Empowering The Bicycle Traveler

Bike Touring and Entitlement

The Path Less Pedaled made this video about how bike travel can help the economies of small town America.

Sounds good in theory but I wonder how it works out practically. There is not a large volume of people traveling by bicycle. I know the whole idea of advocacy is to get more people to do it, but it’s sort of like building a community; there needs to be enough “rooftops” before investments in infrastructure like shopping and services make sense. Or like mass transit; there needs to be a critical mass of users to make it viable. To get communities to invest in bicycle friendly amenities or to get them to promote bicycle travel may be putting the trailer in front of the bicycle, so to speak.

Personally, I would much rather ride a bike around town than drive a car. I can use the bike for almost anything I can do in a car. I have more fun too and I can feel superior to the poor slobs stuck in traffic. I also think traveling by bike and living more or less on my wits is a blast. Would I like to see more people doing it? Obviously it would be good for my business if more people were buying from me and if more people used their bikes around town there would be fewer cars to worry about, but those are pretty self-serving reasons.

At any rate, I think the best kind of advocacy is just to be out there on the bike as much as possible. In this country, using a bike for everyday routines is not exactly a mainstream activity. Utilitarian bikers in this country (except Portland) can be categorized roughly as:
-court appointed commuters
-wacky hippies
When I spoke to Jobst Brandt (R.I.P.) a few years ago at Interbike and mentioned the excellent crazyguyonabike website he said he would not want to be associated as being a “crazy guy” just because he was using a bike. I think that is key. Until using bicycles is considered a normal, viable way to conduct daily business it will be a fringe activity.

Jobst Brandt on the Tenda Road, French Alps in 1989. From trentobike.org

There may be some downsides to more people traveling by bikes too.
One thing I worry about is the popularity of so called “stealth camping, a practice I’ve heard described as “hiding in the woods”. Camping is generally legal on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service land but when tourists start trespassing, and if they leave garbage and/or cause damage to property, then all the advocacy in the world will not repair the good will towards bike riders.

I try to remember that I am an ambassador for cycling every time I swing a leg over the top tube but I know I have probably not always represented the way I would like. In the October/November 2012 issue of Adventure Cyclist magazine there is a letter from a person who lives on the TransAmerica route and who has provided hospitality to cyclists for over a decade. This person is removing her home from the ACA map and from the Warmshowers site because of a trend for traveling cyclists to be rude and demanding and to have a feeling of entitlement. She says, “It used to be commonplace for the cyclists to notice that the property was a project in motion- stuff being built, painted or maintained in some way. Without exception I would be asked, ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’…….But it seems different these days. Out of the 115 who stayed so far this year, only three people offered to help” Ouch. She goes on to say that not only do people not offer to help but they leave trash strewn about and seem to take her hospitality for granted.

Sorry to be such a curmudgeon. I really like seeing people like Laura and Russ and like Velouria at Lovely Bicycle writing about and promoting bicycles and bicycle travel. And I truly would like to see more people using bicycles. I think it would go a long way to reducing the levels of anger, anxiety and stress we feel in our everyday lives.

8 comments… add one
  • Andrew November 8, 2012, 3:06 pm

    Time for a cultural shift in not only transportation, but attitude as well. Still can’t believe this isn’t a “duh” thing for more people.

    • Bike Hermit November 8, 2012, 4:15 pm

      I know Andrew. I think it doesn’t even cross people’s minds to use a bike. That’s what I mean about riding as the best advocacy…when they see you and me out there, some might think “maybe I could do that”

      • velo girl November 12, 2012, 11:19 am

        “Maybe I could do that” is something I try to promote in my riding. Also feel I am an ambassadoress for cycling in general and ride predictably and with courtesy to vehicle operators. I made the “shift” this year and use my bicycle (added baskets, lights, bell) for a majority of my transportation needs. I am fortunate to be able to commute to work too.

        I like to ride at night. I also view my night riding as training motor vehicle operators to have exposure to the fact that bicycles can be out and about after dark and what their lighting system might look like.

  • Bike Hermit November 13, 2012, 5:31 pm

    I have a t-shirt with “ONE LESS CAR” in huge print across the back. Actually I have more than one. They were given out at the local bike week group ride for a number of years. Sometimes I wonder if it is not a little too much. On one hand the drivers should be all “oh yeah, that biker means there is one less car in my way” I’m afraid they are more like “that guy thinks he’s cool and he is anti-car”
    Anyway I love your description of your bike commuting adventures….keep it up!

  • Blake November 14, 2012, 11:55 am

    I enjoyed this post. Mr Bike Hermit, do you sell real city bikes or just sport-o touring bikes?
    “No Gas, Less Ass”
    —_\ <,

    • Bike Hermit November 14, 2012, 1:45 pm

      Thanks Blake,
      What do you have in mind when you say “real city bikes”? I guess things that come to my mind are big cushy tires, fenders, built in dynamo lighting, racks and bags or baskets and comfortable to ride with maybe an upright position….or maybe not. Curious what other people’s thoughts are too.

      • Blake November 14, 2012, 2:50 pm

        To me, a city bike doesn’t have drop handlebars, that allows the rider to have a greater line of sight when it comes to looking out for cars and such. I find it difficult to ride around in the city on a bike that was meant for touring comfort. While there is no absolute definition of a city bike, a cruiser definitely does not fit that bill either, a city bike should be as nimble as a touring bike, but with the common sense upright riding position. You and I both love to bike, but there are many people in the US that aren’t psyched about dressing up in spandex and leaning over a hunk of steel just to show up at work sweaty. A full chain-guard, luggage rack, upright sitting position, lights, anti-puncture tires, just a few elements that change the ridding experience from sporting good to appliance…just as fun though!

  • Dave November 20, 2012, 6:15 pm

    Hello Bike Hermit, I ride my bike to perform almost all of my daily errands, I live in Washington State which is incredibly “bicycle friendly”. During my 14 month tour around the perimeter of the US I stealth camped about 5 nights a week. Sometimes under bridges, sometime in patches of privately owned woods. (I left no trace of my trespasses) If not for stealth camping, I would never have been able to fund my tour.

    State Governments that have created an infrastructure, like the states of California and Oregon where almost every State and County park has $5 dollar a night hiker/biker campsites, have a huge number of people who go outside and recreationally ride bikes or hike. When I arrived at State Parks located within 60 miles of a large city, (San Francisco was a good example) I met many people who rode out of the city to the nearest State Park for an overnight or weekend trip.

    The first few months of my tour from Seattle to San Diego, I camped in State Parks every single night. 1500 miles and I knew I would be getting a campsite and a hot shower daily. I stopped and spent money at restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, brewpubs, coffee houses, used book stores… everyday in every small town, during that segment of the trip.

    I met probably 200-250 other bicycle tourists on the Pacific Coast who also stopped at every town (it’s impossible to pass a small town bakery on a bicycle tour), and I heard that June, July and August the route has double that many. (At Beverly Beach State Park in Oregon, I was one of 38 other bicycle tourers from 9 different countries!) For a 6-8 months a year, small towns on the Pacific Coast route have a revenue stream, rolling right down mainstreet.

    The point I am trying to make was immortalized by a quote in the movie “Field of Dreams”…. “Build it, and they will come”. Build a 2000 mile hiking trail (like the Appalachian Trail), provide that infrastructure, and over 2000 people a year will try to hike the whole thing, and over 500,000 people a year will take a day or a week and get outside and walk.

    I think having a infrastructure is the key to whole thing. Forget about the impact of burning fossil fuels, forget about the health benefits of cycling, forget about the epidemic of diabetes, obesity, and other health problems (including mental health) are all predicted to increase 3-fold in the next 40 years. That will never entice future/potential bicycle tourists from making the first pedal stroke. But having a safe bike lane, or better yet, an independent paved bicycle trail, and inexpensive overnight accommodations WILL motivate people to walk or bike.

    I stayed with 6 warmshowers hosts during my 14 month tour. My warmshowers profile boldly states… “I am willing to perform small chores”, two of my hosts took me up on that. I actually stayed an extra day at each one of those hosts homes to finish the work. Those stays were the only ones I really enjoyed.

    We need more Americans on bicycles and the way forward…. is infrastructure


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