Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Top Ten Reasons Not to Bike

This is in response to Top Ten Reasons to Bike, the writing of which made me realise that to get more people riding we need to understand why people don't ride.  Talking up the advantages either falls on deaf ears or is simply preaching to the converted.

Just like with Ten Reasons to Bike, there aren't ten good reasons not to bike; there are three, but you need to write "top ten", don't you?  Otherwise people aren't interested.

As I mentioned in "Operation Wheel Harmony" part 4: Why condoms are different to bike lanes and a beat poem by a scared poet, there are, according to a certain expert, four types of cyclists; strong and fearless; enthused and confident; interested but concerned; and no way, no how.

The first two are locked-in and don't require any more prompting. They know riding is good and they have the skill, experience and confidence to enjoy it. The fourth group is bred wrong and beyond help. It's group three, interested but concerned, who fancy the idea of slinging their leg over a bicycle but for some reason don't, that need to be tapped. Remove the reasons that they don't ride and the number of people on bikes will explode.

After conducting rigorous surveys I have
distilled the reasons not to bike down to these three;

1. Cars - cars are made of metal and glass, they move quickly, they weigh a couple of thousand kilograms and their operators are relatively protected (relative to a cyclist).  People do make mistakes and when such mistakes occur and a car and bicycle are involved, it is always the cyclist that comes off worst.

What's more, there is evidence to suggest that some drivers sim
ply don't like cyclists; whenever an article about commuting cyclists is published, the comments section often tells a worrying tale.  It seems the mere mention of the word "cyclist" sends some people into a violent rage.  Take these comments which were made in response to a recent article;
Bikers think they own the road. They'll blow through every stop sign possible, and won't care if pedestrians have to jump out of the way to avoid them. When this happens, I hope the bikers get mashed by a car.
As a PEDESTRIAN, I fear cyclists much more than I fear cars. Bikes show NO respect for us pedestrians, even though WE have the right of way. Bikes are supposed to be vehicles that are subject to the same laws as cars, yet I have NEVER had a bike stop for me when I am in a crosswalk!
I hate, HATE city bikers and I will never do anything to make their lives easier. Until they start obeying the same rules that I have to, best to just stay out of my way. 
It will never be a perfect world and cyclists are really just asking for it when they ride in the city. Its just not safe and never will be. Here in the suburbs, cyclists constantly ride 2 or 3 abreast and are aghast and foul when you simply toot your horn.
A relevant segue at this point is to note that cyclists have a responsibility to one another to "behave" on the roads.  This can sometimes be frustrating as it is very often safe to do something on a bike that is illegal. However, when you do so, you get drivers who think t
hat cyclists "blow through every stop sign", "NEVER...stop" for pedestrians and are hate-worthy. Segue over.

Cars are by far the biggest reason that the interested but concerned don't ride. The other two are;

2. Laziness - plenty of people see cycling as only sport. A chap named Mark Sanders recently wrote a paper on what was wrong with the bike industry. Without going into it too deeply, the main problem is that the enthusiastic, lycra-clad cyclists are heaped with the attention of bike shops and the industry in general while everyone else is ignored.

Sanders has a good analogy; there is running and there is walking. Not many people run regularly while virtually everyone walks to achieve all sorts of things. The bike industry is essentially the "running" industry and ignores the huge majority of "walkers".

Enter a bike shop and you are likely to see rows and rows of high end merchandise. To the layman, all these bikes look the same; expensive, light and uncomfortable. Yet it is these very bikes that are so often being shoved down our throats.  For the "running" cyclist, this is great but for the majority, it is not.

Many people, in Melbourne at least, see cycling as an activity that requires exertion, just like running. In places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, people "walk" on their bikes. They wear the clothes that they will work in and exert as much energy as they would when walking. The only difference is, they're travelling three or four times faster than walking. That's the beauty of the bike.

The problem in Melbourne, and many other cities, is that people don't view cycling this way because cycling isn't presented to them in this way.

So, maybe the term "laziness" is not accurate; better might be "misrepresentation of cycling", or "sport-only stereotype of cycling". Whatever it is, some people are put off the bike because of how the bike is being presented to them.

3. Expedience - this is kind of linked to laziness but some people simply live too far away from their work to ride. That's excusable. What's not excusable is that the public transport system in many cities is so hopeless that people are forced to use their car. I very rarely use public transport in Melbourne because it is irregular, expensive, slow and crowded. Having travelled extensively, I can say from experience that if you have a good public transport system people will use it.

There are of course other reasons why people don't ride. My friends mentioned hills and rain as a couple. But really, if we can tackle the three mentioned above we'll be going a long way to converting our interested but concerned into enthused and confident. 

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  1. Hi Laurence, I must admit i'm one of those people who falls into the grey area between Groups 3 and 4 outlined above. But I probably earn some brownie points for reading AND commenting on your blog, Yes?

    Just a couple more reasons to take the tally up to five:

    4. Vanity - people feel like idiots wearing helmets.

    5.‎ Other cyclists - lots of people who ride bikes are kind of smug about it, like they're single-handedly saving the world (present company excluded of course). There is also a lot of unwelcome proselytising that goes on - and there is nothing like being told what to do and how to do it to make someone not want to do something. Here is a short dramatic piece to illustrate my point:
    Person 1: "I'm going to catch public transport to x"
    Person 2: "That's not far, you should ride your bike!"
    Person 1: "I'd prefer to take the train"
    Person 2: (shocked and appalled) "why? bike riding is clearly the best thing known on this earth and you're obviously mentally, physically and emotionally challenged to not want to ride somewhere."
    Person 1: "Oh but i'd prefer to support our public transport system and be an awesome person in that way. You NEVER catch public transport, and when the whole system collapses it's pretty much going to be your fault."
    Person 2: "Well i'd prefer to save the planet and be an awesome person that way, and when the entire universe self-combusts it's going to be your fault."

  2. Actually, my own helmet is so fashionable, I wear it around my apartment to be cool. Like those freak cousins of yorus, or something. No, but it is really good and I often show it to people and if I wear it and you don't comment on it, well, then, boo to you.
    Also, I liked your scenario. Nice dialogue.