US cities embrace the bicycle

Officials recognise economic and health benefits

Walk into a bike shop in America and you’ll be sure to find plenty of introductory bikes along with the latest high-end road and mountain machines. In metro areas, however, a new category is seeing growth – mid-priced commuter bikes with quality components that are meant for daily treks, light exercise and keeping owners out of their cars.


What’s driving this demand? One aspect is that many US cities have made significant efforts to become more bike friendly. “Cities that are bike friendly are more desirable places to live,” Bruno Maier, vice president of Bikes Belong, a national advocacy group, told BikeRadar. “Businesses want to be located in livable communities and bike friendly communities attract new talent.

“Cities like LA, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Boulder, Denver, Minneapolis, Houston, Chicago, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Miami, New York and Boston are working to become more bike friendly because it attracts commerce and makes the city a better place to live. Isn’t that what we all want?”

The answer should be yes, but for some it’s still no. In July, writing for The Boston Globe, columnist Brian McGrory called for Beantown mayor Tom Menino to ban all bicycles from the city. In his editorial, McGrory clarified his point that it wasn’t the bicycles that were an issue but the riders, and that Boston wasn’t designed for bikes but rather cars. The argument could be made that technically the city was laid out for horses and wagons, but Maier questioned the logic of the ban in general.

“The freedom to choose to ride is an expression of American values, and those individuals who chose to ride should feel safe doing so,” he said. “It seems odd that Americans would be banned from doing something that’s so good for themselves and the country. As free Americans we should be able to chose how we get from point A to point B, and no matter what mode of transportation we chose, we should be able to get there safely.”

Specialized bicycles offer an entire sub-brand of commuter and city bikes called globe:
Matt Pacocha

Bikes like those from Specialized’s Globe range appeal to newcomers to cycling who may have been put off in the past by the aggressive image of road racing and mountain biking

One editorial aside, many cities in the US have seen improvement – there are now bike lanes around Los Angeles, central bike storage centers in Washington, DC and St. Louis, and bike sharing programs in Las Vegas. Now many companies are seeing a market for affordable but reliable commuting bikes, including San Diego-based Electra Bicycles.

“At Electra we believe the opportunity has never been better for commuting and urban cycling solutions,” Elayne Fowler, Electra’s marketing director, told BikeRadar. “It seems most cities, regardless of size, have active legislators integrating bike transit plans into overall city plans.” Just this month, the company met with the mayors of Bloomington, Minnesota and Davis, California to discuss cycling integration efforts.

“We see the evidence of progress everywhere and it’s now commonly discussed in the news; from the bike lanes in New York City to San Diego’s bike path ground-breaking celebrations,” said Fowler, adding that Electra had always supported, encouraged and worked hard to make it easy for anyone and everyone to experience cycling.

Fowler said the change in types of bikes available was also helping encourage people to ride. “Traditional road and mountain bikes can intimidate people with the uncomfortable, more aggressive riding position and the technical gear that many people see associated with commuting,” she said. “With more comfortable bike designs and the expanding and improved basket, bag and other carrying solutions, we help get people past their immediate challenges.”

The larger manufacturers are also getting in gear, with Trek recently launching a revamped line of their fitness-riding FX bikes, with prices ranging from $470-$2,090. Their design team studied the needs of an array of riders, from urban commuters and fitness cyclists to suburban casual and road bike riders, to assess what the bikes could do to make life easier for all users.

Maier’s hope is that bikes can help Americans be healthier, turning the tide on the obesity epidemic which costs about $200 billion annually, as well as being a solution to rising oil prices. While gasoline prices haven’t returned to the record levels of 2008, bike sales remain steady this year. “Americans can chose to bicycle to save money and be more fiscally responsible for their family,” said Maier. “Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do in these difficult economic times?”

Bodhi bicycles electric commuter bike is a gateway for those non-cyclists with longer commutes:
Matt Pacocha

Electric bikes like this commuter from Bodhi Bicycles are a gateway to cycling for those with long journeys to work