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
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.
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.