Friday Group Ride #424

Friday Group Ride #424

Can you imagine what it must have been like to see the first bicycles. It’s the 1860s, and you’re a regular person, just walking around, because that’s how you get places, and some lunatic goes by on a self-propelled machine. Can you imagine what it must have been like to ride for the first time? Thrillingly dangerous. Surreally time-bending. Recall that there were not cars then, and no motorcycles. Wheeled, human travel was limited to horses and wagons.

I can. I can imagine it, because really we all have that experience when we’re kids. OK, maybe we see bikes more organically, more within a modern context, but what I know is that, from the time I first saw a bike, I wanted to ride one. Right away, the whole idea blew my mind and captivated me.

If fewer people ride bikes in the future, or at least “ride” them in the conventional sense, will it be surprising? The array of transportation choices in front of them will be greater, and maybe more compelling. Already, as you wander around Kendall Square, Cambridge, the local home of Google and IBM and a thousand smaller tech dynamos, you already see electric scooters and skateboards, eBikes and electric cars.

Maybe we’re it.

Ask yourself this question: Do I ride more than my parents did? Why? Do I ride more than my children do? Why? And which of the answers to the ‘whys’ is likely to change in the future? Given alternatives, many of them electric, not to mention wind or solar powered, will people want to pedal bicycles? So many questions.

This week’s Group Ride asks, has ours been the Age of the Bicycle? Have we just lived in the transportational sweet spot for our beloved bikes, a time when simple machines answered the simplest and most obvious questions about how to get around? Or, is there a great new Age of the Bicycle dawning now? Will peak oil drive us off of four-wheels, back onto two?

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  1. Aar

    I think the US golden age of the bicycle is in front of us. There are so many types of bicycle that just aren’t sold here – at least not in quantity. From cargo bikes through e-bikes to practical every day commuter bikes (ie internal gear, belt drive, weather resistant bikes) the American public just hasn’t seen bikes in the ways that certain parts of the world have. How can this be the Age of the Bicycle when there are so many obvious use cases going unserved in this country.

    The typical American sees dirty, sweaty commuters on beater bikes that get piled in a messy heap on city streets. They also see lycra-clad people slowing their commute home in order to exercise on streets. They also see mountain bikes on cars headed towards trailheads. They see families meandering through parks and on greenways on bikes. Until they see people fetching groceries, moving furniture and other practical activities on bikes and appearing clean and comfortable in so doing, many American will prefer whatever motor vehicle they can barely afford to a bike.

    These products exist and are in use in the Netherlands, other parts of Europe and throughout Asia. Apparently they are starting to show up in small numbers in certain pockets of the US (Yay!). When they start becoming more common in more parts of the US, I think cycling will start to appeal to more types of Americans for longer portions of their lives and, naturally, people will start riding in different ways than the way that got them started. When we start getting there, we’ll start getting closer to the Age of the Bicycle in the US.

  2. AG

    I think we are living in the “sweet spot” of bike culture. Thing is, the next generation is growing up never needing to figure out how to get around simply because there isn’t much need to. When we all were growing up, there was no internet and our parents were much less willing to tote us around. Bikes were our way of meeting friends, getting to a sleepover, getting to school. We would ride around together to get to the store or movies. I think this created a life-long love of bikes. But my kids are much less interested in bikes than I was I think because they can communicate and “travel” in other ways. And now that electric bikes (these will eventually morph into lightweight e-cycles without pedals) are taking off and e-scooters are all over the place, as kids grow older I think they might look at pedal-powered bikes like we do the wooden antique in the photo.

    Eventually people will be forced to find other modes other than the car, but they will be e-powered, not people powered.

  3. S. Barner

    In terms of the past 40 years or so, not much has changed in terms of road riding. Mountain bikes are the predominant type of cycling for adults, judging from the bikes you see on cars, but off-roading is almost 100% recreation. (I say that if your bike travels more miles on a rack than it does on its tires, you are a recreational cyclist.) When I was in high school in the early ’70s, my bike was often the only one in the rack. These days, the local high school’s bike rack is equally empty, though the colleges have a much healthier cycling population. There are more people commuting today, but I still see around 400 cars for each cyclist. Truly, the best thing that’s happened for cycling in the past 20 years was Lance, before the scandal.
    It’s hard to imagine a significant drop in road cycling, as it’s not very far off the floor, now. I think e-riders of all types could be good for cycling, as they broaden people’s perspectives beyond thinking that the only way for any self-respecting adult to get from A to B is by private car. The beauty of a bicycle is its simplicity, which is why I think the all-mechanical bicycle isn’t going to go extinct in our lifetimes.
    Looking to the past, I was smugly bragging to my father a few years ago about riding over 10,000 miles that year. He got a far-away look in his eyes and said “I remember that my first real job was working for the railroad dispatchers, during the war (WWII). A lot of trainmen didn’t have telephones, so my job was to ride my bike to their houses to let them know when their train was scheduled to leave. A lot of my riding was at night and I had a battery headlight that was just bright enough to let me see the road. One year I logged over 11,000 miles, mostly on that job.” What he didn’t say was that all that was on a 1930s balloon-tired single speed. Some of those miles were in the snow.
    I’ve got nothing on that man.

  4. MattC

    @S. Barner, what a great story your dad has! I guess that definitely falls into the “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” thing. Talk about being “one upped”! LOVE IT! (and I for one am NOT sneering at your 10k mile year btw, that is pretty amazing to me!)

  5. Tominalbany

    As a kid, my choices were my feet or my (sister’s) bike. Until I got my own bike. Then my bike got stolen. Then it was feet or my dad’s bike. I got that one stolen too. (I was lazy about locking…) Then is was Mom’s bike. (Nope. Didn’t get that one stolen.) I ditched the bike when I got my license at 17-1/2. I picked up the bike when I was a sr. in college because I had no car. (Feet or bike.)

    That’s the trend. It’s feet or some other, wheeled, form of transportation. None of my choices had a motor until I could drive a car. Now, with electric motors, kids are going to take the easier route. Unless they ride their bikes for the fun of it, there are other, better-to-them, options.

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