Wednesday, October 12, 2005

False hope.

There has been a lot of talk in the bike industry for some time now that the rising gas prices we all see are going to get people out of their cars and onto bikes...

Sorry, but that is a pipe dream friends. Gas prices aren't going to do it, not for long anyway. There may be a small up-tick in sales of bikes in a few markets, but it isn't going to be sustained growth. Maybe, just maybe, a little growth for some folks and then it will stop. Plus, this gas-fearing consumer is only going to buy a bike and the most minimal of accessories and then never be seen again- for the most part. These folks, as much as we want to pretend, are not going to become "cyclists".

Most of the people who will make the jump from car to bike will end up going back to their cars after a short while and once gas prices level off again. Am I the only person who remembers the gas crisis of the 70's? The industry thought it was going to grow in numbers never before seen and that it would remain healthy forever... ummm... didn't exactly work out the way we all hoped.

The bulk of the US population is, let's be honest here, a bit lazy. Getting all hot and sweaty (or cold and wet) on the way to work/ the store/ the bar/ McDonald's/ home just doesn't appeal to a lot of folks.

As an industry, if we really want to get people on bikes and keep them there, we have to do a better job of selling them on the fun and on the healthy lifestyle. Don't just scare them with the old "gas is too expensive" story, give them a reason to get out of the car with their families and out onto the streets and/or trails. Fear alone is not enough of a motivator. Besides, when gas prices go back down after the winter (which they likely will), the fear motivator will be gone.

I don't know, maybe I am the only one who sees things this way. I want so much more for this industry and for cycling as a sport and lifestyle. Being relegated to the false hope provided by trying to scare the crap out of people about gas prices just seems like a huge waste of time and a total cop-out. I had a beautiful lunch-time ride today and just felt completely reminded of why I fell in love with riding a bike over 20 years ago and why I can't seem to stop. Riding a bike is fun to me. I love the feeling I get when I am on a bike, whether poking around or sitting in a pack during a race. Gas prices are not a reason for me to ride a bike.

Maybe I just need to try decaf and lighten up...

Tim

5 comments:

Ride faster because I can't said...

Bikes are toys to most people. Even myself, I can't see riding four blocks to the store to get some milk but yet I can go out on the weekends and ride 50 miles each day with out much thought. Lazy? Just conditioned... The only way people will ever give up the gas addiction is if the price skyrockets to the $6 area. Right now guys in shops are seeing a few more repairs and that is because of the 30 something thinking, "I used to ride, I could get my old "MASI" out and ride to work again. Hopefully that person will be captured into the collective again and change. For the average person that needs a big truck to haul the kids, boat, and ATV out for the weekend, well they won't change too quick.
The best thing I've heard about is the people buying Scooters. Buy a scooter to use (at least here in the cold part of the world) four months out of the year, pay for the scooter, the gas, the upkeep, the insurance, and save nothing. Ride your bike and drop some pounds and save a lot. I have to stop now.... I'm starting to sound like a nut case.

Bernie said...

Hmmm... I think you're right, but I wish you weren't.

It's true, most Americans are just lazy. Compounding the problem is the fact that we've built the entire country (post-WWII) around that car-based laziness. A majority of Americans live in places where it's just not practical to bike for transport. Single-use zoning is to blame for that fiasco. The intentions were good (so people didn't have to live next to smoky factories and such), but it put things like grocery stores out of walking distance, and in many cases out of riding distance. We cyclists can ride 5 miles to the grocery store if we desire, but let's face it... most just can't (or won't because it's not fun battling suburban traffic, which seems to average 10-15 mph over the speed limit).

Luckily, some cities have it figured out. I'm lucky to live in one such area, where single-use zoning has been scrapped for the good of the community. We have neighborhood grocery stores, unchained restaurants, a hardware store... all independently owned and thus giving back to the local economy. Hopefully other cities can learn from the several good examples and use similar plans to revitalize cities. The suburbs just aren't going to be practical in the long run.

Of course, when Joe A. Merican figures out that the suburban dream of a nice house where he doesn't have to see his neighbors, which he's been promised since his youth, and for which he's been busting his ass for 25 years, is slowly being priced out of reach... there might be some "civil unrest."

I sure am glad I love riding my bike...

Anonymous said...

I think the slope of the curve will be smaller than what some people are expecting (hoping), but it will definitely be there. The price of gas won't fall that much and I bet will be back over $3/gallon in the spring. Things aren't going to get any better according to the Peak Oil cabal. What we need are more/better infrastructure improvements to support bicycle commuting. Twice a week I commute by bike to work (21 miles each way) and it can be a tough slog, depending on traffic. Not for the faint-of-heart. A better infrastructure might attract more people who might consider commuting by bicycle but fear the cellphone-distracted SUV pilot. Then there are some people who will never, ever commute by bicycle, no matter how much gas costs. This is probably the majority. But high energy costs will only drive bicycle usage higher.

Paterfamilias said...

Americans are lazy. Just look at all the commercials on TV, if it isn't a "Loose Weight Fast" commercial, including all weight watchers jenny craigs and diet pill commercial, then it's a digestive disorder - hinting at we eat too much, or it's a viagra - hinting again at the quick fix...

America is the land of Convenience! I think Jello Biafra summed it up best when he compiled the album "Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death". Remember the film LA story, where the Character played by Steve Martin got in his car and drove to his friends house - it was the next door neighbor? We are a land where we would rather give money to fix a problem, rather than put forth the effort to fix a problem for good. Is that OK? Sure, we are a free country. It will take more than our gas prices doubling in the past year to get people to stop driving as much. We will see car companies make more Hybrid technology available etc, before we see sustained growth in our industry that is directly related to gas prices.

If we want to change that, we need to act. We need more Convenience in riding! That means safe routes to school, it means more bike lanes, it means more open MTB trails, it means advocacy!

If the industry truly wants to create sustained growth all the different political organizations need to work together, Bikes Belong needs to join IMBA, and NBDA. All groups like this need to work 100% together.

I better stop before I prove once again that I'm a nut job... It's too late...

Tim your point is correct! My point is when are we going to make the change as an industry???

James said...

I agree with you to a point. Yes, I like commuting because it is “free” riding time that I would otherwise have to spend in a car. I personally would much rather be on my bike than cooped up in a car even if they were giving gas away. I also agree that most Americans are a bit lazy and are not likely to change their driving habits long term until gas prices get a lot higher than they are now. Still, I think the bicycle industry is at least partially to blame for not doing enough to get average people on bikes. Most companies are happy to market their flagship road and mountain bikes as expensive high performance toys. As the owner of several expensive bikes, I have no problem with that. The problem is that all of the less expensive bikes are styled to look like trickle down versions of the racers. People may buy them, but they don’t necessarily ride them once the newness wears off. Anything that varies from the racing bike inspired model is considered to be “uncool”. As trivial as it seems, the coolness factor can make or break any product released in this country no matter whether it serves its purpose well or not. For example, since scooters have already been mentioned, look at the popularity of the new retro styled Vespas. Many people are happy to ride one of those down to the corner Starbucks. They are also probably willing to park it close to the outdoor seating for everyone to see. The same people wouldn’t be caught dead on an old Japanese moped that serves the same purpose. Though they are essentially the same product, Vespas are considered cool and mopeds are not. If any of the big American bike companies were willing to get their marketing muscle behind some cool transportation oriented designs, I believe they would find a steadily growing group of young, progressive users. Nobody can instantly get average Americans of all ages to ride for transportation (and as others already pointed out, our cities are not geared for it), but it certainly seems like the industry should be looking to expand its market base by opening the public’s eyes to transportation cycling.