After I finished last week’s Group Ride I wondered to myself whether I’d been too dark. I was in an odd place, having just visited my father, who is confined to a chair, and reflecting on how things might be the same, or possibly different, for me. The responses to the post were very hopeful though, and that cheered me up. I often thank my friends for, essentially, working on the same project I’m trying to work on, which is to live a good life, make the right choices, and set a reasonable example for my kids.
The RKP community gives me a bit of that as well. It feels as though most of us are moving through life with the same challenges and using the bike as a tool for improvement, adventure, and connection. I am grateful for it.
This week I want to talk about what cycling is and what it will become.
Cycling as I understand it has been up to this point a narrow sport, by which I mean the people buying bikes and riding them are people who like to pedal. They are mainly active people. In as much as some use the bike for transportation, more often than not, those people are also active cyclists. This isn’t universally true. Some folks just ride to get around, but the bicycle as transportation exclusively is a narrow slice of the total cycling picture, I think.
That seems to be changing now. Bike share programs abound in city centers and on university campuses, and as planners continue to grapple with alternative transportation solutions you can see the first strong signs that the bike is being decoupled from the bike industry. Up to this point, we cyclists have reacted to e-bikes as though they live within the context we’re familiar with, but with players like Bosch, Ford, Honda, etc. talking about electric transportation solutions, the way we think about the bike will likely soon be dwarfed by the bike as mainly transport.
And to be clear, I think that’s a great thing. As a city dweller, the promise of less pollution, less congestion, and fewer square feet devoted to large vehicles is exciting.
But what does it mean for cycling, the sport? We’ve seen over the last generation that participation has dropped off. Young adults aren’t riding, at least not for sport. Aging cyclists are turning increasingly to e-bikes as a way to stay connected, but I also see that the slope is slippery. Humans are lazy by nature (that’s a harsh way to put what I mean). If they don’t need to pedal, they won’t. And so I fear a little for the sport side of cycling, that it’s in a decline that will gain speed as technology makes it less necessary and new cyclists aren’t coming into the fold.
This week’s Group Ride asks, what do you think the future of pedaled bicycles is? Let’s not go down the rabbit hole of whether e-bikes belong on paths, trails, etc. Let’s just stick to our own business, our sport. Does it have a future? And if it’s going to grow, how will that happen?