Is the current bicycle boom simply part of a never-ending bike cycle, wherein the press rattles on and Americans ride a little more, but real progress is never made?
I’m contemplating this question after reading an article from 1941 in Click Magazine that I found at a book fair, entitled: “Bike Cycle? How to Go Places Without Gasoline.” At first glance, the article seemed to be a bit of vintage fun, like the preceding article, “Your hat in 1941 will show how you feel about the war.” Step-through frames with baskets! Women on bikes in skirts! Men in suits riding to the train station!
However, as I read the article, I realized it was eerily similar to the issues presented today. Take out the retrograde parts about “men” going to the office and “housewives,” and the piece could have been in the latest issue of Time. The writer seemed very excited about the future of transportation cycling in America, yet 70 years later there’s been no progress. To me this is horrific in a Twilight Zone kind of way.
Below I present the article in its entirety (apologies to the original copyright holders). I bolded and italicized the parts that struck me the most and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Bike Cycle? how to go places without gasoline
BIKE CYCLE? HOW TO GO PLACES WITHOUT GASOLINE
Town and country have both witnessed the return of the bicycle as a pleasure vehicle. During the Gay Nineties, heyday of cycling, only 10% of the bicycles sold were made for women. Today women buy over 30% of the bicycles made. College girls like those on the right helped bring back the bicycle’s popularity. In cities, bicycles must obey all traffic laws. Bicycle fans want state registration and license tags just like automobiles.
When the phrase “they never come back” was muttered about the American bicycle, the mutterers were muttering too soon. True enough, bicycle sales in America dropped from a high of 1,089,000 in 1899 to 180,000 in 1932. But then the great comeback started. Last year, bicycle sales reached an all time American high – more than 1,300,000 were sold. Cycle paths were built in city parks, and women took the wheel in amazing numbers. As a fun vehicle, the bicycle’s comeback was complete.
"Today, women buy over 30% of the bicycles made."
Now, with gasoline shortages looming importantly on our horizon, the bicycle is making a serious bid for at least some of the jobs being performed by automobiles. It is no longer necessary to release pictures like the one above to make people bicycle-concious. Bike lovers see their two-wheelers usurping most of the duties of the family car – and they might be right.
Men who now use automobiles to drive to the railroad station while they commute from suburb to city daily may follow the lead of commuters like Norman Hill, who pedals two miles from his home to the Maplewood, N.J. station in ten minutes every morning. He parks his bike there all day.
The huge quantities of gasoline now being burned by the cheap second-hand cars many families maintain for children who go to rural and suburban schools can well be saved by sending them to school on bicycles. Bikes are healthier, often less dangerous than cars.
"Suburbanites find they can make two wheels do the work of four."
Housewives who now drive a mile or less to do their shopping may soon find themselves faced with the alternative of cycling or walking to the store. But many American women, like this suburban Pennsylvania matron, find that cycle shopping can be completely practical.
The pleasures of parking and touring the countryside are enjoyed by any bicycle owner who desires them. A pair of shorts are all this girl needs in the way of special cycling clothes. The growth of roadside youth hostels has paved the way for bicycle tours covering hundreds of enjoyable miles.
"…and get an amusing exercise program out of legwork that replaces gasoline."
With the private family car completely eliminated by the fortunes of World War II all over Europe, most people are finding bicycles to be their only form of private transportation. Gadgets like this side car for Parisian youngsters are becoming more and more common in European city streets.
American schools and factories may soon have to erect bicycle garages like this one in Paris if gasoline shortages on this side of the Atlantic become even remotely as acute as they are in contemporary Europe. Cycling enthusiasts say this will make for healthier Americans.
"Bicycles have already replaced automobiles in Europe"
Prominent Americans love bikes. Bicycle enthusiasts take great pride in the prominent Americans who ride bikes. Civilian Defense Director La Guardia must have seen this picture of Grover Whalen before he appointed him director of the gas-saver drive.
L to R: Lana Turner, Wendell Willkie, Ann Rutherford, Grover Whalen
Click Magazine, 1941
What do you think – Fun piece of vintage bike history or terrible sign of the status quo? I’m afraid that in another 70 years another article like this will be written and nothing will have changed.
How much of the push for bicycling is about encouraging people to be braver, rather than actually fostering a safe and welcoming environment for cyclists?
An editorial in The Times (UK) by Janice Turner, which Copenhaganize brought to my attention, has me pondering this question. My observation is that there are more cyclists on the road now than before, but the cyclists are overwhelmingly of the type expected to engage in perceived risky behavior – young males.
Chicago's Bicycle "Infrastructure"
This morning a pack of cyclists accompanied me on my commute. They resembled a rag-tag peloton, shuffling for position, weaving around traffic and speeding through intersections. Of the dozen or so cyclists in my proximity, not one was a woman and not one appeared to be wearing regular work clothes. The evening commute featured a few women. (You can read more about my regular commute here.)
Mind, I am not criticizing this group. I appreciate them and their presence on the road. My criticism is for a transportation system that fails to accommodate a more diverse – and risk averse – group of people on bikes.
As individuals, Trisha and I don’t have the power to build infrastructure or enforce traffic laws. Therefore, the best we can say is that, despite the awful state of cycling infrastructure in North America, the U.K., Australia, et al, you should ride your bike and enjoy yourself. While we show that cycling is not as difficult and dangerous as it seems, mixing it up with cars every day still takes courage. For every woman who tells us that our blog inspired her to bicycle regularly, there must be several others who were inspired to try, but gave up due to fear.
Even the most conscientious and experienced cyclist is not immune to danger. For example, last week my husband Greg was taking the lane to pass a stopped bus safely, when a car driver squeezed around him, hitting his arm with the car’s side mirror and causing his body to bang against the passenger door. The woman sped away. Thankfully, he was able to regain his balance and escape injury. The responding police officer was respectful, but said there was nothing they could do without a full license plate number and witnesses. That woman cared so little for the man I care for the most, apparently knowing she could behave this way without legal consequence. Even if the police could have tracked her down, we would be lucky if she received a warning ticket.
Of course, no one is immune to danger. Life can be risky, and certainly I would not put bicycling on a list of high-risk activities. If I thought otherwise, no way would I be out there on my bike every day. I am risk-averse. However, there is so much that could be done to make bicycling safer, both objectively and subjectively.
I love bicycling. I usually feel safe riding in Chicago. I hope this blog helps counter the negative and ugly rhetoric that so often accompanies bicycling discourse in media and society at large. But every now and then, inevitably, I am frustrated and disappointed by the failure of governments to provide a safe place for all road users.
Many citizens have answered the call to be braver, and in the process have found themselves healthier and happier. There is a beautiful momentum of regular people on bicycles, and failing to acknowledge our growing numbers with a comprehensive plan to foster a safe and welcoming environment would be criminal.
I worry over Ms. Turner’s conclusion in the Times article that “a big fat flaw at the heart of democracy is that politicians will never invest in the long term if voters’ initial inconvenience and expense are not rewarded with results before an election.” If that is always the case, we will never move forward.
As of now, we are here. Whether in dresses or lycra, on Dutch bikes or fixies, we are all getting around in a way that benefits ourselves, society and the environment. Will the government embrace us or desert us?
My morning commute yesterday felt like a group ride! For more than half of the way, I was in a line of 9 cyclists going down the bike lane. Our spontaneous conga line caused stares, double-takes and smiles. How could people not consider cycling as a valid form of transportation after seeing so many bikes all around them? Snowball effect – more riders beget more riders.
On the way home, I spotted my friend Elizabeth. She had pulled over to chat with the owner of De Fietsfabriek, so I pulled over and joined them, and then we rode home together. On the way, we saw three bike cops ticketing a van for being parked in the bike lane. Overhead in a stern voice as we passed, “See, all these bicyclists have to go in the lane around you.” Today on Streetsblog I saw this video to train Chicago bus drivers how to interact with bicyclists.
I feel that everything is coming together to create a real place for cyclists in Chicago. The cyclists themselves: out in droves. The drivers: expecting cyclists and behaving respectfully. The infrastructure: far from perfect but following the 2015 Bike Plan and better than almost all other North American cities. Law enforcement, city government, and Da Mayor: working for us. The sun: shining down approvingly on all of it.
My giddy optimism is so bright this week!
Do other Chicagoan have thoughts on this? Bicyclists in other cities – how do you feel about your place on the road and in the community? Any other optimists out there?
While I was taking this shot, hunched over Betty Foy to balance my camera on the saddle, two separate passing cyclists asked if everything was okay. Yes, thank you! This random kindness reminded me how strong the Chicago cycling community remains even in the winter.
Sometimes while waiting at a light I find myself flanked by two or three other people on bikes. Note that I said “waiting” at a light – winter cyclists as a group seem more responsible than the influx of summer cyclists. The percentage of men vs. women is definitely more skewed toward men in the winter, but plenty of women are out there, too. Friendliness is all over the map, with some people striking up whole conversations and others completely ignoring my chipper “Good mornings.”
Overall, I am impressed by the number of winter cyclists and feel that the worse the weather, the stronger our collective bond. That’s one reason why events such as today’s Winter Bike to Work Day hosted by the Active Transportation Alliance – complete with coffee and cheesecake – are so great.
How is the winter cycling community where you live? Is there one?
The Waltz of the Bikes is already making the rounds in the bike blogosphere, but I feel compelled to post it here. The video is mesmerizing and literally put a smile on my face. Although I have seen countless pictures on Amsterdamize, watching video of cyclists in Amsterdam is powerful.
This video also made me a bit sad. It drives home how far Chicago is from the ideal – and Chicago is one of the most evolved cycling cities in North America. I so rarely see anyone in normal work clothes riding about casually. While I get a kick out of people thinking I am a superwoman for riding my bike all the time, I wish doing so were not such an oddity.
For details and background on the video, visit the maker (along with Violeta Brana Lafourcade) Mike Rubbo’s blog, Situp Cycle. Mike writes from Australia, which also has a long way to go. While there, check out the excellent video interviews with Mikael of Copenhagen Cycle Chic.
Week one of our Bike Lover’s Gift Guide highlighted fun and beautiful handcrafts available on Etsy. For week two we are shifting our focus to gifts that give back to the bicycling community.
Life-Changing Bikes – Gift a bike in honor of someone you love via World Bicycle Relief. The Bicycles for Educational Empowerment program aims to give 50,000 bicycles to school children in rural Zambia – 70% of whom are girls – to enable the children to travel to and from school more easily. The cost is $134 per bicycle, which includes shipping and assembling the bike, as well as paying for a trained bike mechanic for each school. Any donation amount is welcome.
Local Bike Advocacy – Give the gift of membership to your local bike advocacy organization. In Chicago the Active Transportation Alliance works to create better conditions for bicyclists, pedestrians and public transit users. Membership is inexpensive and includes lots of discounts at retailers across the city, several membership events and a newsletter.
Bicycle Cooperatives – Give the gift of community. Examples include gift memberships at co-ops like Bici Co-op in Birmingham and used bicycles for purchase at Bikes Not Bombs in Boston and Working Bikes Cooperative in Chicago. Your community may have a bicycle cooperative you could support in some way through your holiday gift-giving.
The Open Road – Give the gift of adventure. A gift membership for the Adventure Cycling Association includes a subscription to Adventure Cycling Magazine, discounts on route maps and affiliate benefits, and if you join or renew for yourself now, you can give a holiday gift membership for half off. If you really want to go all out, you could give someone an amazing cycling tour.
Magazine Subscription – Momentum, The Magazine for Self-Propelled People, is distributed free in several cities across North America. Gift subscriptions are super affordable and help support this first-class publication.
Organized Rides – Give the gift of a fun day together. Many rides support bicycling or other environmental causes. If you find a ride you like in another city, make a whole weekend vacation of it. This ride along Chicago’s beautiful lakefront benefits Climate Cycle. The annual ride is scheduled for May 14, 2010 and cyclists select from a 4, 10, 20 or 62-mile course. Proceeds go to installing solar energy in Chicago public schools, which currently pay more for energy costs than books and computers combined.
If you have any other ideas or know of a worthy bicycling cause, please share in the comments!
This post title is inspired by the homepage of Performance Bicycle, which announces: “Who needs cashmere? Wrap yourself in Spandex!” (Thanks Steve for the heads up.) While I appreciate that some cyclists prefer spandex, I thought I’d represent for all the cashmere-wearing cyclists out there. After wool, cashmere is my favorite clothing for winter cycling: luxurious and warm.
Unfortunately, after I snapped this picture in the morning, I realized my narrow skirt was impossible to cycle in, especially sitting upright. Taken down by a skirt! I was in a rush, so I garaged Oma and took the L train. Too bad, because I missed Chicago’s first flurry.
Earlier this week I asked what you would do as a marketer tasked with getting people to switch from cars to bikes. The resulting discussion was impressive. The main points were to emphasize the ease and desirability of cycling, while not being too pushy or preachy and remembering that infrastructure is the most important piece of the puzzle. Steven Vance is discussing this approach in his Making cycling normal series, and of course it’s a constant theme over at Copenhagenize. Today I was hoping to report back on how I had the opportunity to spread this message via the mainstream media, but life is never that simple.
I volunteered to participate in the filming of a segment on winter cycling for a show on the new ABC Live Well network, along with a few other people, including Elizabeth of Bike Commuters and Julie of The Chainlink. Prior to filming, the producer sent us the following instructions:
Please be bike-ready, that is, bring your bikes and gear. We don’t want anyone showing up to the shoot site coming off a bus in work clothes! And finally, please bring your winter gear. We want to capture some footage of you guys wearing balaclavas, your three layers, and someone applying gel toothpaste to their goggles! (emphasis added)
After reading this, I considered canceling. I have no balaclava, goggles or gel toothpaste tricks, and my goal is to dress in work clothes looking as if I could have stepped off a bus instead of a bike. They obviously had a story in mind that I did not fit into. I should have followed my instinct.
Senior Crossing Street in Miami Beach – PBIC Image Library
Mapes brings up many interesting points in the book – the kind that made me read and re-read, fold down the page, and want to talk about it with someone. I picked up my dusty copy this morning and started flipping back through the folded pages. My mind started sparking again, so I thought I would explore these ideas more through discussion here.
Today was Chicago’s annual Boulevard Lakefront Tour, organized by and benefiting the Active Transportation Alliance. The tour, Chicago’s longest-running bike ride, journeys along Chicago’s extensive boulevard system and parks in either 15, 27, 35, or 62-mile routes. A festival followed, with plenty of food, beer and music. This is the second major ride that Active Trans organizes. The other ride is Bike the Drive, which I wrote about here.