Thursday, January 04, 2007

Time for a Revolution!

King Karl's post from the other day got me thinking as I followed the comment thread;
Al posted at 7:02 PM
I think that for commuting to be the next be thing, it will need a combination of things: 1) tax breaks/incentives for people to ride to work and/or employers to promote/support bike commuters 2) local communtities to support/promote the bike commuting - especially in smaller towns and the midwest and finally (and not necessarily my favorite but it has worked for hybrids) celebrities getting behind the movement.

To which I replied-

Tim Jackson- Masi Guy posted at 8:13 PM
Al- good points. However, the main thing we need more than anything else?

Ready? Million dollar answer to all the problems right here;

We need more/ better bike paths. No matter of incentives will bring people out of the cars just to do battle with other people still sitting in their cars. If they feel that they are in danger, they won't ride. Most cities have little to no infrastructure to support cycling as a form of transportation.'

look at Portland, arguably the most bike friendly city in the US and they still have major concerns due to bike-friendly infrastructure. Just go to BikePortland.Org and read some of the threads there. Best bike city in the US and they still recognize a need for better bike paths, etc. And that's in Portland. Go to any other city and it is exponentially worse.

IB Rich Kelly got the thought rolling here- we need to support the folks who advocate for the cycling community and we need to get involved locally to improve conditions for average commuters or it will never, ever hit that critical mass that we need to really make a long lasting impact and effect change.

This is great stuff for another post...

And here we are...

I know that our new contributor Phil Gomes will have lots of ideas about all of this and he chimed in on the comments already. Phil's been behind this kind of thing for some time now. I have some thoughts about all of this as well... of course, or I wouldn't be here right now.

Here in the US, as in many countries, there simply isn't the infrastructure in place to support average folks becoming commuters. It just doesn't exist consistently on a city, county, state, regional or national level. Some places do a fine job of working with the cycling community and provide safe routes and lanes/ paths for cyclists, but they are exceptions and not the norm at all. We have to work to support a dramatic shift in thinking about bicycle commuting not just for the consumers who will be riding the bikes, but also for the folks who control the money that can provide the needed infrastructure.

The future health of the cycling industry is very closely pinned to bicycle commuting becoming a viable means for people to get back and forth to home, work and school. The way we live is so different now though and people are living farther and farther away from where they work. We have to help these folks by either providing safe routes for them or by having public/ mass transportation set up that accommodates bicyclists with bike racks and lockers. Roads are congested with cars these days, in most places it seems, and few new cyclists feel comfortable jumping into traffic. Sure, those of us who have been riding for years might not have a problem with it and might even wonder why there is such a fuss about cars, but we are not the future consumers and the key holders of the industry's future- it's the folks who don't already ride or don't think of commuting by bicycle. We have to help create a better riding environment for them.

Every time gas prices jump, some folks within the industry jump up and down and proclaim that the promised boom is now here... and then that boom turns in to a short spike (if anything) and fades away. Sustainable growth in the bike industry is not dependent on gas prices alone. Until US gas prices hit $10.00 per gallon, people are not going to get out of their cars and put their lives at risk to ride a bike to work, the store or school. It is false hope to believe that gas alone can save us.

So, before we start proclaiming that product innovation or gas prices are going to bring the "boom" we all desperately want to see in this wonderful business, we need to donate time and/ or money to our favorite bicycle advocacy group/s- whether it happens to be IMBA, Bikes Belong, your local bike-friendly congressperson or the radicals at Critical Mass.

The future of our industry is in their hands; are you/ we giving them the tools they need to win the fight for us?

Tim Jackson
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser

Posted by Tim Jackson at 11:20 PM


  1. Anonymous Anonymous posted at 2:50 AM  
    Sure a policy focus is required, but many people would say that we would say that despite it being the truth.

    At every level we see the successes and failures in various cities because of these policy, but in many ways it's still up to us to plug away and do it for ourselves.

    One thing I don't want cycling to become is a rent seeking activity, infrastucture should be the beginning and end of it because I believe that Govt is best placed to deliver that need, the rest should come from us, the industry, activists, and private and corporate entities.

    I also agree that we shouldn't wait for energy circumstances to change in our favour, it does create a response, but what if solutions in energy generation were found allowing the congestion to continue? Then we'd still be where we are now.

    Sustainable growth in bicycles is possible, it's happening here in Australia, (I've just posted on it at my blog) don't ask me how 'cause I'm buggered if I can figure it out, but for the past five years we've outsold vehicles, this despite infrastructure weaknesses, especially in Sydney.

    Clearly, consumers are voting with their wheels, the problem is that much of this is ahead of policy, but you know sometimes you have to lead a horse to water, which consumers are doing given the metrics, I'm just sitting here wondering when policy makers are gonna start drinking the Kool Aid.
  2. Anonymous Anonymous posted at 7:53 AM  
    If you want to be part of the revolution, you must be at the National Bike Summit in Washington DC coming up in March.

    This event is THE place to network with other advocates, find out what's going on around the country, and, most importantly visit your state's congressional delegation.

    I went last year and it was an amazing experience.

    Our elected officials must hear from us in person why spending more money of bicycle infrastructure is important (not all of them read blogs) ...and we can't sit back and hope someone else will take care of this for us.

    We need more folks from the industry to start connecting the dots between advocacy and their bottom line.

    It's great to see so many solid commuter bikes on the market...but now we must work to make sure people feel safe using them as their everyday transportation.

    With the recent swing in momentum on Capitol Hill we have a golden opportunity to get more funding for bike projects than ever before.

    We should also remember to talk about how cycling fits into the the bigger issues of health, mobility, and livability.

    I plan on going and blogging from the convention center, just like I did last year.

    I hope to see some of you there...
  3. Blogger Web posted at 11:27 AM  
    As Jonathan Maus wrote, it IS important to promote cycling to politicians and attend events like the National Bike Summit; however, it is the grass roots efforts to build bike/ped infrastructure that deserve the real industry attention. Case in point: FOLC

    The Friends of the Lafitte Corridor (a.k.a. FOLC; website: is a non-profit organization cobbled together by regular folks trying to breathe life back into New Orleans after the devastation of Katrina. FOLC is spearheading the drive for a linear park through the Lafitte Corridor.

    Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the city's master transportation plan called for the corridor to become a bike trail and over $300,000 was made available for the project. Although the plan still calls for the trail and the city owns the property, city officials are busy concentrating on more pressing, major emergencies & pressure on City Hall to sell portions of the land to private investment groups is great. If the land is broken up, the trail is lost.

    FOLC has only become organized within a matter of months; yet, it has already raised an additional $100,000 for the trail through various initiatives. What we need are leaders in industries like cycling, healthcare and recreation to help us spread word of the project and the benefits it will bring to the community.

    Volunteer led groups like FOLC have created bike trails, paths and routes throughout the country. Trails breed new cyclists. More cyclists lead to more voices clamoring for improved cycling infrastructure. When more politicians sense a ground swell of interest in cycling infrastructure, they'll jump on it.

    By the way, if you'd like to learn more about various bike trail projects, I write regularly about them and other cycling issues in

    Larry Lagarde
    Vice President
    Friends of the Lafitte Corridor
  4. Blogger Guitar Ted posted at 3:42 PM  
    Tim, Great discussion here, lots of passion and ideas.

    I live in an area that has a metro population of approximately 100,000 and we have about 100 miles of paved cycling paths in that area.

    We do have some commuting, but it is overshadowed by the vast recreational use over the warmer months of the year. Commuting is a far fetched idea in the minds of most cyclist minds.

    Why? Because of the perception that commuting is a daunting task. Not many can fathom riding more than a few miles. This comes from talking with "cyclists" that frequent the shop where I work.

    What to do? Well, besides the fine suggestions given here, I would say that folks just need to see that it can be done. And not by some "fancy clad" cyclist type. Maybe show them that you can indeed ride in your jeans, slacks, or what have you. Check out the Euro commuting scene as an example.

    We tend to set the bar too high and discourage folks. This extends to how we as cyclists dress, talk, and perform.

    Baby steps in the right direction will result in dyed in the "wool" cyclists more than how we approach things now.
  5. Anonymous Anonymous posted at 1:32 PM  
    Hi all.

    First - I really enjoy this blog and Tim's "Masi Guy" blog - read them both regularly.

    Me (quick as possible): 45 year old bike junkie, ride a fair amount, dirt and street, ex bike shop rat, raced mountain bikes a little, still follow the bike industry and know some people involved. I'm an IT Guy to pay the bills. Read way too many bike related magazines and websites. I'm coo coo for CoCo Puffs.

    I've bike commuted on and off for 20 years or so - very into it the last 3 years. I ride more then I drive, have 12,000+ commuting miles on my trusty old Ibis 'cross bike - my main commute rig.

    Why have I cranked up the commuting in the last few years? A few reasons really - not counting that I just like to ride, period. It doesn't take much longer then driving (some days - it's faster). The physical and mental benefits are flat out awesome. I have two small kids at home, and no other way could I squeeze in 100 - 150 miles a week without commuting. As I get older, also have become a more of a Greenie. Of course, to the crowd reading this, this shouldn't be news. Then again, I'm amazed how many people "in the industry" don't commute. This is not a slam, just an observation.

    I commute from outside Seattle to downtown. 90% of my 17 mile commute is on the Burke-Gilman Trail - one of the most used trails in the U.S. Over the last few years have noticed more people commuting. If there were more bike specific trails like the B-G, I'm convinced more people would ride. Being a long time rider (bikes and motorcycles), I don't mind dealing with traffic, with more casual riders - that's not the case.

    Once a year, the Seattle based club - Cascade Bicycle Club - sponsors a corporate commuting challange. Corporate teams sign up for most commuting miles, round trips, etc. I've organized a few teams and can tell you people are interested in commuting.

    During the month long event, there's a noticeable increase of people riding - can see it - and it's a very cool sight indeed.

    Problem is most of these people drop off once the event is over, leaving just the enthusiasts - who ride anyway. I have seen some casual types stick with it though - and continue to ride.

    A few reasons why I think people don't commute - or just ride more often:

    Traffic and fear of being injured. Real or imagined, the threat of being hit scares people off. More bike paths are needed - period.

    Bike clothes. Non-riders think you need to be kitted out like pro racers. Many "normal folk" would never wear bike shorts and this puts them off. Seriously. Joe Six Pack considering riding to work - wear a tight jersey? These people gotta know they can wear normal clothes and still ride.

    The racing mentality. Here in the U.S., most road bikes are race bikes - face it. For the average person, this doesn't fly well. Then again, selling "commuter bikes" just ain't that sexy. I think the middle ground are "sport" bikes - road bikes with room for fenders, sensible gearing and bars a little higher.

    Gas prices. When gas went over $3 a gallon, people started to freak about. I think it would take $7 - $10 a gallon for people to change though.

    I'm completely guilty myself on the clothes and bike selection - look like a racer (sorta!) and ride race bikes. I can turn that off when needed though and have mentored a few people to start commuting.

    Jeans? Do it. Old mountain bike? Dust it off. You can't bombard these people with stuff they "need" to ride. Just get 'em out there. If it sticks, you'll sell some bikes - there's a lot more of them, then guys like me who need another carbon frame.

    Next time you see some dude riding in jeans and sneakers, milk crate strapped on a rack, bright yellow rain jacket, helmet tipped back - go ahead and laugh to yourself - then cruise alongside and say hello. Do it and talk to these people. We need more people like this - lots more.

    You need to focus on getting people riding - period. Push and somehow get involved with constructing more bike paths.

    Imagine some sort of joint advertising about riding itself - not just products.

    Kids - the future. All kids like to ride bikes. Yeah - my 7 year old son rides, that's because I do and he enjoys following me.

    At his elementary school, no bikes are allowed on school grounds. I find that insane. It's all geared towards the SUV parade dropping kids off for school.

    We walk to school and I find it comical and sad watching this daily spectacle. Are these people evil? Of course not, but a symptom of our infrastructure and what needs to be fixed.

    There's one kid who rides a Huffy BMX bike. He leaves it parked on a neighbor's lawn next to the school. Sitting there on the kickstand, helmet hanging off the handlebars. That kid is my hero.

    To wrap up this way too long rambling comment....

    More bike paths.
    Sensible bikes.
    Normal riding clothes.
    Programs for kids.

    Simple, huh? Yeah I know - it's not. Worth a shot? Without a doubt.

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