Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The "Big" Question

My colleague and well........boss, over at Twenty Nine Inches, Tim Grahl (who is the head honcho of the whole CrookedCog Network, which includes the Bike Lab, and Blue Collar MTB) asked a question on Commute By Bike yesterday regarding the "big question" amongst a lot of folks out there in the bicycle industry. The comments left there on that post are a lively discussion on what many think are the obstacles to getting more folks to leave their cars for bikes in the urban areas of the U.S.

I found one comment particularly poignant and humorous at the same time. It was left by a fellow that I happen to have met before and that I respect highly for his vast knowledge of the cycling industry. His name is Mike and here is the snippet from his comment that I found so interesting:

"A couple of years ago, I talked to the German owner of an American bike company who mentioned that one of the reasons he sees why Americans don’t ride to work is they are afraid of sweating and getting dirty. American culture has deemed it that thou shalt not stink and that you shalt have a sweet perfumey aire about them. There’s nothing wrong with a little human smell. "

At first read I laughed out loud. I mean, that is hilarious! Then it began to sink in. Maybe I'm laughing because it is true too. Think about it. How many of you would consider going without a shower for a day? Hmm? I think this strikes at something that is at the core of a lot of our deep set beliefs on "how life should be lived" that maybe need to be reviewed, but I digress.

The point is that there are deep set cultural values that are a huge hindrance to cycling for purposes of transportation and utility. Heck, we even bring our phones and video into our cars now. What's next? A microwave oven that doubles as a glove box? We are addicted to comfort and cleanliness. Until those things are addressed a lot of folks won't consider for a minute riding a bike to work, or using it for transportation to accomplish tasks like getting a gallon of milk, or running to the post office.

You know this is true if you bicycle in a city. Think about it. That look you got shot at you by that lady in the Suburban. The scowls you see behind windshields as you pass by the other direction. You know in the back of your mind those folks are thinking, "What's that person doing on a bike at this time of year? Probably a DWI, or worse. Dirty cyclist loser!" You really know it's true if you ride in street clothes and not a cycling kit.

In fact, I think it is one of the reasons cyclists wear "cycling clothing". They do it to say "I'm out here recreating. I'm a serious cyclist. I'm going home and taking a shower!" Sound goofy? Think about it. Try riding around downtown in your Levis and a t-shirt some day. Take a look at the people watching you. Tell me you don't feel it.

So, to get back to "the question", a big area of resistance is a subliminal fear of being dirty and being thought of in a negative manner, I think. Some of us don't give a rip what people think (hand goes up), but a lot of people that could ride a bike and don't do. That's a big hurdle. That's going to keep a lot of folks in their cars even with high priced gas.

That's my take anyway.

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