18 March 2010

Sit Up Straight, Sydney


Here's a cartoon that accompanied an article in the Sydney Morning Herald:

"Sydney will never be a bicycle-friendly city until it develops a ''second cycling culture'' which encourages relaxed European-style riding without the compulsory use of helmets, experts have warned."

John Pucher does most of the talking in the interview but renowned documentarist turned cycling blogger Mike Rubbo is quoted as well.

It's an interesting angle in the article. Mr Rubbo has gotten hold of the upright bike angle in order to differentiate what I call Citizen Cyclists from sports enthusiasts. Indeed, his blog is named Sit-Up Cycle.

In every city on the planet where cycling is mainstream transport, the majority of the people you see resemble the chap on the right, and on bikes like that. Hilly cities, flat cities, cold cities, hot cities, established bicycle-friendly cities and developing bicycle-friendly cities.

Using this bicycle design angle is fresh. It is, after all, the most popular bicycle design on the planet. Should we guess by 10 to 1? It's worked for more than a century in every country and across every topography.

The sports bike manufacturers have had free reign regarding marketing for a few decades in many countries. They may have encouraged a few people to join cycling clubs, take up recreational cycling on the weekends and maybe even inspired some cycle sport stars who we love to watch in Le Tour or the Giro. Great but hardly mainstream. Hardly re-democratizing the bicycle and re-establishing it as transport in any great numbers.

So why not focus on bicycle design in order to sell urban cycling to the masses? Upright bikes may be exotic to many in countries like Australia now, but they used to be a main feature on the urban landscape. Maybe it's time to let the 'other' bike brands have a go. The Batavus', Velorbis', Pashley's, et al. Let a whole new demographic realise that they don't have to invest in space age bicycles and all the gear. Tell them, "Um... you don't actually have to look like a 'cyclist' to ride a bike..." And pssst... it's safer sitting upright...

They couldn't do worse for selling cycling than decades of sports branding. I'll bet they'll get a lot further, a lot quicker. The results will be brilliant for society. The sports industry won't give up without a fight, of course, but a little competition never hurt. We're talking about a 'second cycling culture' after all, not a replacement cycling culture.

Although judging by many of the comments under the article, there is an uphill battle. Then again, it's the City That Hates Bikes...