Re-Cycle Yourself: It's Time We Started Thinking of Bicycling as Serious Business Instead of Just Child's Play

By McCormick, Patrick | U.S. Catholic, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Re-Cycle Yourself: It's Time We Started Thinking of Bicycling as Serious Business Instead of Just Child's Play


McCormick, Patrick, U.S. Catholic


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EVERY NIGHT ON TV I SEE A DOZEN OR SO CAR COMmercials, even though America's auto industry is in free-fall. And yet although folks in this country spend nearly $6 billion annually buying close to 20 million bicycles and worldwide production of bikes continues to exceed production of automobiles, I cannot remember the last time I saw a bike commercial.

Likewise, our daily paper has an auto section, and every Saturday morning a weekly column discusses the virtues of one of Detroit or Japan's new models. But there is no column helping comparison shoppers select the best bike to take on a mountain trail or the streets of the concrete jungle.

And when the action heroes in our movies need to get somewhere, they jump in a convertible, SUV, or--if they are really enlightened--hybrid. But they never get on a bicycle. The last time I saw a bicyclist in a movie was in Waking Ned Devine, and that poor guy was naked.

Many of us had bikes as children. I rode mine to school in second and third grade, and used it to deliver papers in junior high. And like a lot of other adults, I bought a more expensive bike in my 30s, using it for touring and recreational riding with friends. Others bought off-road and dirt bikes, or racing bikes for triathalons and other extreme sports. These bikes were our surfboards or skateboards, the two-wheeled toys of our protracted adolescence, but they were not, in most cases, the vehicles for our daily commute. They were not our cars.

In America, bikes--whether ridden by children or adults--are mostly seen as toys, recreational vehicles we use for play. And even when these bikes cost as much as an old car, they are still just our weekend rides.

BUT SOME OF THAT MAY BE CHANGING. LAST year, as gas prices peaked at $4 a gallon, a lot of folks around the country left their four-wheelers in the garage and took their bikes for a spin, commuting to work or using them to do the shopping and tooling around the neighborhood.

In bike shops around the country sales were up between 15 and 20 percent, especially among models built for touring and commuting. People who hadn't been on a bike in decades were now riding five or 10 miles to work each day. Others were taking the bus or train part of the way and carrying a folding or collapsible bike for the rest of their commute. Suddenly biking wasn't just for messengers or triathletes.

The number of folks who commute on their bikes is still small, maybe as little as 1 or 2 percent. But it is growing. In the New York metropolitan area more than 130,000 people commute on bikes, and 12 of the more than 20 bridges and tunnels into the city have bike lanes. In Washington SmartBike DC lets people rent bikes for short trips around the city, avoiding the crush and congestion of mass transit or the costs and hassles of commuting and parking. And in bike-friendly cities around the country, bike paths and bike lanes are making bike commuting easier, safer, and more attractive, while local and federal funds are being used to improve the biking commute. …

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