Thursday, May 5, 2011

If Not Bike Month, Then What?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote this post explaining why I do not believe that "Bike Month" is effective at making transportation cycling accessible to non-cyclists and beginners. In the discussion that followed, many different opinions were expressed - which I appreciate. In addition, a couple of readers suggested that, since I criticised the approach, perhaps I could follow up with my own ideas. If not bike month, then what alternative would I propose? That was a good point, and I have now prepared my response. This is far from the first time I've considered the issue. But it's one thing to have my head full of ideas, and quite another to express them lucidly. Let me give it a try.

A Support System for Cyclists
If the goal of a city, community, or organisation is to make cycling an accessible form of transportation, I propose a year-round support system permanently in place. This support system could exist in the form of a small department within the local government structure, or in the form of an independently funded non-government organisation. The sole mission of this department or organisation would be to provide a range of services - in the form of literature, materials, counseling, classes and workshops, and more - to persons interested in transportation cycling. It is crucial that the office or organisation providing these services be non-partisan - which includes independence from political groups, environmental organisations, or any other entities with specific agendas to pursue. The goal of this office or organisation would not be to promote cycling, but to support cyclists or those considering cycling - which is a crucial distinction. Trained employees would work with person, families, and groups to determine their level of comfort, their concerns and their goals - responding appropriately and providing them with relevant resources. The existence of this office or organisation would be made known to the public via an online presence, via brochures available at relevant local venus, and via announcements in the local media.

While I have quite detailed and concrete ideas of how this fictional entity would function, outlining all of them would require its own post - or more like a multi-page proposal. But I think you get the gist of what I envision. Having a solid, well-developed support system in the community that any cyclist can rely on is, would in my view, be more effective than a month-long annual event that is dense in activities while it lasts, only to end abruptly. A year-round support system would also send the message to the community that cycling is an accepted and attainable means of transportation.

A "How, Not Why" Approach
It is my belief that the chances of non-cyclists finding the idea of transportation cycling appealing are diminished, rather than improved by the "hard sell" tactics employed by the majority of bicycle activists (and by the very notion of bicycle activism, for that matter). When people try too hard to convince us that something is "good for us" or morally superior, our natural response is to be skeptical, to resist. After all - if it's so wonderful, then why are they trying so hard to persuade us and why isn't everyone already doing it? For this reason, I think it is misguided to "sell" cycling. Moreover, cycling doesn't need to be sold: It is a trend on the rise, particularly in large cities that are centers of popular culture. People everywhere are already enjoying riding their bicycle for transportation, and we need merely to communicate this fact as a given. Instead of telling people why they should cycle, make it an implicit assumption that they already want to do it (of course! doesn't everyone?) and focus on the how. I believe that this approach must underlie any initiative or outreach program designed to encourage new cyclists.

Ideas for a How-To Brochure
One thing discussed with particular zeal in the comments of my post about bike month, was the Bike to Work Week commuter booklet - a transportation cycling guide offered as promotional literature by the organisers of Bike Month. Here I described the ways in which nearly every page of the brochure portrays transportation cycling as a challenging and possibly dangerous athletic activity, which I believe makes the brochure intimidating rather than inviting. In response, I will outline my vision for an alternative brochure.

Title:
"A Guide to Cycling for Transportation"

Introduction:
Start by mentioning that cycling for transportation is becoming increasingly popular, and many people are wondering how to go about starting. This brochure is for them.

How to begin:
Explain how easy it is to commute by bicycle, dispelling myths that athleticism, energy bars, or special cycling clothing are necessary in order to commute to work on a bike.

Choosing a bicycle:
Inform of the existence of comfortable transportation bicycles, and explain which accessories are necessary in order to commute in work clothing. List bicycle shops that specialise in commuter bicycles and perhaps websites that focus on reviewing them.

Road rules:
Using clear and simple language, outline the basic cycling laws in your area, providing link to full version.

Safety:
Be objective and positive. Cite statistics that reveal bicycling to be a relatively safe activity. Stress the necessity of good brakes, proper lighting, and adherence to road rules first and foremost. Explain that opinions on helmets are mixed, and while some choose to wear them, others do not.

Illustrations:
Choose appealing images where persons are shown cycling at a relaxed pace while wearing street clothing and riding transportation bicycles with appropriate accessories. Include signs of normal, everyday activities: parents transporting children, persons in suits cycling with briefcases strapped to rear racks, grocery panniers with flowers sticking out, and so on. Images should communicate that cycling is easy, convenient and pleasant. Helmet use can be portrayed in a manner that represents freedom of choice: Some cyclists can be shown wearing one and other cyclists not, in a way that both come across as natural (see image above, or this image from a recent bike advert).

Further Resources:
Provide a list of popular websites focusing on transportation cycling.

Given that small, specific things are easier to implement than grandiose plans, I think that creating a brochure such as the one I outlined to counteract the one promoted via Bike Month would in itself be useful to those who are considering cycling for transportation and do not know where to begin. But making one - as well as thinking up the means of distributing it - is a project that would require hours of my time and is beyond the scope of this blog. Putting forth ideas is far more difficult than merely criticising, and I am exhausted from writing this post. Your thoughts on all of this are, of course, welcome.

65 comments:

  1. I know that one of the thigns I found most challenging about cycling to work was the fear of having to Take Stuff With Me. I'm not very good at planning or predicting things like how much Stuff I'll need to Take, so it was quite daunting initially (and still is, I'm sad to say!).

    Having more resources and information available to me would be really good.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Good points all. I've been pondering this question as well. Perhaps "the one mile solution" is a framework rather than focusing things around a commute that might be a bit long to start transportation with. Almost every person has many short trips, some of which would get them comfy simply enjoying the trip.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I pretty much hated Dave's post @ Portlandize.

    I help out at a community bike shop sometimes to support riders. It's not a morally superior endeavour, it's just a way to pass the knowledge so people can wrench for themselves, not buy unnecessary bike things, and not go splat into a bus.

    Thanks for this antipode.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great post! I am constantly told what an athlete I am and how hard core I am, cheered for my efforts... but honestly it's so easy. It also connects to your post the other day about the town in Penn. you visted that is perfect for cycling yet you saw not one cyclist. I spent many years in a prairie city of less than 200 000. The prairie is full of small towns that could be biking meccas that are instead full of giant trucks. The city of Regina is small, easy to get around and there is a parkland system throughout the city with bike paths that commuters can use and almost completely avoid riding in traffic. And do people cycle en masse? No, it was considered weird, for poor people or students. The bike racks would be full at university, but not that full. Even last time I visited I hoped I would see fixies galore and some sign of bike porn and people into bikes, but no just a few people out on bike shaped objects and overbuilt mountain bikes. The city is flat so no need for multiple gears. Mind you with the price of gas my mom is joking about getting a bike and if gas gets really expensive she most definitely will be on a bike. My dad talked about getting a bike but has become extra clumsy in his old age. So, that's a possible target audience for brochures. The large number of baby boomers suddenly on pensions with less money to spend and rising costs of food, gas etc.. Cycling is easy and healthy. It need not be fast, they can go slowly. Communities should evolve to make daily activities bikable for all ages.
    In Vancouver I often see senior ladies riding-and not just the older lady roadies. I mean senior ladies out on the raleigh sports they bought decades ago running errands, going to the library etc.. That's to be commended!

    ReplyDelete
  5. When I read "If Not Bike Month,Then What?" I thought it was a call for suggestions for other "... months" - other ideas or activities to champion that would be less controversial and less likely to draw the sort of vituperative responses that your post on Bike Month did, so I came up with a few before I read the post and realized I'd misunderstood the heading.

    Still, a good idea is a good idea so I'll share them anyway.

    1/ Fistfight Month - Everyone should be in at least one, sometime in their life, so if you haven't, it's time, and if, like me, you have, then it's a chance to relive a part of your youth.

    2/ Teen Pregnancy Month - To experience the dread and terror of finding out you're going to be a parent before you've left high school, is a life changing experience. Even if it's a false alarm, it's a great reality check and a good lesson about actions and consequences for the youngsters.

    3/ Outrun The Cops Month - We've all wanted to do it but we don't want to do something that could hurt innocent people. So here's the solution: do it on your bike ! You can go all sorts of places that a squad car can't - through parkades or malls, over guardrails, through stopped traffic (crossways even), so just do it. You'll have a story to tell for years.

    Just trying to be helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm from Australia and have been reading your blog for a few months Velouria. I live in a medium sized city that has a good cycling track network, which diminishes closer to the city centre. But you can still cycle safely on backstreets and of course there are the bike-picture-car-door lanes too. But there are still not a lot of cyclists here, though the number is growing, quite rapidly lately it seems. What would also help would be cycle friendly buses so those who live further out could part bus and part bike to work. There are also siginificant parking problems in the city, at the university and at the hospital the latter two being located in outer areas. All have bike tracks leading to them (though the hospital is on a large hill which is a deterrent for many). There are plans afoot to redesign our city centre transport system and countless reports have been prepared toward this, with local bike support groups lobbying for more cycle ways. I would love to see such a body as you describe to support this project. I would also add to your excellent brochure idea that parking is never a problem on a bike, that it is a great mode of transport to really appreciate the scenery where you live, and that cities with many bikes are much better places to live, work and play than those with many cars.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I think there are two separate issues getting entangled: Should there be a bike month, and, How should transportational cycling be promoted.

    It makes sense to heighten focus on a marginal form of transportation during one month of the year. It doesn't mean that promotion and support cease during the remaining eleven months. People respond to goals and defined timelines--that's why there's national smoke out day and no tv week. (Maybe No Car week could be embedded in Bike Month. Is there a Take Public Transportation day or week?)

    Sure, the original Bike to Work Week brochure could have been better, and many of your suggestions are excellent. But again, most of the choices people will face in their local shops will be slim on commuter style bikes, and many will be using what they dust off from the garage. It makes sense to tell them what to expect, and the pros and cons of all bikes when it comes to commuting. Most people currently do not live in a lovely bicycle universe.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Here's a nice video about BTWD, landed in my email this morning via thecityfix.com:

    http://youtu.be/boHzU6EYvhs

    ReplyDelete
  9. I work in an office that has about 300 people. About a dozen of us ride a bike to work. It’s always been pretty much the same people. It only changes if we happen to hire someone who already is a rider. The rest of the population mostly drives, a few carpool or use other forms of alt transport. There have never been any converts to cycling I can think of, though sometimes there are a couple more bikes in the rack on earth day or bike-to-work day, etc.

    Generally the non-cyclists are ambivalent to all this, however some express interest/curiosity at times. The questions often come in the form of advancing myths, like – Doesn’t your butt hurt? Do you have a death wish? How exhausting? Where do you find the extra time? This typically leads into friendly chat about dispelling notions and these not being major hurdles in practice. The person then often brings up a set of reasons why they are precluded anyway, such as I need to drop off the kids in the morning, or I often need to run errands at lunch.

    We have secure bike racks and a locker room and showers at work which is nice, so having somewhere to safely store things, get cleaned up and change clothes is not a barrier in our case.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Infrastructure is also a good way to get transportation cycling accessible to beginners and non-cyclists. Here in the UK, fear of traffic is the main barrier to cycling, despite being objectively low risk, cycling here feels dangerous because of the speed & volume of motor traffic, and the low enforcement level of traffic law.

    Showing people statistics is only so effective, most people don't choose things like transport rationally, they choose the way which is easy, safe, cheap or a combination of these. Very few people consciously choose a mode of transport for their health, the environment or similar factors.

    Make cycle infrastructure which makes people feel safe and importantly, makes short trips on bikes more convenient than driving, and they will choose to cycle without even realising how their decision was influence by external factors.

    ReplyDelete
  11. The duties that you describe are largely performed by a police dept's bicycle safety officer. Creation of a government agency would only further politicize the issue, I'm afraid. People will balk at "valuable tax dollars" being spent (don't we have a deficit?) creating a bigger government (damn pinko commies) to educate (proselytize via propaganda) the public about green living (buncha dirty hippies), all while the money ought to be spent on finding ways to create gasoline from spotted owls.

    If the DOT were to create a brochure on commuting for distribution through LBSs like what you describe, that might work.

    Still, nothing gets a person's attention quite like the word "free." People will go out of their way to get the free item, even if it's a cup of coffee as a reward for riding their bike to work. People are sheep, like that.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I like the way you are going with this! Thank you. To help new cyclists in the areas you've identified, form a team from three already existing organizations. Start with the League of American Bicyclists (LAB). People new to transportation cycling should contact LAB certified instructors to get instruction on pedaling in traffic. Classes can be arranged for groups or individuals. I've taken the classes and found them to be excellent. Second, reach out to local bicycle rescue groups. They sell used bicycles and give classes on maintenance. Third, go to local bicycle shops and speak with skilled folks on the floor willing to answer any and all questions. Maybe this group of resources isn't the one stop shop you've envisioned, but they can form a tidy and effective team to get folks pedaling in the right direction. Thanks again

    ReplyDelete
  13. I think one way you could promote transportation bicycling with your mission to educate folks on the "hows" rather than the "whys" would be create a small business selling racks, panniers, bells, clothing and all the accessories you've found helpful since taking up cycling. I imagine some of these being your own designs.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Well put Velouria, I agree that the time for an evangelical hard sell of cycling as an option is past. It's time to just facilitate and provide basic services to those that want it.

    I'm encouraged that cycling appears to have grown to a point(at least around here) that it's not automatically assumed that if you're on a bike you are an educated, Democratic leaning urbanite(or a convicted drunk driver). If it truly outgrows that political caricature than I believe bikes will have achieved a degree of cultural acceptance that safegaurds the gains of the last decade.

    When people stop seeing it as an issue of political affiliation there will be fewer battles over integrating it into the transportation plans in cities and towns all over. The resistance I see so often isn't about the practicalities of integrating bikes into our towns, it's more about people choosing sides in a culture skirmish.

    A hundred years ago this was going on about cars, when it stopped being a class/political affiliation question it became mainstream in only a few years. When farmers and the middle and working class realized that automobiles were something that they could afford and use, they pushed hard for the infrastructure that would allow them to participate.

    This battle might be about over. Perhaps it's time to begin waging a campaign for infrastructure to allow the widespread use of personal, , 4wheeldrive, nuclear powered, high speed flying trains.

    Spindizzy

    ReplyDelete
  15. I totally agree with you about the orientation of commuter cycling guides - your comments about the Bike to Work booklet made me think of the infographic in this article: http://www.thestar.com/news/article/905944. Look how scary it makes biking in the winter look!(Of course, after three years of bike commuting I finally kept going through the winter this year, with exactly none of that special equipment, and loved it.)

    I actually made a short brochure about how to start commuter cycling for a Business French class last year. It was just a class project, but I had many of the same ideas as you do about what needed to be in it.

    ReplyDelete
  16. This reminds me a lot of how Capital Bikeshare here in DC is marketed - and, I think, why it's so successful. None of the marketing says WHY anyone SHOULD use the system - just how to, if they want to. The bikes have all the elements needed for riding in your regular clothes in a comfortable upright posture. (I think this is really the key - it seems like people love it because they never knew that a bike could feel like that before.) There is a hotline for any questions or support you need. And there is easily accessible information about safety and how to get helmets if you want to know, but it isn't forced upon anyone.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I think this is a great post and I agree with pretty much all that you say, as well as with your extremely moderate tone.

    I started biking because walking in my empty industrial neighborhood at night scared the crap out of me. The combination of empty punctuated by crazy levels of catcalling made walking impractical. Probably not that many people tick the box "escaping street harassment" as their top reason for riding a bike, but I think this does speak to the extremely varied practical reasons that one might take up cycling.

    I think the absence of partisan tone really cannot be overstated. Even when I agree with the views espoused, I shudder at political justifications for cycling. It makes me uncomfortable!

    This post does make me feel that protected infrastructure is the best way to promote cycling. Just make it easy and a non-event.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I know nothing about city infrastructure (though I find it really interesting), but I think these ideas are fantastic.

    State College has an organization that sounds similar to the "support" organization. http://www.centrebike.org/index.php
    However, to me it has the wrong "feel." I don't really know how else to describe it. When I visit the site, it certainly doesn't make me feel like cycling to work is "something for everybody." I think it has more of the "why you should bike" tone than "this is how it's done."

    Any suggestions, backed by research or prior success, to offer this well-intentioned group? For example, I could tell them to reference local bike blogs? (But I think I would seem like I was trying to self-promote.) Or I could obviously send them the link to this page? I was hoping that you had some good references that I could share with them?

    ReplyDelete
  19. I think the most effective target for transportation cycling advocacy would be elementary school children. Most children live quite close to there elementary school regardless of community size unless it is especially rural. Support for local bicycle lanes and paths would have more support. There could be monthly contests for those who rode the most days or the longest distance with equipment (like lights,racks and bags) giveaways as prizes. I think this sort of change will require the momentum of habits formed in youth.

    ReplyDelete
  20. SJP said...
    The duties that you describe are largely performed by a police dept's bicycle safety officer. Creation of a government agency would only further politicize the issue, I'm afraid. People will balk at "valuable tax dollars" being spent (don't we have a deficit?) creating a bigger government (damn pinko commies) to educate (proselytize via propaganda) the public about green living (buncha dirty hippies)

    If the DOT were to create a brochure on commuting for distribution through LBSs like what you describe, that might work."


    The services I described are definitely not performed by police bicycle safety officers. Police are also mistrusted and feared by much of the public, so this would not work at all.

    When I say that this can be a department within the local government structure, I mean, like a tiny office in city hall with a couple of nice employes or maybe even within the DOT, or the public library.

    Also, I specifically wrote no propaganda, no green living initiative, none of that. There would be no promotion of cycling even. Only support for those who already want to cycle.

    But, as I wrote, it does not have to be part of a local gvt structure at all, and can be an independently funded organisation. Depending on the community that may or may not work better.

    ReplyDelete
  21. To add to your good ideas, it's important to educate kids on the benefits of cycling. In our community, volunteers provide safe cycling classes for kids. One service organization does an annual helmet giveaway. If kids think cycling is cool, they're more likely to continue it as adults. We have two downtown bicycle police officers, whose positions are funded by merchants. They are terrific bicycling advocates and they also keep our streets safe.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I really like the idea of a supportive, local group who is simply there to offer assistance to people who would like to try riding a bike for transportation. The how, not why attitude would make a lot of sense in this case, because that fits with how this kind of organization would be behaving - that is, they are not out trying to "convert" people - those that come to them are already interested. I think the public relations would be essential though, just letting as many people as possible know that the organization exists. So often, there are great community resources available that simply nobody knows about because nobody ever tells anyone they exist.

    I'm honestly half tempted to make that brochure, except I have no graphic design experience, really :) Would having help make it less daunting for you? :)

    ReplyDelete
  23. Thank-you!! This spoke to some things I have been trying to figure out as I take over chairing our town committee called Safe Routes. What really struck me was the "How not Why" part and I am going to propose putting together a brochure....
    @randalputman- I am going to try and follow your thoughts on groups to contact..
    I love this interweb!

    ReplyDelete
  24. One thing that seems to be seldom mentioned in all the stuff about bike month is that biking is fun.

    Quite often at the end of my rides I'll stop off at a local bar for a beer. In the last month, even with the rain and cold, I've had three people there mention they are starting to consider getting bikes because I look like I'm having so much fun and enjoying myself when I come rolling into the parking lot.

    They had heard so much about about the need for special clothes, energy bars, and drinks that they had forgotten you could just get on a bike and ride.

    Finally, if you wish to encourage cycling, do not go on about how stupid and careless the car drivers are. All that does is reinforce the stereotype that cycling is dangerous.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Regarding educating children...

    The core philosophy underlying my idea for the Support Organisation, is that it's non-intrusive and absolutely not focused on promotion. It may seem like an insignificant distinction to stress, but to me it's everything. So "educating kids on the benefits of cycling" would be incompatible with the framework I envision.

    On the other hand, teaching kids how to cycle would be entirely compatible with it. If kids want to ride a bike but don't know how, or are afraid, then their parents are welcome to bring them to this Support Organisation and there will be child-specific programs for them. Also, a school can invite the Support organisation to hold workshops at the school.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Somehow my connection froze and I lost the incredibly articulate and well-thought-out comment I'd originally written, so, in the words of the great Spanish fencing wizard, Inigo Montoya "I sum up."

    In the area I used to work, back when I had steady work, there is an agency called Hunterdon Area Rural Transit which, to some degree, performs such a function. It's a nonprofit that focuses on all sorts of alternate transportation, bus, train, carpool and cycling, as a way to get people looking at less congestion-prone ways to get around.

    Among their cycling-oriented services are information, maintenance vouchers and a "ride home" service in case of breakdown or severe weather. I used to be a member and was even recruited on one or two occasions to offer advice on the best route for a prospective bicycle commuter. You can check the out at www.harttma.com

    ReplyDelete
  27. @ portlandize, I have no graphic design experience, but I'm an underemployed journalist with bike shop experience, so let me know if it looks like it might happen and you need content/editing, I'd love to be involved in a non-proselytizing informational brochure.

    ReplyDelete
  28. portlandize & Matt DeBlass - I think it would be great to team up if we have the same thoughts on the matter. I am fairly inflexible on certain points, and previously publishers, journalists & organisations who've contacted me had a problem with that. I know that portlandize and I agree on pretty much everything though (in relation to cycling, that is).

    I also think that it would be good to have the services of someone who has experience with layout and graphic design. If anybody would like to donate their time, let me know.

    ReplyDelete
  29. frozen prairie said...
    "...Teen Pregnancy Month"


    Thanks for that : ))

    ReplyDelete
  30. @Velouria & Matt DeBlass: between Velouria and I, we certainly have the photos covered :) I'm happy to write some of the copy as well, and we can brainstorm on kind of "sections" that would be included. I would agree that I have certain points that I feel are important to state a certain way in such a brochure, and I have a feeling they are the same ones Velouria is referring to :)

    We do have a friend who is a graphic designer, though she's nearly out of a job, so I'm not sure she'd do it for free, but might be willing to do the layout for a small sum, especially if we give her a nearly complete thing and just have her make it look pretty.

    ReplyDelete
  31. P - It would be great if we could get funding for this - in which case not only would our time be compensated, but we could also pay adequately for the layout.

    One option is to get some relevant bike shops to sponsor the brochure, in exchange for including their ads in it. (Sponsors, are you reading?)

    Let's take this over to email to discuss the details.
    Matt: filigreevelo[at]yahoo

    ReplyDelete
  32. A lovely effort! Here's hoping you get commissioned to make the brochure.

    ReplyDelete
  33. frozen prairie said...
    "...Teen Pregnancy Month"

    AND it works for all us parents out there too!

    ReplyDelete
  34. I would imagine that a lot of sponsors would be skittish about an explanation saying "opinions on helmets are mixed, and while some choose to wear them, others do not." Perhaps a more circumspect way of phrasing it would be to point out that adults 17 and over are not required by law to wear helmets, though many do. (In Massachusetts, anyway. Info on other states and individual jurisdictions here.)

    ReplyDelete
  35. sausend - Thanks for that link. I would have to get sponsors who are not skittish then, as changing the tone of the brochure to accommodate sponsors would defeat its purpose.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Oops, I also hadn't read further down on that page to the part where that site is advocating helmet laws; I was only interested in the various localities' laws. Not trying to proselytize!

    ReplyDelete
  37. We could also say "it is not required to wear a helmet over the age of 16 (or whatever age), and many choose not to."

    :)

    ReplyDelete
  38. "a few people out on bike shaped objects" -- uh, yeah, I would be one of them. No fixie, no bike porn here. I started riding again a few years ago on a cheap entry-level comfort bike. Is it awesome-looking? No. Does it make people go "oooh" when I roll by? No way. Does it have ugly welds? You betcha! But when I bought it I had no idea whether I would keep riding or be comfortable street-riding at all -- a $500 bike didn't make sense for someone like me, but a $200 bike wasn't such a huge investment for an untried activity. And here I am, hauling groceries and teaching my kid to ride in the street with me. Riding it is fun and my bike is more than good enough to get me to the store or the library and back.

    ReplyDelete
  39. sausend/ portlandize - Let's avoid taking the conversation in that direction, pretty please. It's been so great not moderating the comments so far!

    Saying that it is a choice, whereby some do and some don't, avoids displays of bias in either direction.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Sorry, I'll zip it :) I don't want to start anything either.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Interesting - we have Bike to Work Week here (Vancouver, BC) and it seems to actually be quite the lovely celebration of cycling. And the competetive spirit in my workplace (to see which department can get more participants) does get some casual & newbie cyclists commuting by bike for a bit (and some keep it up). I know I start my season of fairweather cycling to work during bike to work week - it's that added bit of peer pressure that gets me doing it, then I remember that I enjoy it.

    Guess it depends on how your Bike to Work Week/Month is run - what the message is. Here it's about offering bike tune ups at the workplace, cycling skill courses, commuter stations on popular routes to give out free coffee + snacks to cyclists. It's not as good as year-round support, but in the absence of funding for that, it's nice to have a week that seems to celebrate cycling and get people going.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Love it.

    I'm really tired so am less sensical but I love your thoughts and promo ideas. I agree to the non hard sell. I NEVER saw myself as a cyclist. I started bc walking with two kids took too long, pushing a double stroller was too heavy.

    I gave thoughts re Ed for kids too. Out police dept does training and I am not impressed. All rules and no love, joy. When the pe teacher and I did it we hade great convos on simple how to ride around, how to deal with sidewalks since it was a fact that 10 yes olds would be using them, and how to deal with crosswalks. I think hearing that I as an adult hop off to get through a huge intersection normalized it greatly. My hope for the kids is to give them that power of autonomy and let them run with the joy. Also this week at walk to school day I had my bike and the kids were ogling. I said, when you grow up you can have one of these to carry stuff instead if a car. Let's make this next gen a cargo bike gen!

    ReplyDelete
  43. I'll be sending you an email in a minute, look for velochelonian at gmail-dot-com

    ReplyDelete
  44. Matt - We are actually nearly done, so hurry up : )

    Fingers crossed for a fantastic graphic design "collabo" in the works as well!

    The internets... They work so fast.

    ReplyDelete
  45. You could include a section providing information about winter biking. In contrast to the other sections you propose, winter biking does require some special consideration of clothing, and some additional thought about equipment and safety. Many parts of North America have cold winters with quite a bit of snow, but there are many misconceptions about riding in winter, and novices tend to be afraid of biking in the winter for a myriad of reasons that do not apply to biking in other seasons.

    Of course, you could leave off mention of the issue, but then you are limiting your approach to, if not a single month, only certain months of the year, at least in many relevant geographical areas.

    As to safety, I wouldn't get too much into statistics. They can be scary, and they are so relative. I think the more salient content would be tips on how to avoid common risks, i.e., cars crossing the cyclist's path in various ways. Not too technical or scary, more a practical guide to mesh with the more black and white road rules. Probably the less said about helmets the better - the wording in your post is a pretty neutral place to start.

    I didn't like that linked advert pic. It almost looks like the guy on the blue mundo needs the hand on the back to balance the load, which is not a great message. The guy in the hoodie almost looks like he's flipping somebody off. And they are not riding safely - a group of cyclists spread across both lanes, in traffic. I get your general concept of depicting a happy attitude and street clothes, though :)

    I agree with the need to have a little info on other types of bikes, since commuting bikes are so hard to find locally for so many of us, and the best place for a commuter to start is with the free bike in their garage, at least until they can get enough experience to work out what will function best for them. Everybody's commuting needs and tastes are a little different. As for the list of accessories, there are differences of opinion there too, but the simpler and shorter the list, probably the better. Ecovelo's got a pretty good starting point: http://www.ecovelo.info/2010/08/17/bike-commuting-101-the-bare-necessities/

    Your outline also excludes a major issue that needs to be addressed up front - route choice. Without direction, most novices will try to bike their usual driving route, with disastrous results. Explain the difference between driving and biking routes through a city, and give some tips on choosing a good bike route, including links to local sources of route maps, if possible.

    Anyway, there are a few of my many cents on the issue :)

    Garth-

    ReplyDelete
  46. That's a good idea regarding bike routes - and probably could be covered in the Safety section, as I don't think we want to provide an exhaustive resource for finding local bike routes (at least, not yet), but more to just encourage a person to find out for themselves which routes are the nicest to ride on in their own city.

    ReplyDelete
  47. MelissaTheRagamuffinMay 5, 2011 at 3:23 PM

    I have a friend who tells me that it doesn't matter if it's 0 degrees or 100 degrees that I always look like there's really nothing in the world I'd rather be doing than riding my bike, and that amuses him. So, communicating that bike commuting is fun is important.

    A few years ago there was a blog post somewhere called The Slacker's Guide to Bike Commuting - that was also very good and practical, and said the important stuff you hit on like that you don't need special clothes. You don't have to do it every day. If the weather is nasty - you don't have to ride. There have been many mornings that I took the bus to work with my bike because it was nasty out, but it was supposed to clear up later in the day. I have also biked to work and taken the bus home many times. Now, unless it's really bad, I just ride regardless of rain. But, it took me a couple of years to get to that point.

    I've had a few people say to me that they'd like to bike commute but that the traffic and the hills around here really scare them. I just assure them that you find little ways of getting around town that avoid the worst hills and the worst traffic. The way I drive to work is not the same route I follow when I bike to work. When I first started bike commuting there was one hill between work and home that I would get off my bike and walk it up the hill, not I can just zip right up it without thinking about it. So, your legs do get stronger, but there are still some hills around here I avoid like the plague if I'm on my bike.

    The other one I hear alot is if my seat hurts my butt. Sometimes I joke that I have a nice soft squishy seat for a nice soft squishy butt. But, I tell people if they don't like the seat on their bike, they don't have to live with it. They can replace the seat with anything they want. They even make cushioned seat covers.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Garth - You're right, I forgot about winter cycling and all that! Will add a section on "Cycling Year-Round" that talks about winter cycling, cycling in the rain, and dealing with summer heat.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Long on "how," short on "why." Current and projected gasoline prices are supposed to take care of "why?" Really? To any significant macro degree?

    ReplyDelete
  50. "Current and projected gasoline prices are supposed to take care of "why?" Really? To any significant macro degree?"

    Right.
    Additionally, I think it's important to realise that not everyone sees "it saves money" as a reason to ride a bike for transportation. For some, that idea is demeaning, or not in keeping with how they see themselves, or whatever. You have to be really careful with "why" as it can backfire.

    ReplyDelete
  51. More power to you! I was going to put together a Powerpoint presentation about how to shop by bicycle and have a free seminar at my local food coop (they have many regular free seminars on all sorts of subjects), but decided there is no interest.

    It was going to cover how to use the inexpensive bike in your garage to get your groceries and possibly a Saturday ride down to the local farmer's market with your kids. Nothing too daunting for the average person. Pity it won't be happening.

    ReplyDelete
  52. You have of course read this:
    http://www.bakfiets-en-meer.nl/2011/04/28/creating-cyclists-start-em-young/
    For additional info: http://www.fietsberaad.nl/index.cfm?lang=en
    And also David Hembrow's blog hembrow.blogspot.com.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Velouria said...
    "I think that creating a brochure such as the one I outlined to counteract the one promoted via Bike Month would in itself be useful to those who are considering cycling for transportation and do not know where to begin."

    You stopped short of the real cure to transportation cycling....education of the why and how to use a bicycle for transportation and utility cycling.

    We all know that left to the cycling industry the focus will always be on sales of evermore bicycles with lip service paid to the bread & butter use of both transportation and utility uses.

    The bread & butter aspect of any product is what will sell more but it's dull and boring. Whereas racing or recreational uses is always more "exciting" which is the path marketing will take everytime no matter what the product is.

    To the task is to help , not sell, people on the idea of how useful these boring, colorless, and utility uses of the bicycle can be. Blogs like this one help with the photos of ordinary men & women engaged in these activities will show the public that using bicycles for both transportation & utility are not weird ,or unacceptable, by the peers who don't yet ride.

    So setting a new public perception of cycling as a smart money saving very savvy way to use a bicycle will be the central task which is where dedicated cycling education can yield the best and fastest results.

    ReplyDelete
  54. Velouria, as always, love your thoughts. I am too tired to write much at the moment, but in regards to 'funding' for your brochure...you might consider trying to raise funds via kickstarter.com.

    HTH

    @bikepeacenyc

    ReplyDelete
  55. Sounds like you want to create a AAA for cyclists, well at least that is how the AAA started. In time they turned into an advocacy organization. LAB, MassBike and many other cycling organizations started with the How and turned into promoting the Why.

    Maybe the Dutch ANWB might provide a good, though much more developed, model. They provide all sorts of information, guides and guidance on how to cycle through the Netherlands, both for transportation in the cities and touring between them. They also do the same for motorists and pedestrians, so you can't really say they promote so much as they just help out. I like that.

    ReplyDelete
  56. Poeple that like cycling will do it. It is useless trying to persuade other to do so.

    Other thing is possibility to cycle to work for example. I would like to do it and I tried, but having 17km to work it is a litle difficult. Especialy if on a way to home one has to cycle 10 km uphill. After an exhausting working day, it seems impossible.

    ReplyDelete
  57. BTW, something that occurred to me on the ride home last night -- I would be cautious when talking about that thing people wear on their heads. It might be better to say nothing at all than to say "Some riders wear them, some don't." The reason is that in dealing with safety equipment, any advice that people might not need it could conceivably lead to someone who as injured claiming that the advice led to their injury. I don't know if this is a realistic fear but since it occurred to me it might occur to shop owners who you ask to distribute your brochure. If you leave the section out you completely avoid the issue and leave the decision up to the rider, which is what you want anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  58. Jon - Personally I would love not to mention it at all. Pretend the issue does not exist, which is essentially what I do on my blog. But I think that for a public brochure, that would be disingenuous on my part. It does exist as an issue, and so I think I will have to consult someone regarding the phrasing but include at least some acknowledgement, in as neutral of a tone as possible.

    ReplyDelete
  59. Check out http://www.cicle.org/
    I think the brochure is written, the program you describe is up and running, staffed by volunteers and a nfp organiztion, and transportation cycling is growing as a result. And I think the idea is portable and exportable.

    ReplyDelete
  60. I think it would also be incredibly helpful if established riders who wished to do so offered to take newbies with them on their commute. Ideally one would have a website into which one could put one's starting and ending points and people near the route who wished to help out could contact the prospective rider and if schedules etc were in sync quite literally show them the ropes. The dangerous spots on the route learnt through experience, the great shortcuts, etc. Once one is comfortable doing something it is much easier to do it alone and continue. The safe ice breaker is needed.

    And I would get away from suggesting that anyone should buy much of anything to get started. That is a hurdle to entry. Pump up the tyres on whatever one can get and start riding. If one finds it enjoyable, then consider upgrading the gear. Keep in mind that most people on this planet lucky enough to have a bike ride something on far worse roads than we have that most bike blog readers would disdain or think is not fit for the dump. And they do very well with it.

    ReplyDelete
  61. Not to tootle my own horn (ring my own bell?) but I wrote a thingie called "New to Cycling?" on my blog: http://aprillikesbikes.wordpress.com/new-to-cycling/

    And apparently some people like it. It got linked on bikeportland.org, which sent my page views through the roof, that's for sure.

    I've had a number of people contact me to tell me they liked it, and I'm not sure if it's the ridiculous quantity of info (and I still feel like I missed some things, I might go back and add them), or the way I wrote it, or what. Maybe they like how ridiculously opinionated I am, I dunno.

    But it wasn't until I read this post that I realized--I didn't really tell anyone WHY to ride a bicycle, I assume they have a good reason already or they wouldn't read advice on biking.

    ReplyDelete
  62. Thanks April and Phil Miller, I'll have a look!

    I don't think that the existence of one brochure/program means there cannot be others. These things aren't competitive with one another, they are cumulatively helpful.

    I am pleased to report that the brochure I described is going full steam ahead, with the collaboration of Dave Feucht of Portlandize and the help of Matt deBlass of Bicycles, Books and Bowties. We have a collaborator for the layout design and we have a couple of sponsors. Depending on our energy levels, it will hopefully be published in a few weeks!

    ReplyDelete
  63. This has been a tough comment for me to write. And I feel I need to write, if for no other reason than to thank you for writing this blog entry. I and others asked you to and you have graciously obliged. Thank You.

    I have on the other hand reread your original post a couple of times along with all the comments and followed the links. And I found myself cutting and pasting sections into a Word document and composing my responses. But I really don’t want to just post a laundry list of disagreements. So I won’t.

    What I’d like to do then is summarize my thoughts on these posts. With respect to the Bike to Work brochure, I know you disagreed with Garth a bit, but I fundamentally agreed with him so I won’t repeat here. I would suggest that how we all perceive the Bike to Work brochure may have a lot to do with our preconceptions. I’m fairly positive about Bike Month and glad there is one thus I see many positives in the material and do not think the language or message is overbearing or inappropriate to its purpose.

    Regarding this post, I do not disagree at all with your proposal for a support office/organization. It would be great, as far as it would go.

    My comment was “I am very curious, and hope you will answer this with question with the earnestness it is asked, As a professional, what would you suggest for groups and cities to do to promote cycling? To educate the mean, uninformed anti-bike individuals? And get lawmakers to provide funding for bike infrastructure (if that is something you think is a "public good"?”

    So this post does not answer the questions I specifically asked. Or I have to think you just don’t think there is ever any good to come out of “promoting” cycling.

    As welcome as your office of cycling support would be, it doesn’t educate drivers that bicycles have as much right to roadways as they do. Which I think is critical to providing a safer environment for cyclists. Promoting cycling, Bike Month, Bike to Work efforts I think have the twin impacts of encouraging new cyclists and telling non cyclists (never will be cyclists) that bicycles belong. Encouraging cycling and increasing numbers of cyclists will eventually push government to provide better infrastructure, again, something you support office would not do.

    So, as someone who is not a professional (someone who has never taken a class or worked in a job related to marketing) I ask, How can I promote cycling effectively?

    Please know this; I truly enjoy reading your blog. I think you are a very intelligent and perceptive individual. I enjoy your reviews and agree with you much of the time.

    So, Thank You.

    ReplyDelete
  64. David, I see what you are saying, but my answer is in this post: I do not think that cycling should be explicitly promoted. I believe that the phrase "to promote cycling effectively" is self-contradictory. Instead, I believe that cycling should be supported and that doing so will have the secondary effects of (1) increasing numbers of cyclists, and (2) making cycling more accepted in communities as a normal means of transportation - more than explicitly promoting it. All of that is described in the above post.

    Driver's education about cyclists is a separate issue and, in my mind, has also more to do with support than promotion.

    Once cycling is established as a legitimate, normalised, community-supported activity, driver education can take place in a way that will encounter the most acceptance and least resistance.

    ReplyDelete
  65. I found your blog because I recently acquired a Dutch-style bike. I have been bike-curious for the past few years. My city has aded painted bike lanes, bicycle boulevards and way finding signs to make it easier.

    I am a weird case, as someone absurdly interested in urban planning, complete streets, transit and livable cities.

    Here is my take, as someone with a 30 mile driving commute. It seems to me there is way too much focus on biking to work. Frankly it would be too far and too annoying for me to bother. And even if I were to combine the train, the logistics are pretty complicated anyway (my subway system just approved bikes for all hours a few months ago).

    But where there is huge opportunity, are in the trips that the poll takers don't count. Like the average person, my 3 mile radius includes most of my errands and entertainment. And 3 miles is an accessible distance for those of us with average fitness.

    For me, pointing out bike lanes, bike parking in commercial districts is great. As well as the nearby bakeshops to help if you get a flat or need some air.

    And some lessons around getting prepped for a trip to the farmers market or drugstore: racks, baskets, lights. And solving the age old problem of where do I put my purse.

    I spent the first few weeks after getting my bike, hunting around for the right accessories. You see I have no racing aspirations. I probably won't join the happy bike commuters, but you'll see me and my bike at the gym, grocery, brunch, farmers market, eye doctor and more.

    Where we need education is on the places we can easily go via a bike. The everyday stuff we all do, and typically go by car.

    ReplyDelete