy’s bike”. I think the design is subtle and genius, and I really appreciate the fact that it so successfully mixes up and messes with the old streotypes.
I’m fortunate enough to have a secure bike locker at both the train station near my home and in a parking garage near where I work. Having secure bike storage significantly increases my commuting options while allowing me to ride nicer bikes on my commute. In both cases, the bike lockers are managed by the cities in which they reside. On one end of my commute, the locker is free (a $25 refundable deposit is required for the key), on the other, there’s a $5 per month charge. In both cases, I’m thankful that such a service is available.
Unfortunately, there are not enough lockers to accommodate all of the bike commuters who want one. In one city, 49 lockers (at the cost of approximately $50,000) are spread among a handful of transit stations and local employers. Unfortunately, only 12 of those lockers are available to the general public, with the other 37 being provided to 5 of the largest employers in the area for use by their employees. There is always a waiting list for the public lockers and we could easily triple the number available for public use. Perhaps the companies who received free lockers could subsidize a few more for the general public!
The city at the other end of my commute has an undisclosed number of lockers and “bullpens” available for public use for a nominal fee (bullpens are secure, fenced bike parking areas that are shared among a number of users). As I mentioned above, fees run approximately $5 per month. The lockers and bullpens are spread among 7 parking garages throughout the downtown area. Like in the other city, there is a perennial waiting list for these lockers. At my work alone, there seems to always be at least one or two people waiting for a spot; I can only imagine how long the list might be for the entire city.
Do you have bike lockers in your city? Are there enough to accommodate everyone who wants one or do you need more? If your city doesn’t currently provide secure bike parking, would it be beneficial to you if they made it available in the future?
We transpo bicyclists spend a lot of time talking among ourselves about what makes a good bike for commuting, getting around, and getting things done. It makes for fun discussion and I never seem to tire of it. For me, there’s a short list of basic requirements any bike I use for daily transportation should have (your list is probably different):
- Tires over 30mm in width
- Front and rear racks
- A comfortable saddle
- Sufficiently low and wide gearing
- Sufficiently powerful brakes
- And, finally (and most importantly), it should fit
Once I go beyond those basic requirements, I’m pretty sure I’ve entered the realm of splitting hairs. Things such as frame material, dropout design, drivetrain design, TIG versus lugged, sloped versus level, high versus low (trail), quill versus threadless, and on-and-on, are, in my opinion, subjective and personal, and I certainly don’t think they’ll keep most bikes from getting the job done.
In my stable, I have two bikes that I normally think of as being as different as apples and oranges, but when I step back and look at them from outside the little transpo bike bubble I live in, they really are very similar. My Rivendell Sam Hillborne and my Civia Loring seem quite different when looked at from my usual narrow perspective, but when compared to a carbon racing bike, a downhill mountain bike, or even a simple fixed gear city bike, their similarities suddenly jump out. The fact is, as much as I focus in on the differences between the two bikes, they both perfectly meet all of the requirements on my “must-have” list.
This tendency to focus in on the subtle differences between our specialized machines is normal human stuff. I see the same type of thing (and partake in it) in all sorts of endeavors ranging from photography, to fly fishing, to cooking and music. I think many of us enjoy digging deeply into our specialized niches, regardless of whether what we’re doing is actually comparing apples to oranges or just splitting hairs.