22 January 2011

Bike Bike in Calgary

Bike Bike Sean
If you're itching for a Cycle Chic fix and you find yourself in Calgary, Canada, this is your pusher. Sean Carter owns Bike Bike, a bike shop for Citizen Cyclists. In a city like Calgary, Sean is an ambassador for a virtually unknown land. This is Calgary - Cowtown, SUV-central, drive-600-metres-in-a-one-tonne-pickup-for-a-litre-of-milk Calgary. A shop like Bike Bike in Calgary is like a cricket equipment shop in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Bike Bike Selection
But he knows what he's doing, our Sean. He opened last year, intent on bring upright bicycles, bicycle culture and Cycle Chic to the city. I popped by a couple of times to say hello when I was in town in December and we had some good chats. Imagine being the only shop that sells "bicycles for the rest of us" in a city of a million people.

Sean explained that half of his work involves 'education'. People come into the shop, expecting the usual sub-cultural wares like carbon fibre wonderbikes, lycra and all manner of 'gear'. They don't really know what to make of it when they see wicker baskets, Batavus bicycles (with chainguards, skirtguards and back racks) and child seats on display.

Indeed, while we were sitting having a cider near closing time, a man came in and had a look around. He had heard of this place from a friend, he said. Thought he would check it out, he said.

Doing a loop round the locale he looked as stunned as a fundamentalist who had stumbled into a sex shop. I watched him. He took one intial glance at the bicycles and then ignored, concentrating on the shelves instead. The bikes just didn't compute. He was gone in under a minute.

Sean is used to this. He gets it all the time, he told me.

Upright bicycles dropped off the map in cities like Calgary back in the 1960's and 1970's when car culture reached its tipping point. By re-introducing the kind of bicycles that are normal in mainstream bicycle cultures, he knows that education is part of the deal. Re-training people to understand that riding a bicycle isn't restricted to long, sporty weekend rides. That popping down to the shops or the café - or riding to work - isn't an extreme sport.

He gets all the questions you might expect. "Aren't those bikes heavy?" "Why do I need a basket?" But Sean is cheerful, talkative and passionate. He knows his shit. He believes in what he is doing. He replies fluently and eloquently. Converting people's misconceptions about the bicycle after 40 years of marketing the bike in these parts as sport or recreation but not much else.

He didn't go half way when designing his shop either. You know, half of the inventory being 'weekend warrior' toys and then half - at the back of the shop - upright bicycles. He went the whole nine yards. Upright bikes. Cargo bikes. Lovely bells, too. Respect, we say.
Bike Bike Bike
Calgary is light-years behind many other North American cities in implementing bicycle infrastructure. The global boom in urban cycling, however, has reached this city in the foothills of the Rockies. There is a market for Sean's products. There are ears that listen to his impassioned pitches.

Business is good, I'm told. Betting the farm on a bike shop selling European bicycles and accessories in Cowtown (the city makes Houston look like Milano, belive me) is paying off. Sean knows how to market it, which makes me - who babbles about selling 'bicycle culture' positively - thrilled to bits.

On my first visit to the shop I met a Dane living in the city. He was in to pick up a briefcase that could be attached to his back rack. He cycled to work. "Not as easy as in Copenhagen", he said.

Calgary is, however, getting into the loop. Their traffic planners know what needs to be done. I know the bicycle planners in the city and had a meeting with one of them on my visit. It may take time, but even cities like Calgary know that providing for bicycle culture is a must. It's on the table at meetings. It's in the consciousness. One thing I found interesting is that the car lanes are so incredibly wide in the city. Impossibly wide. Creating on street cycle tracks would be a piece of cake and would, in many cases, leave the number of car lanes intact. Just narrow them. Narrower car lanes only serve to improve traffic safety.

Until infrastructure is built, at least the bridgehead is established in Calgary. Sean Carter is leading the charge. Bicycle culture for Citizen Cyclists is in capable hands in Cowtown.

Bike Bike's website

Bike Bike Cartoon
And you ever have to pee at Bike Bike, this is what you'll see in the bathroom. Which kind of sums it all up.


Amy said...

Thanks Sean! I'm originally from Calgary and knows how much that city desperately needs you! I hope to see your influence on the roads the next time I'm back. I will definitely pop into the store.

Carolyn said...

I wish we had a shop like that in Prince George. :(

hamish wilson said...

Calgary's got far more potential for good things now with that new progressive mayor.

Tom said...

"he looked as stunned as a fundamentalist who had stumbled into a sex shop."

I love it!!!

amoeba said...

"he looked as stunned as a fundamentalist who had stumbled into a sex shop."

That's a jarring parallel that's simultaneously apt and funny. The huge mental readjustment required to convert 'cyclists' and the wider population into people who just happen to ride bikes on a daily basis is a much larger hurdle than many realise.

Anonymous said...

The store is wonderful very friendly and inviting, I think his girlfriend Nadia Smiley has been a behind the sceen silent posative influence.

String Bean Jen said...

Mad respect to Sean and his awesome looking store. I'll probably never visit Calgary but I hope it does very well and can change at least *some* local's minds about what cycling is and can be. Best of luck!

RJ said...

Sean sold me my first 'town bike' and it is one of the reasons I will remain in the city core. Ride to the shops, pubs, galleries etc.
While in Europe (especially Copenhagen) I was very impressed with the amount of bicycles in the cities and villages we visited. Bravo to you Sean for trying to infuse the bike culture in Oiltown.

coldbike said...

Although I don't believe that Calgary is as bad as some claim for cycling, I was really happy to see a shop that sells normal bikes open here.
I think that Sean is an ideal advocate for cycling in that he keeps bikes accessible for everyone despite possessing substantial skill in several cycling sport disciplines.

Lim Soo 林蘇 said...

This is amazing. And I hope we will have this kind of bike shop in Hong Kong.

Kevin Love said...

I see that Calgary's newspaper has an article on subjective safety (or the lack thereof) for cyclists at:


Anonymous said...

I lived in Calgary for over two decades, and bikebike is probably the nicest shop I've ever seen. Mr. Carter is friendly, honest, and, most important, he's not a smug asshole.

ZA said...

One thing that Calgarians can take lasting pride in is their tradition of honouring pedestrians crossing streets. Just stepping up to the crossing can quell 8 lanes of vehicular traffic.

Anonymous said...

Calgary's river pathway system is really nice to ride on. Calgary's challenge will be getting people to ride in such cold weather. The roads are gravelled for traction in the winter, and tight roads get tighter when snow is piled along the curb.

Brie said...

Hooray for the bike bike shout out! I remember walking into this store a few days after it opened and nearly fainting. Surely this can't actually exist in Calgary, I thought, the city where grown men scream at you for riding in a bike lane (or rather, the tiny bit of street beside the parked cars with a bicycle painted on it) from their SUV's and everyone thinks you're a nutball for dressing nicely for your commute to work. You give me hope for Calgary Sean!

BikeBike said...

Hey Mikael

It was a real pleasure to meet you and chatting over ciders was sweet!

Thank you for all of the nice comments - our first year in business has exceeded our best projections and Calgarians have proven that this city isn't all about SUV's and the oil/gas biz. There are many dedicated daily cyclists in Calgary and more are choosing to cycle all the time.

As an earlier commenter mentioned, much of our success is due to our focus on creating a space that women cyclists and new riders can feel comfortable in, and I have my girlfriend and business partner Nadia Smiley to thank. Her sensibility and esthetics have established BikeBike as a bikeshop unlike any other - in a good way!

Safe travels to all!

wicker storage baskets said...

"he looked as stunned as a fundamentalist who had stumbled into a sex shop."

This is amazing.