As the unrelenting rise in fuel costs continues to take a bigger chunk of our pay packets, the need for more economical travel grows. New records seem to be set on a weekly basis; in the UK, the average cost of a litre of petrol is now an eye-watering £1.33.
Yet despite efforts by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to reduce fuel duty in his Budget last Wednesday, the few pence shaved off each litre are mere drops in the ocean. The situation is no different elsewhere; in France, a litre will set you back €1.58. And in the US, a litre is up to a historically high $0.94.
The environmental impact of motoring is also causing people to think twice before jumping in their cars for short shopping trips or office commutes. And it’s this combination that's prompting more and more of us to leave our cars in the garage and opt for something a little cheaper, and a little greener.
This is the concept at the core of EcoVelo, the website set up by California residents Alan and Michael Barnard. Their mission is to promote cycling as their primary mode of transport, and to inspire others to make a similar commitment. The husband and wife duo started out as recumbent cycling bloggers on their aptly named Recumbent Blog. They rode the machines for sport but switched to bikes as a means of transport in 2008, which meant a change in bike, and a change in direction.
EcoVelo was born out of the couple's personal commitment to reduce their own impact on the environment
For Alan, the site is an extension of what he enjoys doing most – riding bikes – and the pleasure he gets from running it comes from the interaction with his readers. “It's all about the people,” he told BikeRadar. “Over the past few years we've developed many friendships with our readers, sponsors and fellow bloggers. Some of these have turned into long-term friendships that will certainly outlast the website. And knowing we've played a part in getting just one person out of their car and onto a bicycle is incredibly satisfying.”
A graphic designer and semi-professional photographer by day, Alan places as much emphasis on images as he does on words. The photo-related competitions he runs, such as last year’s ‘Why I ride’– where readers summed up their motivations for riding in a single image – are his personal favourites. “The thing I enjoy about them is that they turn the focus away from us for a time and place it on our readers," he said.
"It's always a treat to see who they are and how they're using their bikes. It’s for the same reason that we enjoy our Bicycle Gallery, a community project comprised of photos of transportation and utility bikes submitted by readers from all over the world. Any bike used for day-to-day transportation is welcome. It remains our most popular, ongoing feature.”
More than anything else, its photography is the site's biggest draw
On the issue of getting more people onto two wheels, Alan believes the US Government needs to do more – with actions as well as words. “Better bike infrastructure in the form of well-designed cycle tracks and separated bike paths would increase safety and attract new riders who might otherwise be intimidated to ride in the traffic lane,” he said. “Making parking less affordable or available in urban areas would improve things too."
As for skyrocketing fuel costs, Alan reckons it’s as much an issue in the US as the UK, and believes it will have an important impact on the number of commuters in future. “Nobody knows where it’s headed,” he said. “In Sacramento, we saw a tremendous increase in bike commuting in the summer of 2008 when gas prices spiked to over $4 per gallon. By early 2009, gas prices dropped back down into the $2 range and the number of bike commuters dramatically dropped off as well. The way things are going, we could be looking at $5 per gallon before the end of the year and if that happens, I’d expect to see another surge in bike commuting.”
Alan says he and Michael are delighted with how the site has progressed in the past three years, and have plans to develop it even more. There are now more reviews, more industry news and more commuting tips than ever before and they're hoping to increase the number of contributors, possibly with an extra four or five regular columnists. "Adding new voices to the mix will help keep the site fresh and challenge us to move out of our comfort zones and into new areas," he said. To find out more about Alan and Michael's blog, visit www.ecovelo.info.