Friday, September 19, 2014

How to Create More Bike Commuters

Bike Commuter 101 classes lean heavily on safety. First, it's all about the bike. Are tires properly inflated? Do your brakes work? Is the chain oiled? Do you know how to change a flat? Lights? Reflective clothing?

Once the bicycle's condition is addressed, other questions must be answered: What's the safest route to follow? What happens if it rains? How do I carry my stuff? Where do I lock my bike?

There are so many steps and options for a first timer, it's enough information to give many a headache. No wonder most wannabe commuters resort to their usual transportation - the automobile. It may not be the healthiest solution (for body and planet), nor the cheapest, but it's comfortable. As adults, change does not come easily.

Make no mistake, commuting by bike is a big lifestyle change. But do bike commute workshops have to be fraught with does and don'ts, scaring away potential commuters? These meetings are held with the best of intentions: to get more people on bicycles. However, I wonder if harping on safety (bike- and road-wise) has an underlying, adverse affect, much like the helmet debate wars.

I think instructors are missing the point, one that might stick with folks at least amenable to the idea of riding a bike. FUN. Teachers are focused on accounting for every dangerous situation - and they would be remiss if they avoided the subject altogether - that they forget to emphasize the obvious, "Just get out there and have fun."

We should all recall what it was like to ride like a kid.

Remember the first taste of freedom, pedaling through woods, down the street, with friends, pumping roller coaster style in a sandpit? Or riding with no hands? Danger was the furthest thing from our mind. We had wheels. We had transportation.

If I had my way, transportation cycling classes would be held outdoors, for starters. I'd preach by example, bringing an old bike. Together, we'd ride on the bike path, detouring in the woods, through parks, weave on the sidewalk, taking not necessarily the most direct route, but the most enjoyable, avoiding narrow, litter and pothole riddled bicycle lanes. Then I'd suggest decorating our bicycles: finally putting reflective spoke beads on my own wheels. And what's wrong with playing cards in the spokes? Tassels on handlebars? Wire or ziptie plastic flowers on a rack? Pinwheel on a handlebar? (Give me back my banana seat bike!)

The inevitable questions would come, unique to their situation, whether it's riding at night or in traffic. One by one. Not presented like the big bad wolf looking over your shoulder.

This post was inspired by Bicycle Times' Ride Like a Kid article, by Andrew Titus. Issue 031, October 2014.


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