11 November 2009

Behavioural Challenges for Urban Cycling

When I was invited to speak in New York recently, one of the lectures was about behaviour and the challenges of changing it. I figured I'd slap the lecture onto the blog.

Behaviour is a tricky subject and getting groups of people to change their behaviour is never easy. Lately, behaviour is a hot topic in Emerging Bicycle Cultures. Many people who ride bicycles are generating bad press because of the way they're cycling and many other cyclists are getting branded negatively by association.

Generally, bad behaviour is a sign that cyclists don't have adequate infrastructure. Increasing cycling's infrastructure and profile is a good way to calm the traffic in more ways than one.

We're at an interesting point in the reestablishment of urban cycling as a norm. Bicycles have been a fad, a trend, for almost two years now. There is every indication that we are finally returning to a place where the bicycle is regarded as a respected, accepted and feasible transport form in our cities and towns.

Nevertheless, the trend nature of it all means that it could just as well disappear again, as quickly as it came. We need to accelerate the rush to mainstream urban cycling - Bicycle Culture 2.0 - before we lose it again.

How to Signal
This is a drawing by one of Denmark's most loved satirical cartoonists and writers, Storm P. He published a book with his newspaper cartoons about cyclists and he almost always took the piss out of them. He rode a bike every day himself. This cartoon is targeted at Copenhageners. The caption read, ”In Copenhagen, if you are going to turn, you extend your arm straight down and stick one finger out to the left. This tells everyone in the traffic which way you're NOT turning.

This drawing is from 1935. In a way, little has changed.

Right Cargo Turn Copenhagen Winter Cycling Clothing Copenhagen Signals Right Turn Shortly*

Copenhageners signal when it tickles their fancy, usually a vague wave of the hand. I've discovered that to outsiders these hand movements are hardly recognizable but when you spend your days surrounded by hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of cyclists, these vague signals are read, registered and understood. We've created our own visual language.

It's the same with shoulder checks. Cycling around the city with visitors from Portland, one of them commented on how nobody did shoulder checks. I asked him to look again and he saw them. Subtle cocks of the head, using a combination of periphial vision, hearing and instinct. Very subtle but very effective.

On the question of 'bad' behaviour, it exists although it's rather dull. When you have so many regular citizens on bicycles, the infractions are hardly provocative. Still, we see letters to the editors by older citizens complaining about 'those cyclists' rolling casually across pedestrian crossings or turning right on a red light, which is not allowed in Denmark - for cars or cyclists. Buy hey. Arrest me. I turn right on red if there are no pedestrians.

In years of documenting Copenhagen's bicycle culture I have acquired an ability to see details that no one else sees. I've been staring intently at this bicycle culture every day for three years and interestingly, I have only seen four accidents involving bicyles. Two were people falling off at low speeds and landing on their asses. One was a Norwegian who roared through a pedestrian crossing and got smacked and broke his leg. Then, only a couple of months ago, I saw a bike messenger get right hooked.

It was at a busy intersection. He braked but hit the car and flew over the hood, with his bike, and landed on his side. He flew up and stormed towards the car. The woman driver was on her way out to make sure he was okay, but then shrunk back at the sight of him coming at her like that.

In the meantime, several cyclists had rolled up to the light. One of them, a woman, called out, "Hey! YOU ran the red light!" Then two others chimed in. "I saw it, too!" They were actually speaking to the bike messenger. He was instantly deflated and the motorist came out of her car to ask him if he was okay. He was. They pulled off to the side to exchange insurance details.

We're in a different place in Copenhagen. It's mainstream and the 'bad apples' stand out, but it all started somewhere.

This is where we are today in Copenhagen. The bicycle is an equal partner in the transport equation. A goal, indeed, for every city.

When Copenhagen started on the journey to reestablish the bicycle on the urban landscape thirty odd years ago, and battle the onslaught of car culture, there were no sub-cultures at the point of departure. Women were cycling in fewer numbers than men, but there were no bike messenger tribes, lycra-clad "avid cyclist" or what have you, to influence our mainstream bicycle culture. We made the jump directly to mainstream and the democratization of urban cycling for every citizen.

The results were simple enough and are seen on the cycle tracks and streets today. Urban cycling is public domain. What happened when we mainstreamed it was that there was a growth in the number of sub-cultures and this continues to this day. Mainstream cycling brought on the rich diversity of bicycle culture. BMX, mountain biking, racing clubs and later on fixies and all that. A positive side effect to focusing on the general population was the growth of the peripheral groups.

This development is what we're seeing in cities like Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, et al. Urban cycling has returned suddenly and definitively to cities and the First Movers are regular citizens who only wish to get from A to B quickly. The absence of any sub-cultural influence means that the bicycle is regarded primarily as transport and something you can do in your regular clothes. In Paris, for example, most of the people using the Vélib bike share system have arrived from the Metro. As a result, the people you see cycling about the city are the same as you would see on the underground trains.

In order to ride a bicycle in Paris or these other cities it is not necessary to make a conscious decision to become part of a 'group' or 'tribe' or club. It doesn't require anything other than a bicycle.

As in Copenhagen, the blossoming mainstream bicycle culture has spawned growing interest in sub-cultures, adding to the rich fabric of a bicycle-friendly city.

Two million bicycles have been sold in Paris since the Velib system started. Interestingly, most of them are practical, classic upright bikes or city bike designs and this is due to the lack of influence of a fixie/messenger culture. There are no 'urban cycling clothes' or anything like it. Irritating if you have a "urban cycling clothes for profit" company, but great for urban cycling.

If you look at the situation in other Emerging Bicycle Cultures, there has been a strong prescence from various sub-cultures, be it the messenger crowd in cities like New York or the racing crowd in many countries. Most of them would continue to ride bicycles even without this current and intense period of interest in urban cycling and without the growing network of bicycle infrastructure.

Decades of monopoly on cycling's image has caused the populations of many of these countries to regard cycling as a fringe activity and they associate riding a bicycle with 'uniforms' and clubs or tribes, as opposed to being something for everyone.

The reemergence of the bicycle on the urban landscape has brought New Cyclists onto the streets and many of them are influenced by the pre-exisiting sub-cultures, be it 'gear' or attitude. Their role models are clearly defined, whether they adhere to them or not. By taking to the bicycle they become, in the eyes of the general population, members of the sub-culture. Often against their will.

The success of Copenhagen Cycle Chic and all the copycat blogs around the world is the surest sign that the general population has hungered after other role models with regards to cycling. Role models are of utmost importance if growth is to be experienced.

Sub-cultural influence on the mainstream is nothing new. Sub-culture influences culture every day of the week but there are few examples of a fringe tribe completely dominating the mainstream. We've all licked stamps and sent letters but very few of us are members of a stamp collecting club.

The question is how much sub-cultural cycling groups are limiting the growth of urban cycling with their dominant fringe attitude. How can we separate cycling's image from sub-culture and normalise it? That's the challenge.

We're seeing behavioural campaigns pop up wherein cyclists are being told to 'behave'. There is no doubt that if urban cycling is to gain respect as an equal partner in the traffic, simple things like stopping at red lights are important. [Worth noting that in cities like Paris cyclists stop at red lights and behave rather well]

Unfortunately, the dominant nature of cycling's sub-cultures makes it hard to transform urban cycling and sell the concept of the bicycle as a part of traffic to the sceptics. Many people in Emerging Bicycle Cultures only see the aggressive attitude of the fringe groups and judge cycling based on the way these individuals ride in the city. Have gone from being pioneers to being dead weights if redemocratizing cycling is the goal?

When you produce behavourial campaigns for cyclists, there is also the problem of defining your target group. Who are you speaking to? Can you really throw everyone on a bicycle into the same box? The mother with her child on the back of the bike together with an adrenaline-driven 'urban warrior'? Nah. Campaigns aimed at 'all' cyclists risk alienating the New Cyclists who really are the key to redemocratizing cycling. The most fertile buds on the rose bush.

If this is our goal, then it may be necessary to distance the image of urban cycling from the sub-cultures, in order to show the general population that the bicycle belongs and that it is just regular citizens who are using it as a transport tool. Without a doubt this may be a painful step given the small, tightknit character of the cycling community in many places. When the Common Good is in play, however, it is a necessary step.

Producing behavourial campaigns focused on cyclists only serves to continue the marginalisation of cycling and just hammers home the misconception that cycling is not something for everyone and is still just a sub-culture.

Pointing behavourial fingers at cyclists serves no good purpose if you don't point the fingers at the other traffic users at the same time. Behavourial campaigns aimed at everyone remove this focus on cyclists and also serve to place the bicycle on an equal footing in the public psyche.

If pointing fingers is your thing, then point them at the most dangerous and destructive elements in cities and towns. The automobiles. By recognising that there is a Bull in Society's China Shop and taking measure to tame it, you place focus logically and correctly on the largest problem.

Lowering speed limits, building traffic calming measures, etc. all help cycling as well as public health through reduced pollution, fewer accidents and less severe accidents, creating more liveable cities, and so on.

When you start speaking to a sub-culture, it gets tough. Sub-cultures - and cycling is no exception whether it's fixies or spandex-clad racers - have their own codes and language. Sub-cultures are proud of being different and have often defined themselves on their unique identity in the cityscape. Their external environment – car culture etc. - has dictated in many ways their percieved - or real - attitude and demonstrative role.

You don't get very far when you tell them to behave. And the new cyclists, with a lack of alternative role models, will perhaps feel like you're speaking to them. You'll either strengthen their links to the underground or you'll push them away.

Treating cyclists as equals is more beneficial than highlighting that they are strange or aparte, expecially when you're dealing with so many new cyclists that perhaps don't wish to be 'underground'.

There's an important sociological angle worth considering. When an underground group sees their chosen culture going mainstream, it often breeds resentment. "I've been doing this for years, now everyone's doing it!" It's not helpful for mainstreaming urban cycling. This is a quote in a recent New York article:

“There is definitely a downside to biking when bikes become a fashion fad,” If you unleash a herd of teetering, wobbly fashionistas into city streets without any real knowledge of how to ride a bike in traffic, accidents can (and likely will) happen.”

Experience is important, sure. But this is a 'purist' attacking other people riding bicycles. This is a stamp collector mocking people who lick stamps on their christmas card to grandma but who don't place them thoughtfully on the envelope, like stamp lovers do.

You know what? The people who are new to the wild ride at the amusement park hold on tightest. Wobbly doesn't need to be dangerous. If you ask me, the Copenhagen Cycle Chic slogan - Style over speed - is the greatest traffic safety slogan in the history of cycling. It may be irritating to the purists who now have to ride crazier to avoid new obstacles on their previously sacred urban landscape. But really, who cares. Such is democracy and democratization.

I have recieved countless emails from readers on my blogs who tell tales of animosity. Just read this rant against the Cycle Chic movement. Segments of the underground are revolting against the mainstream. Just like they did over 100 years ago when the rich saw their prized toy - the bicycle - go mainstream. They mocked, ridiculed, spit upon the labourers and women on bicycles. History is repeating itself it seems.

All the more reason to stick to our guns and continue to work towards giving the bicycle back to the people. It worked the first time. It'll work again.


In the next installment I'll highlight how we communicate with cyclists in Copenhagen and discusss various behavourial campaigns my company Copenhagenize Consulting is working on for other cities.


portlandize.com said...

I think there are two major obstacles that are also present in the U.S., with regard to cycling for everyone:

1.) In most countries in Europe, there is an idea that you are part of a society, and you have some responsibility to give into that society for the benefit of everyone. This is nearly non-existant in the U.S. What this means is that it's difficult to really democratize anything, because the rich have the influence, and for the most part feel no need to consider others. On the same token, the middle class and the poor don't feel the need to consider others much either, but they simply have no choice, especially the poor.

2.) Because of this and many other reasons, the goal of most Americans is to get richer and have more stuff. The automobile has become one of the premier signs of affluence, and therefore the bicycle, if not used for sport, is viewed as an indication of being poor by many, which then makes you "out" socially. I think the already-existing social fabric in places like Denmark and The Netherlands helps this to be much less of an issue. People are viewed much more equally on a social level in general (it seems to me), and in fact generally are more equal monetarily and such.

Not that this dooms the bicycle to failure, obviously, but they are difficult obstacles to sort of sustainable transportation for everyone kind of movements. I'm not really sure how to go about working around those - it's gonna take a while.

Matt said...

This entry shows your entire philosophy. It is a powerful meme, and it's catching on. Soon you'll be a nonchalant phenomenon.

It already exists in scattered parts I'm sure, but a design pattern language book for a bike city, now I'd like to see that.

We could send a large print copy to Mr Headwind, co Parliament House, Sydney, NSW, 2000.

Just a cyclist said...

I hope that you don't have too much emphasis on the subcultures when you hold your Bicycle Culture lectures.

jrobitaille said...

Wow, interesting article that I areciated on an even acedemic level. I loved the line

Their role models are clearly defined, whether they adhere to them or not.

Very true.


Michael said...

There is a strong tribal aspect to the Australian cycling culture .

My theory is that, because the the Government has shown little or no interest in cycling as transport, this culture, which is all about sport and speed, has grown up by default.

It does not appear very welcoming if you just want to cycle in the European way, to get somewhere on a bike for work or shopping.

Some change is happening. In Yarra council area, Melbourne, commuting is now up to 9% on bikes, an amazing figure for Australia

But when I look through the latest copy of Cycling Australia, our flagship bike mag, the tribal culture completely dominates.

Here's what I found visually. 37 news photos or ads featuring lycra.

Another 21 featuring sports clothes, often with logos attached.

I found no one who looked like an European cyclist, and only three photos of people in more or less normal clothes. One was a school girl in Cambodia.

The message is very clear, if you ain't got the gear, you don't belong on a bike.

The type of bikes the mag. features are revealing too. Mucho carbon fibre, naturally.

But the sort of bike you find all over Europe, universally associated with work or shopping, sit-up bikes with mudguards, a chain-guard, luggage rack, lights, etc, hardly appear in Australian cyclist.

But I did find 38 photos of road bikes and 28 of high end racing bikes.

Yes, there were three European bikes on those pages. A Gazelle ad showed two sit up bikes, and that girl in Cambodia had a sit-up too, bless her. Not finding a single basket on a bike, came as no surprise.

Again, the message is clear, don't ride the wrong sort of bike around this tribe!

This is why I'm so keen to see Bike Share come here. Imagine, 5000 sit-up bikes, all step through, all with baskets, appearing our our streets as they did in Montreal this summer, transforming the local the bike culture overnight.

It was the Bixi invasion, and over 3.5 millions kms. were ridden on those sturdy bixis before they were taken off for winter hibernation

The same could happen here too if our cities were flooded with these unglamorous practical bikes, and with us, it'd be year round usage, blessed as we are with a perfect bike climate.

But, though two contracts have already been signed, whether the Aussie Bixis ever make it, or are more than just curiosities, is not sure because of our compulsory helmet laws.

It's very easy to set up the solar powered bike dispensing stations. There were 300 of them in Montreal.

But dispensing a sterilized, tested, helmet along with the bike, now that's well nigh impossible

I fear that if we don't get Bike Share, it will take way longer to open up our tribal cycle culture.

Don't get me wrong, it's a lot of fun the local bike scene. It gets people very fit, does lots of charity rides, offers superb touring opportunities, etc.

But all of that has little to do with the cycling we need most urgently, the mundane daily rides which can clean our air and declogg our cities of cars.

As we hope and wait of Bike Share, how about a sub sub tribe called SUBU. Sit Up Bikes unite!

Mike Rubbo

lagatta à montréal said...

Very interesting about behaviour. One does get bad behaviour among cyclists in immature cycling cultures, and while I certainly disagree with a focus on cyclists when cars are the main safety and environmental problem everywhere, behaviour such as cycling on busy sidewalks/pavements is utterly unacceptable and creates animosity to polite, respectful cyclists.

I wrote a long common to that nasty, sectarian "Biker Chic" person, then saw I'd need a google account to sign in.

The only very minor agreement I have with her is that as a het woman, I would like a few more attractive men at CCChic!

Here is is if I can't get it up over there:

I'm in my 50s. I've been cycling in normal city clothing for well over 30 years - what you dismiss as "cycle chic". I don't wear really high heels at any time, but I do like to have attractive shoes - I only wear sneakers or jogging shoes if I'm actually doing sport or certain other "outdoor" activities. I live in Montréal and see many many cyclists of both sexes and all ages paying attention to looking good on their bicycles. This is part of urban life and culture.

You do not want to see an average 50ish woman - or man - dressed in a midriff-revealing getup like the one the athlete in your picture is wearing. Yes, I do care how people - men or women, gay or straight - react to how I'm dressed and how I present myself. That is part of culture.

I've been involved in feminist causes, and other social causes, since I was a teenager. That does not mean I want to dress like Andrea Dworkin.

I think Mikael, other than his normal interest in attractive women as a heterosexual man (I'm sure there are gay men who have just as normal an interest in attractive guys, who post more men on their blogs) is also spotlighting women to counteract the skewed vision of who a "cyclist" is in many countries and in particular English-speaking countries, where a cyclist is necessarily a hard-bodied, aggressive athlete in specialised clothing and gear.

There are many blogs now about cycling in urban clothing, Amsterdamize and Cycle Chic (Boston) are other well-known ones.

I almost always wear a skirt cycling simply because I'm a skirt gal - I look much nicer in skirts than in trousers. With leggings in cold weather. Pretty scarves, a nice hat and gloves if it's cold, and of course an upright city bicycle.

Many people my age and older of both sexes prefer a so-called "women's" frame because our joints aren't as limber as they used to be, especially before we're up and running cyclng away (which is very good for the old joints).

I don't care how you dress to cycle but to put it politely, I'm very peeved that my presence on the roads seems some kind of insult to your pure athletic vision, and your very bizarre take on feminism.

Ole. said...

this is absolutely inspiring. i would love to translate it in russian. to spread the idea. if you don't mind

Saschi said...

Nice piece. But (as always ;-) ) a big "BUT"
When you say:

"There's an important sociological angle worth considering. When an underground group sees their chosen culture going mainstream, it often breeds resentment. "I've been doing this for years, now everyone's doing it!" It's not helpful for mainstreaming urban cycling. This is a quote in a recent New York article:

“There is definitely a downside to biking when bikes become a fashion fad,” If you unleash a herd of teetering, wobbly fashionistas into city streets without any real knowledge of how to ride a bike in traffic, accidents can (and likely will) happen.”

Experience is important, sure. But this is a 'purist' attacking other people riding bicycles. This is a stamp collector mocking people who lick stamps on their christmas card to grandma but who don't place them thoughtfully on the envelope, like stamp lovers do."

...this sounds like you are making ignorance a valid point of view.

In my experience bikes and cars are not dangerous per se but it is the unqualified use of them. Like it or not: day after day I am confronted with "naive" cyclists going the wrong direction on the bike lane, cutting corners, using headphones, passing pedestrians way to closely and - yes - running the redlight while not having a light on their bike. This IS dangerous and lucky you that you have only seen so few accidents, I have seen many, most involving inexperienced cyclists on bike lanes (granted - not using them properly). Crashing into other cyclists but also under the bus. So maybe there IS something to be learned from experienced cyclists and cycling is something to be learned as everything else.
E.g. it cant harm to have a look at this: http://bicyclesafe.com/

Yes, cycling is for everybody, but naivety IS in fact dangerous. My key experience: two girls, dressed up pretty much like you would love it, coming around a narrow corner wrong direction on narrow bike lane, headphones AND chatting (how do they do THAT?)at 25 km/h. Had to jump into traffic to avoid crash. Similar things more the rule than the exception.

Off topic: Great use of Powerpoint by the way, nice icons...

portlandize.com said...

Saschi: I think this is a symptom of the fact that bicycling is becoming more mainstream, and will decline after a while. Those people you mention are going to either stop riding (because they only did it due to its trendiness), or get better at riding, learn the rules better, etc. In places like Denmark and The Netherlands where every single citizen grows up riding bikes for transportation, you don't have that problem, because everyone learns as a child how it's done.

Melbourne Cyclist said...

Michael: re bike magazines being mostly "sub-culture" focussed in terms of the pictures featured etc.

I don't read bike magazines because I'm not a "cyclist", I'm a person who chooses to get around on a bike (except for my lazy days, when I choose tram, or maybe even splurge on a taxi!). Just as when I was living in the UK and driving regularly, I never read driving magazines, because I wasn't a "motorist", but a person choosing to use my car to get from A to B.

So I almost think that it's appropriate for bike magazines to be targetted at the subcultures - these are the people who are going to be sufficiently interested to pick them up and read them after all.

Having said which, we do desperately need the sit-up bike invasion, with those types of bikes needing as much publicity as possible - if we could somehow get the newspapers to include bikes in the "Drive" sections...?

Michael said...

Melb. cyclist, yes that's why I think Bike share is so important.

It's an intravenous injection of these sit- up bikes, baskets and all, into be traffic stream of a city.

Help me fuel the idea on my blog.
"and so to bike" Mike

Saschi said...

@portlandize: I would rather rely on good communication (not encouaging naivety by saying "nothing can happen on a bike" but giving some valid hints on how to do it) than evolution (those who learn fast enough survive, the others not.
So I would love to see Mikel use his huge communicative skills also on that once in a while

Mikael said...

Is the glass half-empty when you look at it, Saschi?

You are welcome to focus on the negatives - ie. your horrific tale of two girls on bicycles - but don't expect me to join you.

Adrienne Johnson said...

Saschi- How is Mikael supposed to address the poor road skills of riders across the globe? Isn't there some point when individuals need to take ownership of their own ability to recognize a one way street and that it might not be a good idea to ride the wrong way on it? The best way to stop that behavior is to get enough riders on the street that poor cyclist behavior and substandard skills lessen through tremendous peer pressure and sheer numbers.

Anonymous said...


While I can see your point, I disagree. Intelligent Americans don't fall for Car=Happiness=Wealth.

I know some healthy, educated, and wealthy Americans who despise cars and driving. They choose living life over life in a car, and move to places where they have transportation options.

Many Americans are becoming aware of the car/single family house ponzi scheme (mainly youth) and the new American status symbol is not just walking or cycling, but LIVING in a walkable/bikeable place with high social capital.

Just a cyclist said...

I've never understood the great fuss about cyclists using headphones.
Car drivers are not expected to use audible cues neither the motorcyclists (the ability of MC helmets to silence is a main selling point). This while the higher speeds of motor vehicles arguably place a higher demand on the drivers reaction times.

Álvaro said...

just for the sake of debate (I find this post very interesting, and very generous of you Mikael to share it with us):

I find the point about the subcultures rather patronising.

As with any sort of culture, I rather have a rich and diverse bicycle culture, with its fringes -some of which I might dislike. As in any human activity, you'll have antisocial, selfish individuals who harass and try to muscle out of their way the rest of the people, but that's just inevitable.

As bicycling becomes mainstream in new places, there will be temptations to over-regulate it and control it (look at Barcelona, where the city council has now made it an offense to lock your bike to anything that's not a designated bicycle parking facility... without providing more of these, thus alienating many cyclist).

People should be able to express their individuality with their bikes too. And respect other citizens, but not just when cycling, always! this is a given if we are to live in civilised societies.

Oh! and BTW, I invite any of you to stand at a set of traffic lights here in Amsterdam and count how many cyclist skip them. You might be surprised.

Gareth Rees said...

Your message is very clear: (1) mainstream cycling won't come about by growing cycling sub-cultures; (2) so if your aim is to increase cycling it makes no sense to target your promotional activity at those sub-cultures, as this just promotes the idea that cycling is sub-cultural; (3) so being effective at promoting cycling means marginalizing the sub-cultures.

I agree definitely with (1) and (2), and there's clearly some truth in (3), though maybe I need a bit more persuading.

However, for people coming from cycling sub-cultures, it's hard not to hear your (3) as meaning something like "the sub-cultures are harming the prospects for mainstream cycling and should shut up". Perhaps you could go to more effort to make it clear that you don't actually mean this.

Sub-cultures ought to welcome the emergence of mainstream cycling, because it means that they can go back to (say) being bicycle racers, instead of being cycle campaigners who do a bit of racing on the side.

Mikael said...

Regarding (c) - perhaps this is exactly what I mean and the core of the point I'm trying to make, although you make it sound harsher than my actual convictions.

J.S. in Austin said...

@Gareth, that's not what I got out of this lecture. I don't think it's in any way putting down the subcultures, just pointing that the important thing is to promote cycling from the point of view of all traffic users, and also to act as if there were a strong group of more mainstream cyclists - riding slowly for practical trips in everyday clothes - when creating advertising or cycling infrastructure.

I really liked the point that bad behavior - which is WAY too often used to justify rules against cycling or to stop the development of bike infrastructure - is usually a sign of inadequate infrastructure!

This whole lecture is amazing fuel for promoting cycling as transportation in the US.

@Portlandize, I agree with the anonymouse poster that the unquestioned desire for car-owenership seems to be reaching a point where it has less stranglehold over the American psyche. The combined rise of in "coolness" of environmentalism, cycling, walkable urban areas, and slowness is leading to a powerful meme that cars are uncool on many levels. Combine that with more mainstream at failing car companies, outsourcing jobs to other countries, and the general decline of the "American" automobile, and the average American is ripe for a strong intervention in favor of alternatives to living life in a car. One small example, is that more and more I'm hearing from people who notice I don't drive, "I wish I could bike to work." Most often, when I find out how far they live from their work, they could, if they were brave enough and/or crazy enough and/or had adequate infrastructure. But they important is that DESIRE is there, where a decade ago maybe everyone was totally happy and satisfied driving. Now we know better.

Anonymous said...

again, i stress that you are exclusive instead of inclusive with your attitude to the 'sub-cultures'. (maybe exclusivity is a necessary condition to be an activist.) the bicycle is a multi modal machine--we should strive to be as adaptable as it is. cycle chic unfortunately sees only one mode of the bike and denigrate other modes that cycle chic deems 'harmful' to its movement. that is akin to promoting using your legs only to walk and deriding the 'sub-cultures' of joggers and runners as deleterious to walking because they celebrate other forms of locomotion. you do a disservice to your movement by assuming that we can, or should, only do the 'style over speed' thing with the bicycle.
i mean with my bikes, i have raced on road, i have raced off-road, i bike to the grocery store, i bike to work with brief case on rack, i bike to school with books in backpack, i wear helmet on some rides, go bare-head on others, i bike in lycra on 75-miles rides, i bike in jeans on shopping runs, i bike wearing eyeglasses, i bike wearing contact lens with bike shades, i bike at night with blinding white headlight and blinking red tailight, i bike in the rain for fun, i bike in sub-freezing cold for necessity, i bike in 110-degree heat because this is texas, i ride on dedicated bike lane, i have ridden on superhighway, mostly i ride on street with traffic, i ride on mountain trails, i descend steep rocky talus, i ford stream and cross prairie, i have been shot at for being a cyclist, i have been forced off the road by bike-hating motorist, i have been greeted with smiles and waves as i ride pass homes, i wave at children on tricycles, sometime i run red lights, most time motorists yield to me, usually i defer to other, i have yelled at motorists, motorists have blared their horn at me, i own a 20-year old racer, i own a 2 months-old mountain bike and need to replace my stolen commuter, i replace equipment when it breaks, i drive 10,000 miles a year, i fly, i ride the bus and train but almost never the taxi. in other words, my, and i suspect most people's, relation with the bicycle is too complex to adhere to a narrow tenet sprung up by cycle chic. let's just use the bike, in all its form, and let culture work itself out.

shuichi said...

I have read it and uploaded my entry on my blog http://mamabicycle.blogspot.com/2010/12/cultural-gaps-study-in-blog.html . Thanks.

Gary said...

I think an important component of the interaction of sub-cultural and mainstream is missing here.

Today I am an advocate for better riding conditions, more bike lanes, paths, separation, bike share and highly active and local politics to do so, and starting to influence the municipality (Santa Monica) where I live along with others I've worked with.

However I became passionate about bikes in the first place because I stumbled upon the diverse Midnight Ridazz culture in Los Angeles, which might be described as sub-cultural in this analysis.

Almost every local bike advocate I know working to create the political pressure for LA to finally start doing something about bike plan implementation is someone who took a leap out from the sub-culture to start doing the work of making biking accessible to all.

If there was no sub-culture there fostering and encouraging new advocates by opening their eyes to a what life might be like oriented around bikes rather than cars, there wouldn't be the growing number of advocates pressuring the political process.

If a government simply decides bikes are the way forward, great, it can perhaps move along without a sub-culture first, but it has been my experience in the LA area that without the minority sub-culture, there would have been nearly zero traction to do anything. LADOT would be going about it's not doing anything like it had been doing for decades with no one passionate enough to be the watch dogs demanding better. Now they can't get away with doing nothing because they've got a growing number of people breathing down their neck, many of whom from or emerged from the sub-cultural cycling community in LA. The LA Bicycle Kitchen, which has been helping folks build up and repair bikes on the cheap, producing more "citizen cyclists" (my wife was one), was started by an LA bike messenger.

This model as presented I feel is downplaying some of the good that can and does come from bicycling sub-cultures, and over simplifies the political process to get bicycling prioritized. In cities where driving has been the dominant paradigm for nearly all kinds of journeys, there often lacks the political will to do anything at all without agitators.