How to Make the Bike Boom Last?

Following all the media coverage, posts from us, and the bike blogopshere on the economy-driven bike boom, today, the AP asks if consumers frugality will last. The article includes a quote from Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers’ Association

Consumers stung by $4-per-gallon gas are shifting toward utility bikes and away from recreational versions. That’s forcing bike shops to change their inventories and offer more training for consumers who may not have ridden a bike in years, he said.

bike_boom.jpg

It’s also resulting in lots of bikes like the Raleigh in the photo showing up in mechanic’s stands. After reading the article, I wondered what we and the industry can do to make the bike boom last?

What do you think? Suggestions? Comment and we’ll share your thoughts with the Industry at Interbike this Fall.



25 Comments

I was in NYC this weekend, had the good fortune to stay in Chelsea, and got to ride on this stretch of segregated bike lane, complete with its own signals.

More of this kind of infrastructure would go a long way towards removing the #1 objection people have to commuting, the (not necessarily inaccurate) perception that sharing the roads with cars is dangerous. To that end, I’d think that lobbying for this kind of infrastructure, as well as supporting candidates (primary and incumbent) in city and state legislative races, would be effective going forward.

I really think it’s time to change the message from “look how much better it is to not drive” (which everyone already knows), to “you’re not a baby, quit whining like one and leave your damn car at home!”

The trouble with repeating the same line about how great it is to ride a bike is that every American with an IQ over 60 already knows it, and repeating the message like they’re children justifies their childish behavior, which is excuse-based: “I can’t do it, it’s too hard.” It’s time to start holding adults accountable for being adults, and for acting on the wisdom that is commonly known. I’d like to see those in positions of power say “Stop driving. Seriously, buck up and figure it out.”

The ebb and flow of bike popularity is inevitable, but one lasting way we can get closer to critical mass is to use our newly swollen ranks to pressure local politicians to make our communities more bike friendly and invest in paths, bike lanes, bike lockers, maintenance programs, etc.

These long term investments will help a sustainable increasing in ridership, regardless of fuel costs or other catalysts for a bike “fad”

We have a long way to go if we are to keep bikes at the forefront of the publics thoughts as a means of transportation.

We have to overcome some 80 odd years of marketing from he bike industry telling us that the bike is a toy for hobby and recreation use. Bikes must be marketed and sold to the public as a viable source of transportation. We have to go completely away from the slick marketing of how fast a bike is. To what and how easily a bike can move and carry people along with their personal belongings. Bike manufactures must also start proving more utilitarian bikes that include fenders, racks, lights and a kick stand. And they must bring these bikes in at a $500 or below price point.

Local bike shops must also rethink how bike are sold and used. Most shops push hybrids or mountain bikes on the people that are coming in seeking a bike that they can use for their daily life. These bike were not designed for use in daily life and require even more of an outlay of money to alter them to do so.

In fairness to the bike manufactures, they are starting to produce a few models that are extremely great city or daily life bikes. But that doesn’t do any good if the bike shops are not adding them to their inventory.

Diversification is one thing. To keep the boom going, if the economy gets better, bike shops and the movement have to diversify. More rental and bicycle recycling efforts. More infrastructure and continued education.

Unfortunately this shift is mostly founded on money. This opens the debate that government programs could help. Free bicycles to people without transportation. Municipal sponsored bicycle sharing programs. Even tax credits for staying out of a car and on a bike.

The most important thing is to keep riding. The more cyclists being seen, the more it becomes etched in the culture.

All the infrastructure talk and bike lanes etc. is good and needs to happen, but I think the industry’s best efforts will be in making biking appear COOL and EASY. Nobody wants to look like Steve Carell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin on a bike.

Cool helmets, cool panniers and bike bags, and bikes that are simple and strong and AFFORDABLE will get more people thinking they can ride a bike daily without giving up their style. It’s a lot more about the look than we really want to admit.

Especially for all the folks that think we look silly on bikes anyway. Most people will never wear spandex, and we should thank them for it, not shun them. How do we make biking easy for those people?

@Isaac:

I think you’re right, but it’s not a separate issue from the infrastructure argument. Check out the stacks and stacks of photos from Amsterdam and Copenhagen. The ability to ride on a comfortable upright bike, in a suit or dress, in sandals or even heels, without a helmet comes from safe infrastructure and full participation.

(It also comes from being very, very flat. Rail trails can help with that since they’re typically along the flattest routes.)

All good comments . . . thanks. Regarding fashion and plain-clothes cyclist, there’s a mix of technical materials—[Cordarounds](http://www.cordarounds.com/) are a good example— that has to work for transportation. I understand a commuter not wanting to wear lycra, but geez did I ever soak through my shirt yesterday [on the way](http://bikehugger.com/2008/07/brompton_elliott_bay.htm) to my session at Web Design World. So I carried two shirts with me to change. A smart-commuter line would combine materials. So it’s technical wear, but you can walk around the office in it.

I think commuting is a trap for us as well because it also implies “special gear.” Panniers, shoes, changing, showering.

I’m a not incredibly avid cyclist, but I’ve started more in earnest in the last few weeks, trying to basically bike any time I don’t have to go to Costco or get 40 lb bags of dog food.  I’ve got a recumbent and a trek 520, so it’s hard to tow big loads In addition, I’ve got a 9 month old to tow around in his trailer, as I’m a stay-at-home dad.

I found myself yesterday realizing I hadn’t been in my car for a week and a half, which was pretty impressive for me, a pretty out-of-shape 36 year old.

Really now, the only thing that will stop me is weather.  I’m in central oregon, and we definitely get snow and cold.  I can outfit the bike to take the snow, but I’m less sure about myself.  I’m going to give it a go, but I think it’s going to take a lot of trial and error to figure out how to keep me warm but not too warm.  Also, how to keep my son warm but not too warm in his trailer.

The roads stay clear most of the winter, except for the miserable red cinder they put down instead of gravel here, so knobby tires are going to be required. 

My friends and my wife’s co-workers think I’m weird, but we live in a smallish town, and there’s no good reason to drive everywhere.

I definitely agree with the guy who says that more people need to keep doing it.  I think that there are more and more utility bikes out these days…long chainstays to keep your foot from kicking your bags, knobbier tires, upright position.  I think a ridiculously low granny gear is also key.  We have STEEP hills here, that very nearly kill me, and cause many people here to walk their bikes.  I think getting over that hump is key too.

@ David,

Thanks for sharing that. For winter, I recommend and our readers would agree, Merino wool with a good shell. I’ve got an obsession with maintain the perfect [micro-climate](http://bikehugger.com/2007/10/riding_in_the_rain_in_seattle.htm) and write about that every Fall.

Hills are an issue here in Seattle as well and a reason, motor-assists can really help the casual cyclists, as well as triple chain rings or compacts.

@DL Byron

Yes to the electric assist.  I ride and love a Schwinn Campus Electric.  Hills are a bit of an issue, but even more daunting is the wind.  I was riding in 40 mph gusts this afternoon.  The motor made that possible.

It is good to see most of the posters here stating advocacy as the key issue.  It is pretty obvious to state that we are in the position we suffer now, too many cars, dependence upon foreign oil, etc., because the auto industry did such a great job lobbying for their industry.  In the US, the bicycle has never evolved to any great extent, beyond recreational transportation.  The industry needs to change it’s image and lobby for changes which will make it both safer and easier for people to migrate from auto to bike transport.  The future is bright!

@ dainelo

Yeah, insulting everyone who doesn’t currently ride with childish taunts is a GREAT way to encourage more people to do it.

I agree with the push for infrastructure, and I think another biggie is to actual push the reasons why biking is good. Stop talking so much about why cars are bad, pretend they don’t exist and just talk about all of the things that make biking great. That, and the expanding presence of cyclists to demonstrate the truth of the argument.

I think there has to be a big shift in bike shops proper.  A move away from selling the two extremes of either road bikes or mountain bikes. 

Almost all the bike shops I’ve gone to here (Southern California), look at you with a blank stare if you ask anything about commuting bikes, racks and panniers.

Bike shops have to be re-educated to sell and speak utilitarian bikes that will be used EVERY DAY and not just recreational bikes.  That’s how you keep the boom going.  Give people bikes that they will use in their daily life and not just as a toy.

As Shimano learned the hard way with Coasting (and Batavus with Dutch bikes), bike shop support is critical. The industry wasn’t ready for $4.00 a gallon gas and 09 will include their reaction, but without sales and mechanics supporting “alt transport” it’ll struggle to find it’s place next to Madones and Tarmacs. I’m not saying that as a buzzkill, but the reality of shop politics. I suspect in all the demographics and brand work Shimano did with Ideo, they didn’t ask a handful of mechanics what they thought of “bulbous shapes covering mechanical parts.” Or geez, it’s too heavy for someone to put into their trunk to drive to a park to ride on bike paths or how do you take the front wheel off?

This industry is so hard on itself and at the very least, everyone needs to make more money. Maybe they’ll pack big margins into commuter bikes, as an incentive to sell. Whatever they do, they need to evangelize to the shops what to sell, how to do it, and why. I mean much of the bike blogosphere exists because we’re not finding what we want in the mainstream media or at the bike shops.

AS crass as this might sound I think a totally new sales approach is needed.  Ads in bike magazines is like singing to the choir.  Learn from car companies (they sell alot of cars).  Don’t congratulate yourself when 2% of the population is thinking about biking. 

Don’t blame lack of sales on city structures.  Let your customers take on the city by their growing numbers.  Get in the news, get on oprah (send her a free bike).

Ads on the superbowl (or at least the weather channel and dancing with the stars), bank loans, newspaper ads for individual bikes (put ten bikes in the classifieds), free commuter training, encourage haggling, repair help with same day turn around (and loner bikes if not same day), posters and free mp3’s at colleges, funny you-tube ads, offer a free bike lottery at Microsoft (or Eastman-Kodak or college employees), etc. 

While racing is nice and certainly NASCAR sells some cars most people don’t race and will never race.  Don’t advertise on ESPN.  Sell to non-racers, non-mountain bikers way more than you do racers.  Think of the slightly overweight forty somethings.  The still have strength and they have spending power.

I agree that there is SERIOUS room for marketing to the masses. *Real* marketing.  Chat around the coffee pot at work where yea, Sarah brought the donuts… on her bike… and *she* looks great while those of us still with “bucket butts” from our bucket seats are thinking of getting on board…
  and yes, not making everybody invent their own commuting bicycle.  Fenders, lights, chainguards - and how to use ‘em.

Raise gas taxes at both the federal and state levels ASAP.  Also free bikes to all women who ride in skirts, the men will follow and be pleased to escort them through our streets of hell.

I ride in a skirt pretty much every day and it’s not to benefit you or any other man, John. Nor do I need an escort. Moving on: I agree that marketing is key—both bike-positive messaging and quick responses to bike-negative messages. They seem to be everywhere lately! Recently I’ve seen an insurance commercial in which a bike commuter is mocked by a co-worker, a car rental commercial in which a cyclist is forced off the road by a hybrid car, and a BMW commercial in which wistful Europeans on bikes, or gazing sadly out the windows of a train, look upon the BMW driver with longing ... the implication being that so-called “alternative” transportation is nothing but a last resort for poor oppressed non-Americans, since it goes without saying that everyone would drive if they could afford to (blast those €9 gas prices!). When you see stuff like that, call the companies and let someone know you don’t like their attempt to marginalize bicycle transportation. Tell them what you’d like to see instead.

Thanks Fiona and John, I can introduce you to some women cyclists that I guarantee will ride you into the ground and right off their wheel.

And there’s the Autozone abandon your bike for an old beater car commercial that I found annoying.

The answer is convenience.  The main reason people don’t choose public transportation over cars even though the cost advantages may be overwhelming is that a car is much more convenient than a bus.

The same goes for a bike. If you make it so that hopping on a bike is just like hopping in a car then you are well on your way to keeping the boom going.

I know that over-dramatizing the risks and dangers of biking is good for advocacy and getting governments to spend money on facilities, but, it also has the effect of making someone think twice about biking.  People my age, mid 50’s, did not fear catastrophic head injuries as kids.  The advice to many of these people who are now considering replacing some car miles with bike miles is to be careful.  The first thing (at most second) almost any how-to about bike commuting advises is “to wear a helmet”.  A rational person might conclude that maybe this activity is a little more dangerous than I remembered. 

Take a look how cars are perceived.  Even though driving a car is a relatively dangerous activity most people don’t see it that way.  Maybe because the automobile lobby doesn’t scare the hell out of the government to get more and better roads built. 

So my advice is to build some infrastructure to make every-day biking more convenient, like secure parking, on street racks and showers.  Once people get on bikes the demand for the other traffic infrastructure will be created. 

I personally wanted to bike to work for the last 20 years.  It wasn’t until my building put in a bike rack in a secure garage and provided a shower room to change that I felt it was time to realize the dream.  By the way, my perception is that the roads aren’t any more dangerous now than when I was a kid.  That is to say, if I stay out of the highway, cars don’t bother me. 

Stop being snooty, twee pr**ks and obsessing about being “fashionable”—like HikeBugger do.


That might help sustain the momentum that bicycle acceptance has built, rather than snuff it out.

@Jamey,

Our fashion coverage is just that—coverage—we’re about as unfashionable as it gets ‘round here . .  but bike pricks as an issue for cycling sure. Roadies and the growth in bike racing suffers from that as a constant and that’s not limited to those that shave their legs. Any culture has its clicks and excludes others they may not have the right clothes, gear, or hip to their scene. Commuters are no different in that regard.

Correction: Mark is one hip MOFO, the rest of us not so much.

The big bike companies have figured out that advocacy is critical, but it hasn’t yet trickled down to the retail shops.  Bike shops should be signing people up for local membership organization left and right, and they should be running practical educational programs to teach people how to ride effectively with traffic.  [I think The League is working on programs that might fit into this model, but I’m not sure.]  I know there are good reasons why this doesn’t happen, but they’re not excuses.

The whole high-end rd. and mt. bike bit continues to puzzle me.  Margins are much higher for the cheap stuff, and you don’t need a huge R&D budget to do wind-tunnel testing.  Was it Scott Nichols who wrote the piece a few years back about getting good quality bikes into department stores?  I think this could do it.  Imagine if Wal-mart sold no-frills transportation bikes—something akin to the KHS Green—instead of POS full suspension mt. bikes?  [I don’t know the whole Ideo/Coasting story—been out of the biz for a few years.]

As an experienced commuter, I loved the ride. The problem was the development of asthma, risk from cars, risks associated with construction warnings only considering car safety without thinking about the cycle hazards they created when forcing bikes out into traffic.  The other thing would be to hold commuting clinics and provide commuter hours repair support.

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