Even CNN is waking up to the fact that riding a bike requires no special athletic ability or superhero outfits. You don’t have to be a “cyclist” to ride a bike.
The San Francisco Chronicle has noticed that some people ride bikes without any funny clothes. I’m happy about this, but at the same time, it’s a little strange that it’s news. Hopefully in another few years, it’ll seem so normal, nobody notices.
Why not dress like a traffic cone when you ride your bike? Lots of great reasons, from the Lazy Randonneur. Including, importantly, the desire to move cycling in the US beyond being some kind of sporty geeked-out niche activity.
I spent some time this afternoon sitting alongside the Boulder Creek Path out east of where it joins up with the Goose Creek Path, heading toward the ocean of office parks that employ a significant chunk of Boulder, a 7 minute ride from my house at 21st and Walnut. As the sun headed for the continental divide, I took a picture of (almost) every bike that went by. Over 48 minutes, I saw 75 bikes.
Looking at the photos after the fact, I did some counting and found some things out about cyclists in Boulder.
I’ve been talking to friends and co-conspirators about how best to do bicycle
propaganda marketing. There’s a tendency in Boulder — as well as more broadly in the US — to market transportation cycling on the basis of its environmental, health, economic, and even political benefits. These benefits are significant, and are part of why I and many others who already ride, do so. However, I don’t think that means they’re the right way to reach the other 99% of the US population (or even to the other 90% of the Boulder population). To use this rational, functional framing is to use the marketing techniques of the 19th century, which often assumed consumers to be rational beings, making their purchases on the basis of the relative functional merits of the products on offer. Some people behave rationally, in some purchases, but since the mid 20th century most corporations (and many governments) have realized that this is not actually the best way to move product. Ever since Edward Bernays, marketing and public relations has largely been about evoking an emotional response and associating your product with the aspirations of the consumer, regardless of whether those aspirations are attainable or pure fantasy. Most people with an analytical background are irritated by the idea that logical rhetoric and rational argument are not the best ways to convince people of something. I’ve seen this issue come up repeatedly with public science communication, especially in the context of climate change.
Irritating or not, this seems to be the way most people work, most of the time. If we want cycling to become something everyone does, we have to work with people as they are, not as we wish they were. The benefits of the bicycle will be realized if lots of people decide to ride, regardless of whether they’ve made that decision rationally.