Why People Ride Bicycles

Don’t let that headline fool you. I can’t possibly cover a topic like that unless, of course, I cover it as the KC Free Press did — a short collection of photo interviews.

The responses are, in my opinion, fairly typical and fit well with a few of my own reasons to ride:

  1. Get to know the neighborhood
  2. Exercise
  3. Enjoying the outdoors
  4. Escaping the confines of a car

But one guy has a reason that I’m finding increasingly compelling as a bicycle advocate. Here’s what Mike Nolte had to say:

I ride because I enjoy being outdoors and a bicycle is free transportation. I also work near where I live. Once you know the area, riding a bike may be quicker than driving.

It seems to me that there are many other choices for exercise and enjoying the outdoors. And walking certainly helps you escape the confines of a car and get to know your neighborhood. So what do we have to do to encourage more people to ride bicycles as basic transportation?

Possible answer: Find a way to make it a quick and easy transportation choice; make it more convienient than a car.

This topic was recently covered on Copenhaganize:

I don’t ride a bicycle all over the map because it’s fun. I don’t think I’ve ever considered it fun. Enjoyable, perhaps, but even that isn’t at the top of the list.

Frisbees are fun. That’s why hundreds of millions of them have been sold since Walter Frederick Morrison concieved his flying disk. But there are very, very few people who think that it’s so much fun that they want to join a league and do it full time.

When the City of Copenhagen asks its cycling citizens what their main reason for cycling is – and they ask every two years – the majority reply that it is because a bicycle is the quickest and easiest way to get around town. 56% of them say that.

In second place, 19% reply that their main reason is ‘good exercise’. They get their 30 minutes a day like the Ministry of Health suggests but riding to and from work and on to the supermarket.

Only 6% ride because it’s inexpensive and only 1% ride for environmental reasons.

I agree with Richard when he writes, “No wonder we fail so miserably at cycling promotion. Do car advertisements speak blandly to the raw number crunching, analytical bottom line? Or do they appeal to your desire for visceral, go fast, fantastic feeling of freedom and sexual prowess?”

Cycling advocacy is hopelessly out of touch with basic human anthropology.

People on bicycles are no different than people on foot, on trains, planes and automobiles. They want to get there quick. Homo sapiens are like rivers – we’ll always take the quickest route.

People in established bicycle cultures ride because it’s quick. Easy. Convenient. If you make that possible in emerging bicycle cultures, you have half the battle won.

Getting around the urban core is quick and easy on a bicycle — sometimes quicker and easier than a car. I had no real idea about this when I decided to live close to work and downtown. I was thinking green.

I’m surprised, frankly, that I kept bicycling. I didn’t quit in the rain. I didn’t quit in the cold. I didn’t hear that Ford Explorer in the garage calling to me when time was short or conditions were less than idea.

I just assumed that I would be a fair-weather rider when I moved here six years ago.

But riding around the urban core is quick and easy. So I stuck with it and got rid of that SUV. I’ve reached the point where I don’t want to drive a car — the noise, the stress, the parking hassles, the danger, the frustration, the cost … on and on.

(Via Skribit Suggestions)

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Comments 5

  1. Mighk wrote:

    So the most effective way to get people on bikes is to increase density.

    Bikeway advocates keep pointing the increases in cycling in New York City as “proof” that the facilities work. They conveniently ignore the fact that many office buildings prohibited people from bringing bicycles inside. It was such a significant issue that the City passed a law, which went into effect in December of 2009. http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot//html/pr2009/pr09_052.shtml

    Presto! High density plus removal of an enormous bicycle parking impediment equals huge mode shift.

    Posted 27 May 2010 at 10:32 am
  2. Andy Cline wrote:

    Mighk… I believe you are correct. Increasing density helps create the convenience. I’m pushing the idea of density on the strategic planning transportation committee.

    Posted 27 May 2010 at 11:01 am
  3. MamaVee wrote:

    see I’d go further to say that biking makes getting around a small town easily. When I’m in an urban core I prefer public transportation and walking. ( granted I grew up with excellent transpo)

    It’s true that the environmental reasons seem to be the ones that are talked about inthe US. Whenever I ride people comment ” Oh you are so good and so green”. Then that puts a divide between us as I am “good” and they can’t be as good as me.

    However I am hardly “good” or “green”. I try like most people to be greener but on the grand scale of things, I’m pretty bad. I enjoy my central a/c, I bike to the gym to run on a treadmill indoors b/c I hate running outside regularily but I want to be able to run a race if I want to and I cycle too slowly for hi fat burning…

    Posted 28 May 2010 at 3:25 pm
  4. carfreepvd wrote:

    MamaVee – you’re right, bikes are great for getting around a small town, and Andy is right that bikes are great for getting around in the urban core. What do these areas have in common? They were both designed and built before the automobile. Post-WWII suburbia was built on the idea of perpetual cheap gas (and white flight, and a few other things). It’s a little more difficult to get around by bike than the pre-WWII areas, but certainly not impossible once you learn how to do it. I’m eager to see how Andy tackles biking in suburban Springfield.

    Posted 29 May 2010 at 5:54 pm
  5. Karen wrote:

    I definitely begin bike commuting because 5 miles to work was not too great and we needed to save money and sell one of our cars. Flagstaff is really expensive and we bought our home at the top of the market so we look for ways to save money that will add to our quality of life rather than make us feel deprived. Promoting bike commuting by focusing on our carbon footprint is just too much of a yawner for the American audience, as much as I agree with the philosophy. Bike commuting or utility cycling was a sell for me because of sites like Copenhagen Cycle Chic and the various off-shoots that showed bikes as part of a stylish but also intentional lifestyle. It’s helped me slow down and provided me with exercise and stress management built into my day. Schwinn has a very good commerical out these days that definitely promotes bicycling as more attractive than driving.

    Posted 31 May 2010 at 6:02 pm