Bend in the Road: Operation Normal

Want better roads and bike paths? Ride in jeans

The BikeRadar crew just spent two weeks at the Eurobike and Interbike tradeshows in Germany and Las Vegas, respectively, where we got a handle on the current trends within the cycling industry. Just like any subculture, cycling has its fair share of trashy noise, but there were a few high points that have me feeling hopeful about where our collective two-wheeled life could be headed. They all center around normalizing the simple but wonderful experience of riding a bike.

Some of us were initially drawn to cycling as an alternative sport to the mainstream stick-and-ball options. But the fact is, the more obscure we are in the general landscape, the less safe we are on the roads. Studies like this and this have shown that when motorists expect to see cyclists — because they are a common sight — cyclists are much less likely to get hit. Also, more people on bikes eventually means more bike paths, better bike lanes and a broader acceptance that bikes can and should fit into our daily lives. And it all begins with cycling being a normal activity for normal people, not an elitist thing for a handful of Lycra-clad weirdos.

Now don't get me wrong, after more than 15 years in this business and a few more as an enthusiast, I can do the pretentious roadie thing as well as anyone. I love my Di2, Rapha and overpriced coffee drinks as much as the next grown man with shaved legs, and when I go for a ride I dress the part. But meaningful improvements to our roadways and bike lanes start by and large with 'normal' people.

As an American, it is always cool to go to Europe and see regular folks riding bikes as simple transportation. Whether in Belgium, Germany or Holland, Mom or even Grandma will not draw stares for pedaling a city bike around. Pointedly, Eurobike is held in the quaint little town of Friedrichshafen, which is woefully incapable of handling the auto traffic of more than 10,000 people attempting to drive to the venue. It is no small irony that, every day of the show, the international cycling industry sits frustrated in their cars in gridlocked hell, while A Better Way coasts by on two wheels on adjacent bike paths.

Bikes make normal life better.

So, trends we saw at Eurobike and Interbike that I'm excited about: more city bikes, more functional and better looking urban cycling clothing, more affordable bikes, and, yes, more e-bikes that make hopping on a two-wheeler a more likely option to people who normally drive.

Also, beyond the city/urban/commuter thing, I'm glad that 'comfort' is no longer a bad word for roadies like me. After years of frantic "stiffer!" "lighter!" competition among bike companies, we are seeing performance machines made by engineers who acknowledge that a human being sits on the thing. Beyond making the sport better for lifers who are already deep into it, it makes the sport more accessible to people who are considering it. Think about getting into skiing or rock climbing, where the boots and shoes are supposed to be tight and uncomfortable. Really? I don't know much about either, but as an outsider, this isn't exactly an enticing proposition. Beyond the gear itself, the trend toward professional fittings by the likes of Retül or Guru will make cycling better for more people.

We are seeing more price competition, from power meters to mid-level complete bikes. Take BMC, for example, which is pushing the envelope of its excellent machines down closer to what a normal person might consider a reasonable expense.

Finally, electric bikes. No, they aren't really bikes. They are hydrids between bikes and scooters. I won't speak to the application for mountain bikes, but in town, as an alternative to a car? I'm sold. Take my wife, for example. She occasionally rides a 14-year-old hardtail around the neighborhood, either to our daughter's school or even, once in a blue moon, to work. But she doesn't own a stitch of cycling clothing and she would never, ever, call herself a cyclist. The next bike we are buying will be an e-bike that can stand in as civilized transport to work.

Industry trends are all fine and good, but it really comes down to what we the people do with our time and money. As cyclists passionate about spending time riding bikes on the road, we might be better served by occasionally walking, er, riding the talk and using a bike like a normal person. Think of the two visual sales pitches. One, you in full skin-tight apparel, aero helmet, aero bike and deep-section wheels. The other, you as a casual person coasting along in the fresh air in regular clothing, on a regular bike, while others sit frustrated in gridlocked traffic. From behind the steering wheel of a car going nowhere, a simple bike ride looks pretty appealing. Give it a try; others will join you.

Ben Delaney

US Editor-in-Chief
Ben has been writing about bikes since 2000, covering everything from the Tour de France to Asian manufacturing to kids' bikes. The former editor-in-chief of VeloNews, he began racing in college while getting a journalism degree at the University of New Mexico. Based in the cycling-crazed city of Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two kids, Ben enjoys riding most every day.
  • Discipline: Road (paved or otherwise), cyclocross and sometimes mountain. His tri-curious phase seems to have passed, thankfully
  • Preferred Terrain: Quiet mountain roads leading to places unknown
  • Current Bikes: Scott Foil Team, Trek Boone 5, Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4, Marinoni fixed gear, Santa Cruz Roadster TT bike
  • Dream Bike: A BMC Teammachine SLR01 with disc brakes and clearance for 30mm tires (doesn't yet exist)
  • Beer of Choice: Saison Dupont
  • Location: Boulder, CO, USA

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