The Bicycle Shop business in the U.S. is tough. Margins are thin, future sales tough to predict, good employees hard to find, and manufacturers refuse to protect bricks & mortar dealers from lower price online competitors. To owners, shops often seem more a labor of love than a source of income.
The National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) recently published a report that really brings this to light. It focused on the continuing decline of bicycling and bicycle sales in the U.S. for the past 12 to 14 years. In 2000, 43.1 million people rode bicycles six or more days which is 148 riders per thousand population; by 2014 this had declined to 35.6 million or 111 riders per thousand.
In 2005, 67 bicycles were sold per thousand people and in 2014 this had fallen to 57 per thousand. Perhaps worse, sales of bicycles with a 20” or larger wheel size have fallen from a high of 67 per thousand population around 1974 to just 39 per thousand in 2014. The number of bicycle shops has fallen by 18% over the past decade while combined sales floor square footage has remained stagnant.
None of this is new. It’s been the number one topic of conversation for over a decade among bicycle shop owners.
I often wonder if the major impediment to sales growth is that U.S. shops are largely and often exclusively focused on recreation rather than transportation. U.S. shops are selling something that isn’t very critical nor even very useful for many people, instead of selling a valuable necessity.
An average person will only do something recreational for a short bit before they move on to something else. Many are also hesitant to spend money on recreational pursuits. This does not a broad, diverse market make.
There are certainly people who are devoted cyclists who will ride frequently throughout their lives and buy a lot of cycling stuff. These are very few, though, and unfortunately for local bicycle shops are also more likely than the average consumer to purchase online, especially highly profitable accessories.
Even the majority of papers and articles about getting more women riding bicycles (and buying bicycles and accessories) focuses on fitness and recreation rather than daily transportation. One woman told me that she’s visited two woman-owned shops in other cities and both were great at telling her about women-specific bicycles and lycra and classes for adjusting a derailleur, but neither had a clue about her need to take her children to school, bring groceries home and not wanting to worry about anything mechanical beyond air in her tires. This, by the way, goes for most guys as well.
The Death Cycle
Our current recreational focus has resulted in people having a garage full of bikes that aren’t very durable, go out of adjustment quickly, are uncomfortable to ride, and can’t easily be ridden in ordinary clothes.
So, we have millions of bikes hanging in garages, collecting dust and rarely ridden. Who wants to change in to shorts, search for wherever they put their helmet last year and struggle to get their bicycle down from the ceiling before trying to find the pump for the now flat tires and all only to then ride a bicycle that’s uncomfortable and has out of adjustment clackity-clacking gears? And this is the simple process for those who don’t load them on their car to drive to some place that they feel is safe enough to ride (I’ve always found it fascinating how many more bikes on cars I see in the U.S. than The Netherlands).
Worse, because people don’t want to ride their uncomfortable pants-leg eating bicycles, they are missing out on what may be the best source of routine activity available and they become overweight or obese. If you’re overweight, you’re even less likely to want to ride your out-of-adjustment bicycle. BTW, I’m not blaming our poor health and obesity on the bicycle industry; Wendy’s Baconator, among many others, contributes it’s share.
Plus, we’re also ending up with bikes that either can’t carry anything or get squirrelly when more than a loaf of bread is squished on the rack. So much for useful transportation.
Time for a new bicycle? Hardly. If you already have a rarely-used bicycle collecting dust in the garage, you’re unlikely to want to spend more money on another for fear that it, too, will do nothing but hang in the garage, collect dust and it remind you of this every day it hangs there. That’s not good for sales.
Many people don’t want to be ‘cyclists’. They don’t want to wear lycra or clackety shoes. They don’t want to wear helmets or get helmet hair or drip sweat all over the floor in their favorite cafe. They don’t want to abide by The Rules or build a bicycle repair station in their garage.
Perhaps most of all they don’t want to be associated with ‘those cyclists‘ — the ones who run red lights when others have right-of-way or block traffic because they-have-a-right-to-the-road (Note: they do have a right to the road, but that’s another topic). They don’t want to be associated with people who have irritatingly bright blinkie strobe lights that blind them when they’re driving. They don’t want to be confused with people whose common pose is an anti-social fist up in the air gesticulating to the car that just passed them too close.
They’ve heard enough anti-cyclist rhetoric on radio and at dinner parties to know that this is a group that perhaps they don’t want to be associated with.
This isn’t a criticism of people who wear lycra and helmets, I have a closetful myself, but simply a note that ‘cyclists’ are not always viewed very positively and this might not be the lifestyle to be selling.
What’s a bike shop to do?
Today we have the wrong bikes for the wrong reason and no place to ride. No wonder sales have been flat, and declining per capita, for 15 years.
What if we turn this around? Give people a good reason and purpose to ride often — transportation. Build safe and comfortable places to ride — protected bikeways. Provide people with proper bicycles that are simple and durable.
1) Sell the idea of riding for transportation. Give people a reason and a purpose to ride every week or every day. Plant the seed that a bicycle is much more than a recreational toy. Someone who rides frequently, like to dinner once per week, is more likely to want to invest in an upgraded bicycle in a few years and more likely become interested in other bicycling, like racing or off-road.
2) Do everything you can to make bicycling in your neighborhood and sales area comfortable and safe for normal average people. There’s a reason that The Netherlands has a busy bicycle shop on just about every corner. Get copies of the CROW Design Manual For Bicycle Traffic, learn it, and promote it. Get involved with the NBDA’s Green Lane Project. Read A View From The Cycle Path and Bicycle Dutch.
3) Sell bicycles that work for average people. KISS is important — don’t make bicycling complicated. Start each sale with a good city bike. Sell them something that will always be easy and ready to ride and they are more likely to ride often rather than just a couple of times per year. A bicycle that can be ridden in any clothes, that won’t eat their jeans, and that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance.
4A) Hide your inner cyclist (and the associated accessories). Don’t appear to be part of the fraternity. Don’t use buzz words. Don’t try to impress customers with how much they don’t know about The Fraternity.
Don’t tell them to HTFU and learn to drive their bike with 4000 lb weapons disguised as cars. Acknowledge that riding on most of our U.S. roads is dangerous, uncomfortable, and sometimes terrifying. Let them know what you are doing to change this (and maybe enlist their help).
Help average people feel comfortable when they walk in. Don’t make them feel like they’re out of their element and in a place they don’t belong. Rather than posters of racers and off-road folk, maybe have posters of average people riding a bicycle wearing nothing but the normal clothes they wear to work or dinner.
4B) Put bicycle fraternity accessories in a corner or separate room, if you carry them at all. This includes clothing, shoes, helmets, nutrition, and parts.
Imagine if car dealers only sold recreational cars. Cars for racing and off-roading. Cars not really suited to daily use. If part of every sale included a lecture on the need to buy and wear a helmet and safety vest and take a class on repair and maintenance? If your car came without lights or locks or fenders or anywhere to carry anything home from the store. And if it were suggested that you HTFU and learn to operate your car among 200 mph trains.
A bike that’s easy and comfortable to ride is more likely to be ridden, less likely to collect dust, more likely to result in a healthy fit customer, more likely to be replaced with an upgraded model, and more likely to result in people seeing others riding and want one themselves.
* Photos (unless noted): Franz-Michael S. Melbin, Copenhagen Cycle Chic.
 And of course, the best way to make a million bucks is to start with two million and open a bike shop.
 This and other data is from Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, July 1, 2015, The 2015 NBDA Specialty Bicycle Retail Study (http://nbda.com/articles/specialty-bicycle-retail-study-pg157.htm) and the NBDA U.S. Bicycle Market 2014 (http://nbda.com/articles/u.s.-bicycle-market-2014-pg196.htm).
 Total bicycle and accessories sales was $7.4 billion in 2014 of which $4.7 billion or 63% was from local bicycle shops.
This. I have a feeling if my local bike shops sold box bikes, or (affordable) city bikes, I would have bought one of each by now. But alas, I don’t even know where to start.
It depends what you consider affordable, but we’ve spent a boatload at Calhoun Cycle over the past few years (on several bikes, mind you–they’re just So Fun!), and I still don’t own a single piece of lycra… They have great city bikes and cargo bikes. Alas, no box bikes, but I hear Varsity does a roaring trade in those. They can be found, nice ones too, you just have to know where to look.
You know what’s almost completely missing from the marketplace? A decent kid bike that easily does a school commute–fenders, racks, chain guards and gears. You can find bikes with each of those, but nothing with all of them. My 8yo is riding an adult folder because of this (which does have all these features, with the added bonus that it will grow with him).
There’s money to be made for bike shops if they stop focusing on diamond frames, clipless pedals, and drop down handlebars.
I second your vote for Varsity!
Hi Nicole. Batavus makes great kid bikes in a variety of sizes (18″, 20″, 22″, 24″, 26″) such as: https://www.batavus.nl/kinderfietsen/diva-kids-cargo-24-inch.htm. I’m not sure if anyone in the U.S. stocks them but you could start with:
J.C. Lind Bike Co. Chicago, IL
Bicycle Belle Somerville, MA
A Streetbike Named Desire Palo Alto, CA
Clever Cycles Portland, OR
My Dutch Bike San Francisco, CA
Revolutions Bicycle Cooperative Memphis, TN
I would probably never by a “city bike”. I like the diamond frame, drop bar bikes and I use a backpack to carry things.
my bikes see a lot of use as I use them to commute to work and back.
that’s great! you’re not the consumer this article is directed at!
I thought it was targeted at bike shop owners and managers not consumers.
Not all local bike shops are the same, but many do! From what I’ve seen, go in and tell them exactly what your budget is. They will likely have options. If not, walk out.
I had to endure some lame attitudes to learn this, but now I know the better dudes from the snob dudes.
What is local to you? Calhoun Cycle sells the very affordable and lovely Linus bicycles and Penn sells Electra and Civia. These are the two I know of off the top of my head and all those have models for less than $1,000 (maybe I have a skewed idea of what an affordable bike is?). Varsity and Calhoun sell box bikes like the Babboe City and other cargo bikes. I don’t know that there is an affordable box bike yet, but I figure ours is affordable when compared to buying and maintaining a second car.
That’s exactly how we’ve justified all our bike purchases since we found our first Yuba Mundo three years ago–even with the bike-craziness that has infected our family, we still aren’t up to what a car would cost us, not even including the operational costs–just the price of a decent car.
I adore my Linus 3-speed. I think she was around $650. Barring theft, I expect to have her for years and years.
If shops had $1 for every person who says “I would have bought one” and goes online to buy the same one from some scammer selling near or below shop cost, they’d be rich.
I have a few bikes. All shapes. Different purposes. I like them all. They’re all pretty comfortable. I wear a variety of clothing styles. I like to bike (I also drive a couple cars). Why does “Walker” have to insult certain bike styles or cultures to prop up a particular cycling culture (transportation). I think we all need each other in the battles ahead to promote cycling. Walker needs a little brushing up on cooperative marketing before he starts telling people how to prop up sales to cyclists. IMHO.
I don’t agree that the author was being “insulting”. As Mr. Angell wrote, “This isn’t a criticism of people who wear lycra and helmets, I have a closetful myself, but simply a note that ‘cyclists’ are not always viewed very positively and this might not be the lifestyle to be selling.” As a bike shop owner, I can attest to this; the worst salesperson is the one who sees cycling primarily as a sport and thinks everyone needs to HTFU. Not good for sales, worse for repeat business. IMHO.
This is great! I bike instead of drive because I don’t like to drive. I don’t see myself as cyclist. I don’t own any gear or a particularly nice bike. I couldn’t name the majority of the parts on my bike. If I want to get a workout/exercise, I go for a run.
When I bike I wear my normal clothes. I go slowly if I think I’m getting too sweaty. I would love it if the perception moved away from cyclists to “average” people. Any ideas for disseminating the message are appreciated! An article a few years back, maybe in the Star Trib, I can’t remember, quoted someone saying, just because your car goes 100 miles an hour doesn’t mean that’s the speed you drive all the time. That’s my approach to biking and I get the impression few people see that.
You are so so so on point with this article.
#4 speaks to me personally. My wife recently bought a bike at Freewheel and received decent service during the sale. She brought it back in for the free 100 mile checkup they offer, and the repair/tune up guy was a total curmudgeon to her. Instead of educating her, and helping her with questions she had about adjustments, he annoyingly grunted some bullshit about how she was doing it wrong. Nice way to kill someone’s excitement, assholes. I regret spending a couple hundred dollars in their spirit killing establishment. Would have been better off buying some trendy city bike online.
One of the bigger obstacles to biking as transport might not be related to bike shops at all, but may also be final destination conditions. I would ride to work more often in the summer if I had the ability to rinse off at work before tossing on work attire. I simply don’t, and walking around the office sweaty or smelly will not be tolerated. I have multiple bike BLVDS and paths to get to work, but it’s final component that really makes it unworkable during these hot muggy days.
Storage is an issue too.
Although joining Nice Ride has made a big difference for me in terms of commuting. I’ve taken to walking a bit out of the way to the station, grabbing a bike, taking a slightly circuitous route to the office, and dropping it at the station across the street.
As I’d walk anyway I’m not sure there’s a really big net benefit there, but I enjoy it and I’ve never done it during the week on my own bike.
Add in a good breeze and you have yourself a recipe for starting the workday in a good mood!
Storage is my number one barrier living in a studio apartment up a flight of steps and the reason I don’t currently bike. NiceRide would be absolutely ideal for me (there are stations everywhere I need/want to go, and I also do caretaking for my elderly father, so being able to grab-and-drop-off a bike would be a dream) but they seem totally uninterested in serving smaller riders, particularly women of color, like me. So it’s my feet until I move or NiceRide becomes accessible.
When I made 2x minimum wage, I was able to live in a nice apartment, go out to eat occasionally, and save up money to go to nursing school, because I biked and I didn’t own a car.
I’m part owner of a collectively owned and run bike shop. I don’t make much over minimum wage (if you consider $15/hour to be a reasonable minimum wage). With sales declining, I may soon have to give up my cramped studio apartment and my 1997 Toyota (with almost 200k miles on the odometer). I suppose I could sleep at the shop, but there are 18 other co-owners. I don’t think we’d all fit. I haven’t taken a ‘real vacation’ in at least 12 years. Our rent has increased incredibly over the past 15 years. Health insurance costs were increasing exponentially – to the point that we finally had to give up our group coverage and turn to the ‘exchanges’ available under the ACA (Obamacare). I have bills to pay each month that my income barely covers (including co-pays and a recent emergency room visit that my ‘bronze’ plan requires me to pay for, even though the plan costs over $400/month – thank goodness for the federal subsidy!). It really is starting to seem that working at a small bike shop comes with an unwritten but understood ‘vow of poverty’ – unless you have another source of income, or a trust fund. Costs of everything keep going up – but revenue and income has not kept pace for at least the last 14-15 years. I may need to take on a second job in order to continue working at our bike shop. I’m not looking forward to that.
Scott, it is possible to make a small fortune owning a bike shop – providing that you first started with a large one.
“She brought it back in for the free 100 mile checkup they offer, and the repair/tune up guy was a total curmudgeon to her. Instead of educating her, and helping her with questions she had about adjustments, he annoyingly grunted some bullshit about how she was doing it wrong. Nice way to kill someone’s excitement, assholes.”
I wouldn’t single out bike shops here since this sort of “curmudgeonly” streak pervades every single field that involves a great deal of technical expertise. Sales people are by and large “people-people” which is why you received “decent” service during the sale. Repair people are “thing-people.” Their skill is in servicing a thing, in this case a bike, and not in servicing you, the customer. They have their job because they can fix bikes well. The flaw is that, likely due to the fact that bike sales are so low, bike shops cannot have staffing levels to prevent “thing-people” from having to interact with customers. I try and always keep this in mind when I have to interact with “thing-people.” They aren’t trying to be mean, they just lack the skills not to be perceived that way. It’s not really different from how you or I lack the technical skills to make that bike adjustment at 100 miles. That mechanic is a mechanic because they like bikes, not because they like people.
Other examples of jobs where great technical expertise is so important that employees without any people skills can still excel at their job (in my experience) include:
1. ACTUARY–I work in the insurance industry so yeah. I once wrote a long reasoned email to an actuary in my company only to get a response along the lines of “I need this except in a spreadsheet.” Logical reasoning was not enough. The actuary was incapable of making a functioning decision without a numerical basis. Not a whole lot of eye contact in meetings.
2. Other repair people, i.e. auto mechanics–You always feel like you are getting ripped off because mechanics are SOOOO bad at communicating that it seems like they are making up things that are wrong. They aren’t [usually].
3. Doctor–Knowing a lot about the human body doesn’t mean you have the skills to communicate with humans in way that isn’t smarmy. The quality of doctor-patient interaction is far below what is considered acceptable in all other vendor-customer interactions. This isn’t true (most of the time) for primary care physicians who seem to be the people-people of doctors. Primary care physicians also need to maintain a vendor-client relationship vs. a vendor-customer relationship so that could also play a role.
This is a great comment.
Very observant as a former auto tech and now a parts person in the automotive industry you just said what I have been trying to say for years. I also love my bikes and really enjoy working on them it is my way to relax but I understand I’m the exception rather than the rule. It also takes alot of patience to teach someone with limited mechanical skills how to do things that we think are very basic and everyone should know. When teaching people the riding skills they need it gets worse, just think here is an example put slime in your tubes yes or no, carry spare tube or patch kit, pump or CO2 cartridges & inflater, just don’t worry I never get flats, if you talk to three different bicyclists none of their answers would match. Which seat is the best, my butt hurts or what style handle bars and the list goes. The majority of people only think there are two kind of bikes, mountain and those skinny tire bikes. It is going to take alot of patience to get people feel comfortable when some of them last rode a bike when they were 15 and now they are 50 plus years old.
Speaking as someone who has done both sales (very well) and service (very well), I think you are painting this with a bit too broad of a brush. I have known a lot of people in the industry over the years (twenty plus), and the people you are describing do exist, but shops which care about these things will put them in limited contact with customer positions. Without fail, every shop I have worked at, or been to more than once had people who were both socially and mechanically proficient writing up the service, and people who were less interested in recursively explaining how to pump up presta valves, why not to crossgear, why adjustments needed to be made, etc. do other work in the back. Sure, there are exceptions, but what you are talking about is small business suicide.
It may be “small business suicide” – but how to attract, train, retain, and continue to motivate quality staff to provide good customer service when the average wages are only $12-17/hour? Who can live on that in a metropolitan (such as the San Francisco Bay) area? With residential rents increasing as they are? With many customers who balk at paying the $70/hour labor rate that goes towards covering our overhead costs? Many of whom think that basic bikes should cost less than $200? That’s the dilemma for the local bike shop.
I’m a bike shop owner – while I concur that bikes must go beyond the recreational in order for them to become more widely used, where I differ strongly is in the conclusion that the answer is that they need to be used for transportation. For the vast majority of the country, this borders on the delusional. Let me elaborate –
1. There is a problem with infrastructure. The roads just simply are not designed with bikes in mind. Yes, this can be overcome to some extent, but most states and municipalities are facing massive deficits, and bike lanes\etc cost money, which most voters will not believe is a wise expenditure. Even if these are approved, we are many years away from this even being done.
2. There is a major problem with safety, and this will only grow worse. Most of the bike lanes in our city are poorly maintained, with glass, gravel, and debris. Often cars will park in them. Even when they are used, cyclists are still struck by cars – this is only worse on regular roads. I have friends and customers who have been injured and killed on the roads. Too many drivers are impatient, and even more drive while using their cell phones. Distracted driving is growing worse every year – while it can cause a fender bender with another car, with a bike it causes serious injury or death.
3. Few areas have the population density that would make cycling as transportation practical. Most people I know live 15, 20 or more miles from where they work. The grocery store may be a bit better, but they can only fit a couple of bags of chips and maybe one six pack into their panniers – not very practical.
4. Weather is a major issue. Where I live (Texas) it is hot. Afternoons right now are routinely around 100. Other areas see a lot of rain, snow, etc. Very few people are willing to brave the conditions.
5. Far more to the point, it’s simply not convenient. Think about it – we can already take public transportation and avoid almost all of the issues above, but for the vast majority of us, we avoid that like the plague. We worship our cars, not only for the convenience they offer, but for the idea of the freedom that they give us. To think we’re going to get people to give that up for a bike, sorry, it’s just not going to happen on any real level.
That said, there IS a different way that we can approach cycling, and that is for health. We live in a country that is overwhelmingly obese. Diabetes and heart disease are at epidemic levels, and it’s overwhelming our health system. However, in most cases this is preventable! Cycling is one way to get people off their couches and to improve both their health and their lives.
Unfortunately, most of the bike shops and cycling community caters to the spandex crowd – and that crowd is shrinking. We need to expand our vision, and not only target those who are not riding now, but offer the help and support to keep them involved once they do start riding. All too often, the shops ignore these customers; they end up at a big box store with a cheap bike that is shoddily built, poorly assembled, doesn’t fit well, and not properly adjusted. They don’t understand basic bike safety, let alone how to change a flat. They get out to ride, their bike breaks, they hurt, they have a bad experience, and their bike ends up like every other piece of exercise equipment that they’ve ever owned – as a clothes hanger. However, this can be overcome – shops need to offer a decent entry level bike at a low cost, help newbies, teach them what they need, and offer rides and support for their new customers. Help them understand not only that this is how they will improve their health and their lives, but also that the shop will be there to help them down the road. THIS is how cycling will grow.
Not to be argumentative, but:
1. While I’m totally in favor of more infrastructure, Minneapolis has a ton of lightly travelled streets that are easy to bike on. They won’t take you directly to where the stuff is, but you can get pretty close by straying a block or two away from the cars. I did a bunch of this today.
2. I’m not sure distracted driving is continually getting worse, but it still blows my mind that minnesota doesn’t at minimum have a hands free law.
3. Most live that far from work? Really?if that’s true, we really need a re-shuffle. And people really need to detach from the notion of “home” as a permanent thing that can’t be adjusted to improve lifestyle.
4. I’ve got to answer for weather.
5. The bike is not really any less free. We’re just used to the car hassle. If we stopped to think about how inconvenient it is to get 3,000 pounds of steel near where we want to go, we might see the hassle there too.
I’m all for cycling for health, but I’m also increasingly beginning to believe that no amount of exercise can offset the level of sugar consumption that have become normal.
Anyway, totally agree about being enabling. I’ve been to almost ten bike shops in the last few days and had experiences ranging from indifferent to welcoming. That’s a an issue.
this has gotten so much better over the last few decades. There’s still plenty of bad service, especially for riders seen as not serious, but it’s seriously so, so much better than it used to be.
I have had only good experiences with the Hub location at Minnehaha and 31st St. Their repair shop staff are AWESOME – friendly, polite, and happy to spend time helping you understand things. If you’re looking for a good alternative.
actually you don’t need a shower to get cleaned up…. you might want to check out http://www.bikeforums.net/commuting for what others do…
all you would need is a sink, a hand towel, and a wash cloth….
– rinse face/head in the sink using wash cloth
– wet wash cloth again to be wet (not dripping)
– go into bath room stall to undress, rinse off using wash cloth, dry using handtowel
– and get dressed.
I used to commute to work 3 day a week. I would do basically what you described. Take a shower before starting my morning commute. When arriving, I would rinse off then get dressed with clothes I left at work. I felt clean and fresh every morning.
While this may work well for men, there are different expectations for women (and our hair) when it comes to work-appropriate appearance.
My trike is my only form of transport and I have never sweated when riding and whichever way I go is not at all flat, plus a trike is a lot heavier to ride than a 2 wheeler.
My nearest town is 5 miles away and I also lug a full weeks shopping on the back most times.
If you are sweating then just slow down and give yourself more time to get to work. If you do feel sweaty when reaching work then carry some baby wipes and deodorant with you and use those.
You should look at an E bike. It really solves the problem of overheating while riding.
A friend of mine you uses one around Austin says it for, “when you are dressed for the destination and not the ride”.
I love my ebike. I have an EasyMotion City that I got this year. With some panniers added, I can do whatever local errands I need to do. Even groceries or carrying my youngest on the back rack. It easily has a range of 20 miles and 35+ if I ride it with really conservative power use. If arriving in a non-sweaty condition is important, I just use more power and don’t pedal as hard.
If you want even more cargo capacity or the ability to carry kids, a cargo ebike (either an electric Yuba or Pedego Stretch) is the way to go!
I don’t think I even own any spandex. No one wants to see my almost 200 pound self in it anyway. 😉
I love the bicycle in the fourth photo. Any idea what kind it is?
I believe that one is made by Azor for a local shop. It’s basically an entry level Azor Omafiets. It’s quite unusual in not having any lights or dynamo. You can order a Workcycles Omafiets and get the same bike but with a few upgrades like lights, better tires, etc.
KISS is important? Does that mean bike shops should sell more of this:
1) There’s somewhat of a snob culture by some in the bicycling industry. I walked in to a bicycle shop in St. Paul wanting to spend $600+ on a road bicycle. I guess men with long hair aren’t the type of people they want as customers, because I walked out 45 minutes later without being helped. The two or three salespeople were all helping a rich looking family buy a helmet for their kid.
2) Related to this is the perception that you need to “dress up” to go bicycling (and by extension it’s something serious and dangerous, not something you do to take a spin around the block in whatever you’re wearing.
On your second point, my mother in law bought me a high-viz vest and my wife doesn’t really understand why I will not wear it while riding.
I mean, aside from the fact that most of my riding is recreational and off street, or, if commuting, on a giant yellow Nice Ride bike, I (1) really don’t think there is any safety value in it, and (2) don’t want to feed the false perception that biking is something dangerous that you need even more safety equipment for.
Make your bike visible, not yourself. It just makes you need one more bit of clothing you need to ride a bike. The more you can make your bike something you can just walk up to, and get on, the more you use it. Dynamos are a big thing here too as recharging or replacing batteries is a chore.
I’m still scratching my head at how a new car costs $35000 on average but the fact that it takes $1000 to get a nice new bike makes bikers snobs.
Well, a cars probably 70 times as complicated as a bicycle. That and the lycra and helmet guy on the presumably $1000 bicycle that stopped me and told me my $100 bicycle was junk.
Wow. How insecure does someone have to be to do that?
It’s not that the $1000 bike makes biker’s snobs.
It’s the attitude that makes SOME bikers snobs. The idea that only serious cyclists should ride. Looking down your nose at casual riders. Having little or no adult city or cruiser bikes in a store filled with racing and mountain bikes. Trying to impress a 60-year old couple (my parents) with the big-name brands of your bike carriers rather than explaining the weight capacity and stability or each one. Being told by a cyclist (as I was) that no one who rides a mountain bike has any business having a kick stand on their bike. Being told that anyone with an ebike is not a real cyclist and should stay off the trails.
If this isn’t you, then fine. But I have encountered such people and it isn’t pleasant and makes me want to take my business elsewhere.
Interesting too the comment about bicycles in cars- I only take my bicycle out of my car when I need the space for something else or it’s the end of the summer.
“In 2000, 43.1 million people rode bicycles six or more days which is 148 riders per thousand population; by 2014 this had declined to 35.6 million or 111 riders per thousand”
Is this true, or is this a stat that misleads slightly because of how specific it is? My perception (and it certainly could be confirmation bias) is that cycling, at least in Minnesota, is healthier than it’s been in decades.
I believe this is off of American Community Survey so should be fairly accurate. Next time I get my hand on the original report (from Townley Group) I’ll check. Some local bike shops may have copies as well.
Living in places like Minneapolis, Portland, Boulder, or any of the other cities that are consistently ranked on the “best of” lists is misleading. The industry as a whole, across the U.S, has been flat for a long time. It’s also important to note that stats from the NBDA typically don’t include sales through big box (like Costco) and department (like Walmart) stores.
I don’t even want to think about how many people are just put off from even considering cycling because of those ridiculous looking lycra clad suburbanites. Of course you don’t want to look like that: no one with a sense of self respect would, let alone pay money to look like that. And to top it off, to them my main form of transportation is just a toy for joyriding. Now get out of my way: I’m on the greenway going home after shopping because I actually have places to go and yes, I’m passing you while in my jeans and t-shirt (form fitting, of course, I’m pretty picky about what I wear).
That’s a good question.
To what degree is society on the whole discouraged from bicycling due to the perceived need to dress up in dorky, expensive and immodest (for men) specialized clothing and put a foam picnic cooler on your head?
Would society be safer and healthier without lycra and helmets so more people would be encouraged to ride? Maybe in an isolated crash a helmet would prevent injuries, but what about preventing accidents in the first place due to the herd effect, more bicyclists means motorists are more used to them being around.
To essentially no degree at all. This “perceived need to dress up in dorky, expensive and immodest specialized clothing” does not exist! EVERYONE knows that you don’t need to wear that stuff to ride a bike. The huge majority of people I see on bikes aren’t wearing spandex, and plenty of them aren’t wearing helmets. It’s like saying people will think that they need tights or tiny shorts and synthetic shirts to go for a walk because of all the runners out there wearing that stuff. It’s ridiculous. You’re assuming one group of people are stupid for the sake of taking a dig at another group of people who are choosing to do something they enjoy in clothing they find comfortable.
Just a couple of days ago on another general message board a guy was asking what kind of bicycle he should buy, and he got all sorts of unsolicited advice about what clothes he needed to wear, what gloves, and that he needed a helmet. And how many “how to bicycle” guides on the internet to you see that insist on all the paraphernalia, whether you want ot ride down to the store or do a century race. I stongly disagree with you and think the perception is out there.
1. The Internet is the internet. Every field is full of know-it-all a with a keyboard and an opinion. Yet people keep buying cars.
2. Did that person decide not to buy a bicycle at all because of this advice? Oh, haha, that’s right – you have NO idea what they ultimately did nor whether it would be representative of a numerically significant trend if they did report back! Which means your anecdote doesn’t inform anyone about this supposed perception impacts buying behavior at all. You’re just fitting it into a narrative that you happens to match with what you want to believe.
I think we sometimes (often?) make riding a bicycle way to complicated in the U.S. It’s much simpler elsewhere.
Lycra-hate is a popular pastime in the cycling subculture, but would be mystifying to most non-cyclists, who are well-aware that they don’t need to look like that in order to ride a bike. Making fun of people wearing spandex makes you a jerk, thinking that people wearing spandex are responsible for declining bike sales makes you bad at critical thinking.
Just to defend lycra for a second, I hear it’s really comfortable.
It is comfortable. I have a set and wear it for long recreational rides. The majority of my biking is for getting places, so dressing up in anything other than normal street clothes is silly, but I like the lycra when it makes sense to wear it.
Have you considered that declining bike sales might be due to the fact that better built bikes last longer? The average age of cars on the road just hit an all time high. People are keeping their cars longer because they last longer. Why would it not be the same with bikes?
That’s a good point. I think not largely due to the decline in sales largely corresponding to a decline in riding itself. Sales though are, not unexpectedly, lagging so retailers and manufacturers expect sales to continue to decline for the foreseeable future given ridership numbers.
Also, has quality and longevity improved? I think bikes have mostly always lasted a long time. I still ride the bikes that I raced in the 1970’s. My primary reason for buying newer bikes has been to gain new features like indexed shifting and one day I may upgrade to electronic shifting. I’d think this all applies at all levels. Will an entry-level or mid-level bicycle purchased today last longer than the same purchased in 1970?
If anything I’d think that average longevity has declined since carbon fiber is so much more fragile and many things that would have simply dinged a steel frame will ruin a CF frame.
seems the industry is really controlled by just a few makers and they push the next big thing .Commuter bikes won’t gain traction with them until they have something to sell
I think I agree. I wonder too if they understand what a good city/commuter bike is. Many that I’ve seen are more English rather than Dutch geometry, often have a hockey stick chain guard rather then full, have too flimsy of a rack, etc.
We have a collection of bikes, many of them Dutch, and constantly get comments from people about how much more comfortable the Dutch bikes are and where can they buy one. This includes from people who own other uprights like Breezer, Civia, Electra, etc. Everybody is different and what the best bike is for different people certainly varies but I don’t think most people in the U.S. are given a full range choice and so they often end up with something quite sub-optimal and that doesn’t work as well for them.
I’m bothered by people who go to brick and mortar stores to try bikes and equipment and then go on-line to buy the stuff.
That happens to my bike shop on a daily basis.
This is a highly debatably subject, as are most things related to cycling when passionate individuals with strong beliefs are driving the conversation.
One aspect of this debate, briefly touched on regarding a negative interaction with service at an LBS (local bike shop) but not fully discussed is the retail experience. I believe, and this is just my belief, is that most bike shops operate as just that, bike shops.
Regardless of our personal preference the reality is that consumers respond to a great retail experience. This is not just the quality of the individual that serves them but the environment they are served in. Most bike shops DO NOT behave as retailers.
Look at the Apple Store. This is a retail environment selling and servicing technical products but they are doing it in a way that appeals to the masses. First Tech stood for years as the Apple resource in Minneapolis however, it only took a short time for them to close once Apple opened down the street. You can argue margins, you can argue unfair this, unfair that but in the end, the Apple Store simply provided a better retail experience. That is what the average consumer expects. Whole Foods, referred to by some as Whole Paycheck has flourished. Why? Because they offer their target audience a great retail experience.
You cannot sell a bicycle to someone if they do not want to enter your shop.
Elliott: “You cannot sell a bicycle to someone if they do not want to enter your shop.”
Bingo. Likewise you can’t sell new tires or service to them if their bike is never ridden and spends all of it’s time collecting dust in the garage.
I’d think that for a lot of people it only takes one or two bad experiences for them to want to avoid all bike shops forever.
I agree with the thesis of your essay, which I understood to be that “we would all be better off if we understood that the bicycle should primarily be viewed as a healthy form of transportation and not as a recreational pursuit”.
You circuitous path to that conclusion took me over a number of uncomfortable speed bumps, poor pavement, catch basin grates turned parallel to the direction of movement, etc. In other words, There was much I found objectionable in your characterization of the bicycle industry.
A word about my background: I began cycling for transportation in the mid-1970s. After witnessing the carnage of bike racing and questioning the racers’ sanity, I found myself racing within a year. After losing several friends during their recreational rides over a single weekend (one death, two permanently brain damaged), I became a helmet advocate though I think people should choose to wear them (as opposed to forcing them via helmet laws). I still have three custom bikes (a track bike, criterium bike and road bike) made to measure in Italy from from my racing days. As I’ve acquired spouse and children, the collection has expanded with mountain bike and a tadpole tricycle for freight and hauling kids around. We can park the car for the summer and, young children’s willingness considered, ride them around from early Spring through late Autumn. I ride in lycra because I have a sensitive butt and do not want to develop saddle sores or other lesions that develop if I don’t dress properly. It’s not a vanity thing; it’s a hygiene thing. I write a blog called Cyrano-on-Wheels during the Tour de France.
I AM A “CYCLIST” AND I OBEY TRAFFIC LAWS (except for the occasional Idaho Stop when there are NO other vehicles or pedestrians in the intersection). I AM INVARIABLY POLITE AND CONSIDERATE IN TRAFFIC EVEN WHEN MOTORISTS ARE NOT. While I acknowledge that there are “cyclists” who are scofflaws and boors, I think the stereotype is exaggerated and I rather resent you advancing this characterization for no obvious reason.
The complaints from bike shop owners are well founded, but these complaints were current when I first began riding seriously forty years ago and have not changed much. More people own bicycles than cars and there are many more bicycles owned (whether hanging from garage ceilings or on the road) than cars owned (Thank G-d, or our parking problems would be even worse than they are until we have to start coping with the problems of driverless cars which will reduce the number of parking spaces needed, but potentially make our roadways more lethal — that’s way off topic, but worth a blog).
My well-maintained bicycles date from 1981, 1982, 1984 (all custom-made-to-measure), 1990 (police auction) and the tricycle dates from 2013 (ordered from Canada because I couldn’t find anybody who sold one here, but I did find someone local who could instruct me how to service the stuff I was unfamiliar with like internal hub shifters and disc brakes). All of the bikes I purchased from bike shops, I sold to others. If bike shops think they can survive by selling bikes only, they won’t last long. In fact, they should be selling bikes that last for decades and concentrating on their relationship with their clientele. Customer service, bike service, parts, customer service, clothing, advice, clinics, customer service, and customer service are important. Which of these things listed in the previous sentence cannot be had from most big box retailers, hardware stores, catalogues or on-line outlets? I don’t know if you like most of the folks who work in bike shops. Generally, I do. I support the good ones. It’s a tough business, but I don’t see cycling interest, enthusiasm, or ridership decreasing even if bike sales are flat. A good bike well maintained should last for a long time, so bike shops and riders should concentrate on sustainability and durability of good quality equipment, because that’s what the world needs.
You’re absolutely correct that we must make roadways safer for all cyclists. That’s a matter of roadway design and also a matter of education and civil consideration by and of all roadway users (pedestrians, cyclists, segwayists, roller blades, scooterists, taxi drivers, uberists, motorists, freight-haulers and transit drivers [and programmers of driverless cars]).
Cyclists who ride a bike that fits them properly and who buy a bike that suits their riding purpose and style and who learn how to optimize their efficiency on the bike will enjoy riding more and will, as a result, ride more often and further and will become healthier and will ride more often and further. If we remove the problem of unsafe roadways, that’s a game changer. The City of Minneapolis has made huge strides in this regard in the last few years as a result of some excellent new blood at City Hall and some stalwarts at the County (I won’t mention any names because I don’t want to miss anyone, but you know who you are).
Finally, and seriously, please respond and tell me what was your point in including your section about The Fraternity. You finished that section with “This isn’t a criticism of people who wear lycra and helmets, I have a closetful myself, but….”. I’m sorry, but it is strong criticism that perpetuates a myth. Why? All cyclists have self-interest in being good, law-abiding, polite and civil citizens of the road. I don’t need to tell anybody who has bothered to read this far how vulnerable cyclists are on the road. Your perpetuation of this perception is damaging and counter-productive to a movement that was responsible for creating better roads 100 years ago and continues to champion a clean, sustainable, healthy activity that makes the world a better place.
I didn’t read the article as supporting or perpetuating a myth. Instead, it was a description of a phenomenon that definitely exists in the non-biking community.
When I bought my first non-big-box store bike to ride in the Tour de Cure three years ago, I went to several non-chain bike stores and really felt intimidated. I ended up in an Eric’s in Vadnais Heights and felt very comfortable saying “look, I really want a women’s style touring bike with as few gears as possible (although the bike I purchased did end up being my first experience with shifting with two hands!) which is easy to adjust.” I got just that. None of the clothing fit me – it was all made for way smaller people, a common problem – but I wasn’t told that it was necessary. There was no pressure to get a man’s or unisex style bike which I got at the non-chain bike stores. I got a large comfortable saddle and a familiar brand. There weren’t even stifled chuckles when I picked up the entire card of pants clips instead of just peeling one off (I didn’t realize there were like 100 on the card) although I’m sure the sales person was laughing inside. He just said, “Do you want all of these?” in a very gentle voice.
I say all this because it took all the courage I had to walk in all of the bike shops and to keep doing it until I found one that was comfortable to me (despite all the size 8 clothing). This was because, despite what is fair, I was as susceptible to the myth and the concept of the Fraternity as other non-bike riders. The article makes the point that the biking community could do a lot to attract people like me into the bike shops by carrying bikes and accessories that work for many people as well as by ensuring that new comers are treated with respect and caring.
Mary, thank you for posting this. Your experience is very similar to what I’ve heard numerous times from many people.
BTW, the Vadnais Erik’s is indeed a pretty good shop and I think one of best of the Erik’s chain. As mentioned above Varsity and Calhoun are quite good IMO as well.
This is a real problem – I’ve been bike commuting for more than 20 years now, but as a fat woman I’m usually assumed to have no idea what I want or need in a bike shop.
That said, a bunch of the local bike shops in the Twin Cities have done a great job of adding women to their staff and getting all their staff to be less condescending and terrible. I buy a bike about ever 3-4 years (about half the time because of theft – yay downtown bike parking “security”! – and about half the time just because I like new bikes) and get parts/service a couple times a year, and it’s so much better now than it used to be. The first time I bought a bike here in the Cities I had to basically argue the salesguy into “letting” me buy a stepthrough, and then nearly walked out of the store over the question of if it was irrational to not want clipless pedals (why, when I commute in my work shoes?)
Hi Aaron, Making our roadways safer…
I’ll not hold my breath that education or civil consideration will do much. I think we do need to do it, but I don’t think it will deliver much in the way of real results nor will it cause average people to feel any safer. I’m not aware of any place where it has worked and 40 years of trying by LAW/LAB here in the U.S. hasn’t worked. Keep in mind that a bicycle rider in the U.S. is about nine times more likely to be killed per mile ridden as one in The Netherlands — not a good result.
What has worked, to increase safety, ridership, and bicycle shop business, is good protected infrastructure. And the infrastructure that has overwhelmingly worked best is that designed to a Dutch CROW standard.
Amen! This comment is a 10!
Aaron (?), lots of great points. I’ll try to address them one by one and probably over two or three posts depending on time available. I think you and are are likely very similar. I raced road and track in the 70’s and still do recreational and training rides on my road bikes. I haven’t ridden as much for transportation in the U.S. though until more recently. BTW, I knew your dad years ago when I did some architectural lighting design and did a bit of work with MSAIA.
Cyclists & Scofflaws. Not all cyclists are scofflaws and not all scofflaws are cyclists. I don’t know if a majority of cyclists are scofflaws or not though it does seem that way—to me and to many others. I attend a fair number of dinners with people who know nothing about my bicycle riding. Almost any time I ask if people ride there will be numerous negative comments about ‘cyclists’. Warranted or not, ‘cyclists’ don’t have a very good reputation though I think much better in Minnesota than most other places in the U.S.
For example. There are two intersections where I routinely (weekly at least) see cyclists in full kit lycra blow the stop sign/light and mostly without even slowing down. One is people riding on Centerville road where it crosses Edgerton and the other is Hodgson Rd crossing Hodgson Connection by Chippewa Middle School. On this latter a car this morning about 10a had a green and had to hit their brakes to keep from hitting a bunch of cyclists blowing through the red light at full speed trying to keep up with the bunch in front of them.
We have a problem. We are a minority and fair or not are associated with the scofflaws. We can stick our heads in the sand or we can deal with it.
Love this piece!
I wonder if the statistics quoted here include all bikes (including “walmart” bikes) – cheap, crappy bikes from places like Walmart and Target have been the most likely purchases of bicycles here in the US. If on did a separate study showing the sales of bikes from smaller, indie shops building bikes that are actually useable, it might tell a different story.
It appears they do not, and that’s a good point. It also mentions riding 6 days or more per week. The only real conclusions you can reach are:
1) Serious as in number of times per week, (not amount of specialty gear used, cost of the bicycle, or the devotion to the activity) is declining.
2) Sales are serious bicycle stores are declining.
What if you count the number of miles ridden per capita, not the number of people riding 6 or more times a week. What if you count sales at Wal-Mart. The last time I checked sales were declining at specialized electronics stores too, and I see a l lot of people buying TVs al Wal-Mart.
The article says:
“In 2000, 43.1 million people rode bicycles six or more days which is 148 riders per thousand population; by 2014 this had declined to 35.6 million or 111 riders per thousand.”
That doesn’t say “per week”. If 43.1 million people were riding 6 days per week, we would have much more support for bicycle infrastructure. That number is almost certainly “per year”.
Q: Is the “decline” simply total # of bikes? What about total amount of $ spent on bikes? I’ve had my nicest bike for almost 10 years, which means that all my bikes are at least 10 years old. I spend money on new components, not “new bikes.” I have 6 semi-working bicycles at this point, but none of them were purchased new.
Bikes last a long time! Wheels, tires, chains, and brakes do not.
This is probably a bad place and time to ask, but I’m thinking about a move that might turn me into a 5-10 mile per day bike commuter and wondering if my inexpensive hybrid is really the right equipment for the job.
I’ve been pondering getting a city bike of the type Walker encourages (or maybe two if I get one for the wife), but that sounds like maybe a bit too much work/too slow for what I’d consider mid-range commute.
Given that I like the relatively upright riding position and relative ease/speed of the hybrid, I may get some panniers and eventually some sturdier wheels, etc., but do you have thoughts on an appropriate bike for my commute?
You should write an asking advice post about the best commuting bike. It would probably generate more comments than any post ever.
You’re probably right. I think I will.
Any bike that gets you on it, and gets you there is the right bike. As you change your daily habits, measured in months and years, you will know what you like and don’t like. cycling is best when it is kept simple. ride first let the gear works its way into your life. remember, as someone who used to be famous…”it’s not about the bike”….
Maybe you should come up to my place and we’ll ride a couple of Dutch bikes to lunch and you (and your wife?) can see how you like them.
That’s a generous offer. I’ve pretty much already decided she needs one for more casual riding, which I might want to join. I might have a bit too much urge for speed to commute five miles on one, though.
Adam, I’m a completely car-free rider.
I commuted 7 miles round-trip on a Raleigh Misceo for about 10 months, before I got a Raleigh Sojourn touring bike. The hybrid worked pretty well, especially since my bike’s XL frame had long chainstays (frame tubes between the pedals and the rear wheel), but it was a bit slower, and I didn’t have any other options for hand placement or aerodynamic positioning, which is nice to have in the windy area of the country in which I live (Moscow, Idaho).
My current bike is a touring bike, which has a relaxed geometry and long chainstays for panniers (or folding baskets in my case). Also, unlike the hybrid, it has a bit more road-like gearing (higher gears) but with a wide gearing range for hills under load (I have a 28/39/50 crank with 11-34 cassette). The best thing about the touring bike for me is the drop bars, which give me at least five hand/posture positions for comfort. Unlike a race bike, these are wide (48cm) bars and are a bit higher up (at least as high as the saddle), so I’m not hunched over like a typical race bike. Also, the Brooks leather saddle is super comfortable in regular khaki shorts, even on longer rides. Here’s a photo of me and the bike on a 150-mile charity ride: http://jasonduchowphotography.zenfolio.com/2015chafe150/h4C4BA2F9#h4c4ba2f9
With the folding baskets, rack, U-lock and a Pletscher tripod kickstand, it’s a heavy bike at around 55 pounds, but my main commute is flat, so I can average 15-20 mph without too much effort. And I can carry 100 pounds of groceries or other loads when running errands. If you think a city bike might be too slow, a touring-type bike might be another choice to look at. Here’s a better view of the bike: http://imgur.com/a/Dty2U.
Good luck whatever you choose—I’m glad I ride everywhere, as I get to eat what I want without having to work out purposefully!
This is great info, even if I don’t understand it all. Thanks!
You might look at ebikes. Many brands have upright-style frames. I’ve got an Easy Motion and my 60-something parents have Pedegos.
An eBike really flattens the hills and will make 5-10 miles by bike a pretty easy commute. And 10 to 20 miles round-trip should be well within most current models’ ranges. Especially if you keep a charger at work.
Range is tricky because, depending on the amount of motor assist, you can get just a few miles using all throttle or 30, 40 miles plus with very conservative power usage.
Dollar volume appears to be flat (or to take the sting out ‘stable’) at about $6 billion per year for the past 12-15 years. It has thus declined in current dollar terms (e.g., adjusted for inflation) which is compounded by it also having declined per capita.
Sorry this took so long.
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Walker, you’ve got it EXACTLY right. The U.S. shops (and industry) focus obsessively on bikes as recreation (and this includes road racing, mtb, tri cruisers, gravel grinders, fat bikes, et al.) when the HUGE opportunity is selling transportation. And, because the threshold for starting to commute is lowered by every cyclist who begins to commute by bike, a virtuous circle occurs – more commuters = more safety = even more commuters = even more safety. That’s why it’s so safe to ride in bike commuter dense cities. Kudos. A great article.
Thanks Tom. To hear that from you is a great compliment and very much appreciated.
Wow, where to start? The “straw man” of declining sales and participation is, well, stuffed with straw. Looking at sales per capita (which HAS declined) instead of actual sales (which has been steady for 40 years at around 18 million bikes a year) is disingenuous. People For Bikes just released a report that says there are 103 million cyclists in the US (with a slightly less restrictive set of criteria). Complete reliance on NSGA stats proves the writer’s point, but… it’s disingenuous. Finally, this opening statement: “…manufacturers refuse to protect bricks & mortar dealers from lower price online competitors.” is both overly broad and insulting to some great companies. Great transportation bikes and great shops to sell and service them are available all across North America. I hope readers will focus on this MOST VALID point: “2) Do everything you can to make bicycling in your neighborhood and sales area comfortable and safe for normal average people” and discount a lot of the “anecdotal arguments in search of facts” that make up the rest of the piece. When people perceive that riding is safe for them, the rest of these issues become minuscule by comparison. And yes, before anyone gets all amped up, I represent the US supplier community as Executive Director of the BPSA.
BPSA = ?
Bicycle Product Suppliers Association. http://www.bpsa.org
I agree with a lot of what Ray has to say here. Sales are up in volume, even if per capita is not, but there are a lot of second hand sales which are not measured here which puts the older bikes into the hands of riders willing to use them. There are also a lot of manufacturers who are doing a great job of protecting their brick and mortar retailers by offering protected dealerships (no other dealers in an X mile radius), and not allowing Internet sales, grey sales, or mail order sales.
Really, this is a bike shop and bike culture problem. Its a bike shop when shops overwhelm people with technical information, jargon, and imply someone needs to buy loads of accessories and clothing just to ride a bike. Its a bike shop problem when 90% or more of the staff in a shop are men. Its a bike shop problem when parents are given two, or fewer options to carry one child, and probably fewer still if they want to carry more than one child. Its a bike culture problem when riding a bike to and from the grocery makes you less of a cyclist. Its a bike culture problem when technology is held above how well something works, how long it works, and how much it costs. Its a bike culture problem when we idolize this guy, who is riding an impractical race, on a over $10000 bicycle, with millions of dollars support and a team behind him:
instead of this woman, who is camping with her two sons, off a cargo bike:
Bikes are transportation, which some people use for fun, and recreation, but bikes are transportation first, last, and always. The American market is heavily driven as a recreation sport, in a way which is not sustainable, just like the car market would not be sustainable if cars were sold the same way bikes are. Formula 1 cars are really exciting, and amazing from an engineering and technology standpoint, but are horrible as a daily driver. Bikes are the same, except the American market more than any other has been duped into thinking you need the most technology jammed into one bicycle that you can afford to finance just to ride about.
I’ve made a living in bikes for years, and I’m a firm believer in having a conversation and building a relationship with the people I sell bikes to. I want to know what they want, what they plan to do, what have they done before, do they have other bikes (If so, what kind? Do they like them? What would the change?), where are they planning on keeping a bike, do they ride year round, will they ride with kids, do they need to carry anything with them? Then I explain types of bikes, their pros/cons, and see how their wants and needs fit with different kids of bicycles. I remind them that I’ve never bought a bike that I didn’t own for a minimum of ten years, and have recovered well over 80% of the parts off bikes damaged in accidents to reuse building a replacement bike, which is something a car cannot do. I remind them commuting saves you all the money for gas and parking you would have spent driving. I tell them they will get a good workout twice a day, and feel better, and have more energy. I share that I can talk to people when I ride, but not when I drive, and know my community better for it.
Mostly, I tell them I love it, and I think they would too.
Chris, I think you and I are in complete agreement.
Hi Ray, thanks for your comments. The reality is that the bicycle industry is loosing marketshare. It’s not growing marketshare, it’s not maintaining marketshare, but is loosing marketshare. I don’t know of any business, except one in decline trying to milk it’s last days, that would consider that even remotely acceptable and I hope that this is not the case with the bicycle industry. From the statistics I’ve seen ridership also is indeed down. The good news is that there are some indicators that it may again increase which will also increase business (service and repair as well as or perhaps more so than new sales). Can you give me a little more on why any of this is disingenuous or simply a straw man?
On protection of B&M, you know as well as I that some companies protect B&M and some don’t. In saying that and in what I said in the article I’m not passing judgement on either being good or bad though it does appear to be an issue for LBS’s as they are currently modeled. If I ran a local bike shop I’d likely want an exclusive on parts and not have them sold over the internet, if I were a manufacturer I’d likely be happy to sell them through LBS’s and online, especially if I dominated the industry. In todays world though even if a manufacturer protected B&M’s and didn’t allow online sales, people (serious ‘cyclists’) would largely still find a way to buy them cheaper online.
The good news for LBS’s though is that there’s a huge market out there of people who will not be so inclined to buy online — people who just want the right bike or they want the right repair done to their bike. The majority of these people aren’t in to bicycling as a hobby and don’t want to devote gobs of time to learning how to do assembly or repairs. As someone said above, if they don’t feel comfortable they’ll not come in to a bike shop. As well, if they don’t ride their bike they’ll have no need of a bike shop.
Glad we agree on #2. I do think that may be the most important (though I reserve the right to be wrong).
After 37 years in the bike business I can tell you it’s not easy juggling all the bike shop owner perils, and giving time to efforts made by local gov’t and sub-committees to create safe havens for bike riders. The idea is “build the bike paths and they will come”.
We were instrumental in starting the Bicycle Advisory Committee of Pinellas County Florida. They spearheaded an off-shoot group called ‘Trails Inc.’ We now have a great bike trail the runs all the way through the center of the county. About 50 miles and growing. We are seeing more and more people using it to get to work, shopping, and exercise. But it does take a Herculian effort on the part of the shop owners and other interested parties.
We are not an insulated case. This happening all over the country but has abated due to gov’t cut-backs and lack of funding.
On the cheaper price, on line issue, I sumbit to Benjamin Franklin’s wisdom;
“The bitterness of poor quality remains, long after the sweetness of low price
is forgotten”. I’m referring to not only product quality, but service quality as well.
I try to visit all my local shops and even if I only buy a few things from each over a season, I try to do what I can. I do wear bike shorts (I wear board shorts over them) and cycling all season is a huge part of my life. I try to motivate others and have had great success at encouraging others to cycle.
There needs to be a resurgence of pedal power, mind you here in my city (Toronto) I have certainly noticed more bikes on the road.
I feel if folks were properly fitted for their bikes instead of buying *off the rack* they would be more comfortable and confident, which in turn would promote more cycling.
Walker, you put your hand in a hornet’s nest, and I appreciate it. You did a good job with the amount of space you used touching on a lot of areas. Naturally, some naysayers here will take issue because you could not extrapolate and tease out every fine point, but your observations and conclusions were generally spot on.
http://www.savethebikebiz.com. This is where the NBDA attempted to put a complete picture out to the cycling industry. This online version of the White Paper is much more exhaustive and explains why your conclusions are correct.
Most of the early commenters give me the impression that you are mostly followed by consumer-enthusiasts. To those I say, whether you like or hate any particular point, the days of the LBS are quickly waning. You have fair criticisms for bike shops, yet without them, your enthusiasm for the product will also wane and even fewer will be riding quality goods. Your livelihoods don’t depend on bicycling, but for some of us, it quite critically does.
But the commenters from the industry (particularly non-retailers) and ra-cists (former racers who are heavily invested in cycling culture) really hate your conclusions (and mine). You are threatening their perception of their sport/image and/or their livelihoods. When the data might not be good, they will spin themselves dizzy looking for a way to debunk the data, and defame messengers who are only trying to be honest with them. We want to help, but we can’t help unless we accept that we have a problem. Sound like a 12-step program? Some of these folks really need a bicycling 12-step support group because they really want to pretend that nothing ails us. They even ignore some of GTG’s data in favor of other GTG data that they prefer to hear!
Just know that the most vehement denial complex is not among the LBS retailers — the ones who are getting eaten alive right now. Most of us have been forced out of denial. Many of our suppliers, long-time customers, and the talking heads who represent them are still stuck in denial. They may cling to it too long to do anything about it – they may have clung too long already.
To this point, Millions of people love football, but there are only a few hundred people who are paid to play it professionally. Its a apt comparison, and should be considered within that framework.
Thanks Jeff. I got lost in your Open4 blog and then had to rush off to a meeting before replying. Great stuff.
There’s a place for both cyclists in lycra and people who just want to ride to dinner (though perhaps not for scofflaws amongst them). I think the fear among ‘cyclists’ is that if non-cyclist bicycling grows then they will loose their right to the road and be forced to ride on poorly designed bikeways. I don’t blame them. Most bikeways in the U.S., even those currently being built, suck.
Their approach then seems to be to try to make everyone in to a lane taking cyclist driving their bicycle with traffic. This in hopes of creating a bunch of vehicular cycling advocates to help them protect their turf.
I think a better alternative is to work toward building a bikeway network that works for everyone. I’ve queried dozens of bike racers in The Netherlands including world tour pros and not a single one has had a problem with Dutch bikeways. They are still able to train and enjoy riding (to the extent that intervals are enjoyable). The issue is not bikeways but poorly designed bikeways and if someone has not been exposed to good design then they think that all bikeways are bad. I would love for every ‘cyclist’ in the U.S. to be able to spend a week with a team in The Netherlands.
The problem this creates for the U.S. bicycling industry is that it becomes focused on the 2% instead of the 98%. Shop owners are quick to point out that they don’t make any money off the sale of a bike but it’s all in accessories, parts, and service. What I wonder if they’re missing is that parts and service for 100 million people who ride 15 miles every week is a much bigger opportunity than lycra and foam for 1 million.
From the start of my internal advocacy to this industry, I have continuously made the point to brands and dealers that our best growth opportunity comes from making new customers, not squeezing more out of the ones we already have who are quitting us to go online — and not punching each other for incremental gains in market share.
You must understand: our industry suffers from the things you mentioned, but it suffers more from this (let the consumers here ponder as well): economic and policy forces bigger than all of this and us have positioned the LBS in an oppressively leveraged position with their suppliers. They owe their suppliers so much money, and are often behind paying, that every day is a slog just to bring enough in to keep from getting cut off. Under those conditions, when balance is lost between wholesale & retail, when a market is shrinking (and it IS despite the anecdotal look-up-and-see-someone-riding approach to measuring the market that a lot of people take), and when there are too many brands too desperate to pay their own credit facility down, you get what we have. A bloody mess with a lot of dashed dreams and livelihoods.
Consumers will have no sympathy for any of this. They have their own credit, money, and entitlement-to-the-good-life issues. We’re all just clawing each other to climb on top.
Brand management that is wise enough to see the end of the road we are on and courageous enough to exercise a disappearing art of disciplined brand management is vital to having enough of a specialty cycling industry left in another generation such that a blog site like this isn’t blowing tumbleweeds.
Well said. I fear that we small retailers are in a fight for our survival.
If the blinking light “irritates” you, GO AROUND. Thanks for looking up from your coffee, cell phone, and whatever you were doing to your ass. And go around in the OTHER LANE, since I DO have a right to the lane I’m in, just like you do. Since you’re so much faster and have another 100+ horsepower to spare, GO AROUND.
Walmart has it figured out. They sell bikes as toys, and don’t lecture you about anything, unless you try to ride one in the store. They sell a “fixie” bike for $79, and when you discover it isn’t fully assembled, you can take it to a real bike shop. They will automatically know you aren’t part of the “the fraternity”, and for $50, they will quietly make it rideable, and send you on your way salmoning down the sidewalk in flip flops with no helmet. Maybe they will even say a prayer for you, after you leave, and after your check clears.
Not sure if I should mention the local bike shop that was rude to me, but Eriks and Penn Cycle were nice. I ultimately opted for Penn Cycle because their lower end range was better- Trek seems to have more affordable options than some of the other players.
As far as department store bikes, despite the hate for them (including one comment from a “serious” bicyclists directed at me for having the nerve to ride one, I had one from Fleet Farm that was totally assembled and served me for many years until I decided I wanted something nicer.
I was making fun, but yes, sometimes crap bikes do work and work well. I have a Wongmart Schwinn Avenue that I’ve upgraded to use as a cargo bike. The marginal components have been slightly upgraded as they’ve given way. But it’s done the job.
I ran across a blog post once from a ‘cyclist’ who bought a dept store bike shaped object (BSO) to see how well it would do. I think it was a single speed coaster brake so no derailleurs and stuff to break and get out of whack. I think he put several thousand happy miles on it riding back and forth to work.
How much of the industry’s decline can be laid at the door of those in the industry who aggressively promote the perception that riding a bike is inherently dangerous?
If you went into a car dealer and on your first visit they tried to convince you that you really need to buy a crash helmet and wear it every time you leave your driveway, would you think driving was safe or pleasant?
If AAA and the auto industry spent most of their lobbying budget touting how dangerous the roads were and how unsuitable they were for cars, would you want a car of your own to drive on those streets?
Sure, helmets and gloves provide a modest benefit in a subset of crashes, and some streets are safer than others. But if you look at the Dutch, you won’t see riders armored against seemingly inevitable collisions, and outside busy urban cores you’ll find plenty of people on bikes sharing the street with people in cars.
Are the Dutch invincible? No, but they don’t have an industry-sponsored terror of riding their bikes. Dutch cycling advocates and Dutch public health officials maintain a sense of proportion about the risks and benefits of cycling.
They recognize that even where bikes share narrow roads with larger vehicles, the health and economic benefits of bicycle transportation far outweigh the hazards.
Maybe it’s time for the U.S. bicycle industry to stop telling consumers to fear it’s products?
I agree Josh. Dutch infrastructure (both road and bikeway design) does make bicycling (and driving) much safer than here in the U.S. They have many fewer overall crashes and fatalities (https://streets.mn/2014/07/01/bicycling-relative-safe/).
What’s interesting about helmets and head injuries is that their rate (head injuries as a percent of all injuries and fatalities) is about the same as ours—32%. If helmets were effective then our rate should be much lower.
Two answer the question “Are helmets effective”, you can either
A) Study the reduction, if any, of head injuries of the people that crashed, or
B) Study the larger picture.
Helmets seem to be effective by measure A, but not by measure B. Besides risk compensation, if fewer people ride because of helmets (either required by law or viewed as required because bicycling is viewed as dangerous enough to require one), then fewer cyclists around mean decreased awareness by motorists, and more danger.
found that those least likely to crash are those that refuse to ride if they would have to wear one.
Excellent post Josh. There are too many fear mongers running around screaming at people for not wearing helmets and telling horror stories about brain spilling cycling accidents.
I worked at a shop for a bit, we sold higher end bikes and granted I never saw a full paycheck because it went to parts. The owner was an ex-racer, the mechanics were all gear heads, the ladies who did the purchasing of lycra, etc were both about 5 feet nothing and weighed half as much, but there wasn’t anyone to sell bikes to the average consumer.
The ladies coming into the store were intimidated until I started asking them what they were looking for, much to the dismay of my employer. However, I sold more bikes than anyone my first month and they were all hybrids. The average mom of 3 isn’t going to buy a $2000 entry level something or other after not riding for 10 years. She’s gonna want something she can ride around the neighborhood with her kids with and be the cool mom.
This is why I really like the direction Giant and some other manufacturers are going, by using their position and economies of scale to bring in good-quality bikes for casual commuting/transport use by both genders. For example, I really like the new Momentum Street—produced by Giant—which is a basic utility/transportation bike for $425 in stylish colors, with a built-in cupholder, integrated rack with detachable pannier rails, a bell, a kickstand, a basic chainguard (that’s still easy to work around), full metal fenders, and a basic low-maintenance 1×7 drivetrain.
Check it out: http://www.momentum-biking.com/us/bikes/street
Is the Giant Momentum really a good commuting/transport bicycle though?
It has many of the problems that I think make bicycling a complicated PITA for the average person and lacks the features that make bicycling simple and enjoyable. It not only lacks a full chain case but doesn’t even have a hockey stick guard. External gears and brakes rather than internal. No external derailleur I’ve ever seen is low-maintenance. No lighting.
I assume the rack is stable, I just hope it never gets bent which would appear to require replacing the entire frame. It looks to still be a lean forward geometry which most people find uncomfortable (or much less comfortable to proper upright) and increases how much you sweat. Speaking of uncomfortable there is no rake in the front forks! No idea if the overall geometry is OK or not.
I don’t think Giant gets it (nor Trek and many others). This would seem to be a good candidate for dust collection to me. The owner won’t like having to change in to shorts every time they want to ride anywhere (so much for riding to dinner on many occasions) and the out of adjustment or broken derailleur won’t help matters much.
Here’s a closeup of the chainguard, which with the facing plate seems to do a pretty good job of keeping one’s trousers clean: http://www.momentum-biking.com/Images/Series/Features/street/Chainguard.jpg
The rack is rated at 65 pounds, but I’m sure it can handle more, and the geometry it much more upright than even an endurance road or touring bike. Maybe not so much as a “true” city bike, but better than most. While it’s a new introduction to the U.S., they’ve been making that bike for the Asian markets for a while now and it’s proved popular with younger commuters.
Regarding brakes, I’ve not seen any recent U.S. bikes with internal (drum) brakes; most are either still rim brakes or disc brakes (my preference, given my 250-pound weight, the hills and weather with which I deal).
The two most important places to protect clothes from a chain are where the chain leaves the bottom of the chainring which is where pants (and socks, skin, etc.) come in contact with chain grease. Second is the bottom side of the chain coming on to the top of the chainring where anything loose such as jeans or pants get caught and ripped. They missed both. In addition is protecting the drivetrain from grit and gook so that it doesn’t require as much maintenance.
For most people there is a surprisingly big difference between upright and leaning slightly. Even a slight lean puts weight on your hands, arms, and shoulders and for any but the thinnest causes sweat. Proper upright geometry aligns your head, neck, back, and sit bone and places your weight how your body was designed to carry it.
Our bikes (Dutch, Danish, Swedish, and English) all have either coaster or roller brakes. My preference is a rear coaster and front roller. These are very durable and reliable and is why they (and drum) are the overwhelming choice for people who use their bicycles for transportation. Edit to add: I’d never use roller or drum on my road bikes but disk is becoming a good option.
The Momentum’s are great looking bikes but I don’t think they’re a good option if we want to see people ride more often. I also could not find a step-thru option.
Less important are cup holders and more important are things like lights, especially for cities like Seattle where it is dark around 4:30PM in December. They could also use a few more reflectors for safety.
Still for $425, they do check a lot of boxes, and look nice.
I agree; I would have liked to have seen a basic wired dynamo light set, but that would have pushed the price up considerably, and the main opinion is that people can choose the lights that work best for what they’re doing.
That said, I wish more bikes had German-style dynamo lighting. It makes most U.S. lights (which have a mountain-biking heritage) pale by comparison, thanks to the beam shape and design that maximizes road visibility without blinding others.
Bike shops never have what you want. I’m interested in Flying pigeons and Amish Scooters. Those are good durable vehicles, but there is no money in something affordable that doesn’t break down. It is hard to compete with sports authority with their onsite bike mechanics. There is also craigslist. To find a good bike shop you have to go into the worst neighborhood, otherwise you pay up the nose and wind up waiting two weeks to get your bike looked at.
one thing you forgot to mention, was bmx. in the early 80’s, before mtb’s were really invented or mainstream, kids in the USA like myself roamed free, and the best way to do this, AND to be the cool kid on the block was to have a tricked out bmx. This, in addition to being a fast, efficient way to get to the 7-11 to play Asteroids or PacMan. The fact that kids now are not encouraged to leave the house as “it’s too dangerous” and one doesn’t even need to leave their home to play video games is what is killing the bike shops and the bike participation. we need new kids and new participants to get into bikes, that’s the key.
I see two problems: affordability of decent/comfortable bikes, and lack of safe commuter paths for bicycles. Buying a decent bike is so expensive, for most people, they cannot event get “into” bike commuting, because the barrier is too high.
I like this article a lot. I have several bikes but it was a progression and I still remember the confusion at the beginning. I bought from a family friend that helped me into the game but had several less than awesome bike shop experiences. I have since convinced many of my indoor cyclists to take their rides outside – some do tours, but many have been encouraged to haul their families out and go about their daily grind. I wrote an article for working women to help – and my point about all the gear and the bikes was a) it works (clean, tuned and lubricated) b) It fits c) you like riding it
Here’s the blog – http://www.power2doit.com/2015/04/26/your-cycling-guide-to-commuting/
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Just a few thoughts on the Dutch model: Bikes are recreational vehicles in the US because it’s huge, the weather sucks and motoring is cheap. In Europe the hassle of driving outweighs the hassle of biking, unlike the US the weather in Europe is generally milder, the streets narrower, and the cost of motoring is way higher. In the US only poor or rich people have the time or incentive to not drive everyday.
Middle class people with kids and suburban houses are not going to switch the SUV for a cargo bike.
Really?!? Most trips in cars aren’t long distance/between cities.
The biggest difference between Europe and the U.S. is that we have by and large subsidized/legislated/required oil, cars, car-centric development, sprawl, wide streets, etc. Most of this goes against what we are learning makes for happy individuals and healthy, connected, vibrant communities: narrower streets, more communal living, sharing, self-propelled transit, clean air, a more active lifestyle, regular exercise, cohesive neighborhoods, etc.
You say the weather sucks. I can’t speak for winter biking (though I have many friends/acquaintances who do it happily), but I walk for transit year round. I prefer it to autos mid-winter, in part because I am never cold while walking, though I do get really cold in cars and even on transit.
You say motoring is cheap. It’s not. Is it subsidized at the expense of transit and urban development that would benefit everybody? Yes, and it’s *still* not cheap. There might be places where there isn’t another option because a home is so far from any life and so poorly served by transit, but driving is inherently expensive. I don’t pay car payments, insurance, gas, maintenance, parking, tickets, license fees, tabs, etc. I buy a pair or two of shoes a year and throw $40 on my bus pass every few months. And that’s without counting other less direct costs (sedentary vs. active lifestyle, what it costs in gov dollars to provide sewer/water/fire/electricity/mail/roads/sidewalks to my denser housing, cost to public health of air/noise pollution of so many people’s cars, etc.).
You say it’s for the rich or the poor. I’m roughly middle class. I’ve over and over consciously chosen never to drive because I see what driving does to our bodies (sedentary) and minds (angry/alone), our communities (disconnected and dangerous), our cities (premature births/deaths, costly infrastructure, and our planet (climate change) I caretake my elderly father without a car, 90% on foot. I don’t have kids yet, but I see no reason that I would drive start driving with them and pretty big reasons (future of our planet, raising healthy/happy/responsible kids) that I would continue to shun driving.
You say there’s not much incentive for most people to switch their SUV out for a cargo bike. I think you’re mistaken. Most people want to be healthier and happier. They want to save money. They want to live in connected cities/neighborhoods. They want to prevent pain/suffering. They want a (better) world for themselves/their children. Frankly, I just don’t see any incentive to drive.
Julia, you raise a great point (among many great points) that motoring is not cheap. We only perceive it to be cheap because so much of the cost (of roads, law enforcement, crashes) is hidden from us by being subsidized and paid for out of general funds (mostly property taxes). If the fuel excise tax was raised to the approximately $1.60 per gallon (similar to Europe) that would be required then drivers might think quite differently.
Edit to add: The fuel excise tax would need to be raised by $1.60 not to $1.60. The tax is currently $0.28 and would need to be about $1.88 / gallon.
The personal incidence of car cost is insanely expensive here in America, even though we publicly subsidize an insane amount of the cost.
People should Cure Their Clownlike Car Habit because they can achieve financial freedom, among all the other reasons. http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/04/22/curing-your-clown-like-car-habit/
But we do need to make driving much more of a hassle, too.
See that is the attitude that makes people hate bicyclists. The idea that we should make driving much more of a hassle.
Why? So that more people are attracted to what you like a feel so superior doing?
Why not simply make bicycling on the public streets illegal. Most people would vote for that, it would save countless lives, as you are much much more likely to survive a collision with a car if you are in a car.
If you can’t make bicycling more attractive to everyone, then you should make driving more of a hassle to force them into it. You are convinced that they will like it more than driving because you do.
Most people won’t like it more than driving for a variety of factors. Otherwise they would be doing it already. So no you shouldn’t make it more of a hassle for everyone else so that you can feel superior, entitled, and stuck up.
Did you read the article, your attitude is exactly why more people don’t want to have anything to do with bicycling.
“Most people won’t like it more than driving for a variety of factors. Otherwise they would be doing it already.”
That’s some super-circular reasoning. We’ve given the public realm over to cars and you can tell that’s what everyone wants because everyone is in a car? No, that does not follow.
Cars are useful tools, but not the right tool for every job. When we design our infrastructure to allow people to choose different tools – walking, biking, transit – we see that people can and do choose them.
I agree with you, Guy, that I don’t have as a motivating goal the desire to make driving more of a hassle in and of itself. But I and many people I know are hoping to decrease public subsidies of cars and driving and to more directly charge those who choose to drive for the costs they incur via infrastructure, public health, and our planet. I assume that’s what the commenter before you was also talking about, but using an unfortunate shorthand.
Humans over time have generally tried to separate out our more dangerous and toxic activities from where the majority of people live and work, paying particular attention to protecting the vulnerable. What this has looked like has evolved. It’s been as basic as trying to keep outhouses and drinking water supplies separate. It means zoning to keep heavy industry out of residential areas. It includes smoking bans, noise laws, etc.
I’m certainly not for making driving more of a hassle, but right now we’ve set up our cities so that we encourage people to drive toxic polluting vehicles on very expensive infrastructure at speeds that kill and maim our vulnerable with only a momentary (and very human) loss of focus. It’s beyond disingenuous to pretend that cars and bikes are equally responsible for birth defects, premature births, heart and asthma attacks, increased stress levels, sedentary diseases, crashes with casualties, run-off, high infrastructure costs (in construction, maintenance, and need for replacement), etc.
Many people don’t feel like they have a choice to not drive (hateful and vitriolic rhetoric towards bikers like your comment certainly discourages it) and I agree that shame isn’t a great mechanism to encourage change away from a very common behavior. But if you or any other driver justifies hating cyclists because of a single internet comment of a single individual? Why take you seriously at all? That’s even more facile than anything the previous commenter could have said.
Yeah, calling me a clown because I drive 3/4s of a mile to Burger King doesn’t make me respect the bicycle crowd any. Suppose it weren’t hot (so I’d need a shower afterwords), cold (so I’d have to bundle up like a Everest expedition), or rainy. On one of those 2 or 3 days a year I’d still have to park, lock it up, and go inside because I couldn’t use the drive-thru. And even if I get a basket, how would I get my Coke home (never mind, I guess they make cupholders for bicycles.
I suppose it’s going to help a lot if I mention that Burger King is a thing you should eat only rarely and Coke a thing you should drink never? 😉
Even if it’s hot, rainy, or cold you could probably make it there under 5 minutes without sweating, freezing, or getting very wet. If your lock is handy, then maybe it’s another minute or so to lock up and go in?
I guess if it’s 3/4s of a mile, then that’s, what, a 15 minute walk? And then you can always eat inside? Fast food isn’t so tasty after about 10 minutes anyway.
Of course, not all 3/4s of a miles are equal. If all that car infrastructure (including the drive-thru) didn’t exist, and it was a pleasant path through some trees, it might actually be a pretty nice walk or bicycle?
Anyway, something to think about…
While many of those things are true, many of them are also the direct result of policy choices that can be changed.
-rizza, this is like saying that because there is a hill in St Paul then I can’t ride my bicycle in Shoreview.
Yes, for some people riding a bicycle is not a good option, but for many more it is. In most parts of the U.S. the weather is quite good for bicycling, even here in Minnesota where I rarely find that I can’t ride for short local trips like a couple of miles to a store and back (somewhere around 0f or 10f is my lower limit).
Driving is not a hassle in Europe. I drive there regularly, it’s not very different from here except that it is much safer there than here.
I know a gob of middle class people, including many writers on streets.mn, who use a bicycle for alternate, primary, or exclusive transportation. When you consider how much it costs for each mile you drive (fuel, tires, maintenance, milage depreciation, etc.) a bike or cargo bike or both can pay back quick quickly. And that’s just the monetary benefit.
I don’t understand the common comparison of cycling in the US versus the Netherlands and the “make cycling simple” point. While I agree that bike shop employees should do whatever is necessary to help the average “non-fraternity” citizen pick a bike they will ride often, the idea of simplicity in this context is overstated. If you live in a region with hills, you will likely need gears. A single speed or 3 speed dutch style bike will probably frustrate the average citizen looking to use the bike for daily transportation in any area that is not largely flat.
Why promote the perception of cycling as a super simple activity when it can be just as complicated as driving a car?The bike in the photo posted above featuring the woman and her kids on a camping excursion is anything but simple! It has just as much or more going on with it, mechanically, than the bike Froome powered up the Alps. I think a better approach would entail more assertive rider education.
The myth of simplicity is what leads people to neglect necessary mechanical adjustments and ride their bikes ineffectively for a month before it ends up hanging in a garage.
I find the promotion of a tribal perspective in cycling to be frustrating. The same folks that wear lycra on a long Sunday ride are often the same people sporting jeans on their “beater” or “townie” bike as they run errands around town. The woman who wants to ride her bike to work in casual clothing can become the person who 6 months later decides to join a 20 mile easy club ride in a rural setting. The next year, she might realize the benefit of wearing a snug fitting cycling jersey and shorts that keep her cool on the 50 mile ride she’ll be glad she accomplished. A year later, she might find herself with a second bike that has, gasp, drop bars! Don’t overlook the fluidity of human behavior!
You’ve made some interesting points and common observations but don’t place people in boxes to support simplified perspectives. Avoiding the complexity of cycling environments won’t help the industry find solutions to declining new bicycle sales.
A few bike shops in DC offer yoga classes during certain hours on their showroom floor. One of them just expanded to a new space nearly 4 times as large as it’s previous space. Both shops are active in creating riding experiences for people in the city. One shop features weekly casual rides while the others shop features more sport oriented rides. They are busy building community and facilitating customer loyalty. Both shops have thrived and grown over the past few years.
If you treat your customers right, there’s no guarantee they’ll treat you right (ask any Best Buy about how many people check the stuff out and then buy it on Amazon), but not treating your customers right is absolutely guaranteed to be reciprocated. I should write a letter to that shop in St. Paul: I’ve bought $1000 in bicycles over the years from your competitor because you wouldn’t even say hi, may I help you to me. Once again, I do commend Penn Cycle. They are nice, didn’t try to sell me a bunch of crap, and carry Treks extensive line including some that are somewhat affordable.
I’m assuming the bicycles I rode around in as a kid weren’t expensive, but they lasted under daily use in the summers until I outgrew them. The one I bought from Fleet Farm many years later was always trouble. Are “low end” bicycles a lot worse now than in days gone by?
Depends on the bike I think. Single speed coaster is more reliable than internal geared hub (IGH) coaster which is more reliable than IGH without coaster brake and all are much more reliable than external derailleurs. This is why single or 3-speed (or 7, 8, or 11 speed) coaster brake bikes are so popular with people who rely on their bikes for daily transportation (e.g., people in Europe, Asia, etc).
A cheap bike with heavy spokes and rims is likely much more reliable than a cheap bike trying to look like a road racing bike with cheap thin spokes and rims.
Eric, first of all, I love your Dandies & Quaintrelles site. Sounds like a fun group.
Daily bicycling does not need to be complicated, even with hills and mountains. Internal Geared Hubs (IGH) are much simpler and much more reliable than external derailleurs which is why IGH is so popular outside of the U.S. They come in a variety of configurations with 3 and 8 speed the most common and 11 not uncommon. My Nuvinci is variable/infinite speed. Tens of thousands of people in hilly and mountainous communities ride them with no problems.
Even the local postman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VN54oOMVrXQ
A proper bicycle (and personally I do prefer Dutch and Workcycles in particular but there are many others) is uncomplicated because it is functional, reliable, and easy to ride in any clothes you have on from Assos to Zegna. The bike always works, the lights always work, the rack always works.
The myth of simplicity is what leads people to neglect necessary mechanical adjustments and ride their bikes ineffectively for a month before it ends up hanging in a garage.
This is the great thing about good city bikes is that necessary mechanical adjustments are largely unnecessary. I do agree with you that if a bike shop sells someone a bicycle with external derailleurs, chain, and brakes with cheap tyres that the shop is negligent if they tell their customer that a fair bit of routine maintenance is unnecessary. Fortunately that’s not so much the case with a well made Dutch bike. While some maintenance is good, many do function exceptionally well for decades with no maintenance.
So, 127 comments and I’m still not sure what my next bike should be… A “city” bike with an internal hub, fenders, rack, chain guard, and good looks at a good price…
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Just out of curiosity…have you really been to the Netherlands much? I’m there once a month and the comparison between there and the US just doesn’t work…it’s a MUCH smaller country, much more flat, things folks need to get to are much closer, the weather doesn’t swing to the extremes we have in most of the US, and the fact is there isn’t a bike shop on every corner as you write…even allowing for some slight exaggeration on your part.
I get what you’re trying to say, but the issue isn’t the kind of bike…it’s much more complex. You dismiss the weather issue in the comments, but for biking to be transportation for the general populous, it has to work year-round with relative ease…most people the world over don’t change “core” habits (like transportation) so seasonally.
I like the idea of retailers being able to sell a wider variety of stories than recreation and fitness, but biking as transportation should be one of the options, not pushed as the primary one. If I own a bike shop just outside Billings, MT, I may have a clientele with less opportunity or use for city bikes than I will if I own one in Portland, OR. If my customer lives in a large subdivision that’s not connected via sidewalks or greenways to local shops, schools, and parks, then pushing the city bike probably doesn’t make sense.
Borrowing an abused phrase…it’s not about the bike…suggesting that it is doesn’t really help.
“things folks need to get to are much closer”
Exactly. Maybe we need a more European land use to get a critical mass of demand for more European bicycles. Works for me.
Not that I disagree, but if you try, you start to realize that you really can get all the things you’d load into your Canyonero at the Mega-Low Mart much closer to home, if you weren’t so busy zipping by those places on the freeway.
Well, at least if you live in the city and some of the first ring suburbs.