Tag Archives: bicycle lifestyle

Levi’s jeans made for bicycling

I went to the store to buy some pants today (yes, I know, black Friday and all but I really needed some pants). I was surprised to see that Levi’s is now selling bicycle “commuter” jeans that are water resistant, have extra sewing on the inseam for ruggedization, stretch fabric, a “utility” waistbelt to carry a U-lock, antimicrobial protection against odors, and when you turn up the cuff, they have a reflector sewn in. Kudos, Levi’s! Unfortunately, I didn’t like them as much as the pair I ended up buying but I’m glad they are available. Clearly designed with the Mission/Williamsburg hipster crowd in mind.

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Why is locking a bike harder than locking my car?

In Copenhagen, parking my bike is fantastic- at least from the cyclists’ perspective. No one locks their bike ‘to’ anything. They just roll up to their destination and flip the integrated lock on the back wheel. This can be a hassle for pedestrians, handicap, elderly and shop owners if it blocks the sidewalk, shop windows etc. so that is still an issue. But people pretty much just want to park as close as possible to their destination, preferably about less than 50meters/yards. If there are racks and they aren’t full in Copenhagen, people will usually use them. But if they are farther away or full then people generally won’t use them.

In the US, bikes are typically more expensive (more commonly designed for recreational use, though this is changing) and theft is higher. People want to lock their bikes to something. But there is often nothing to park to. So people park to meters or have to get more inventive.

Even if there is something to park to, you often end up scraping the paint off the bike, fighting with mis-sized pole/lock combos, pushing around other bikes attached to the same post, getting grease on your pants and hassling for a long time with your cable. And then what do you do with the helmet? Take it with you or lock it with your bike?

Let us imagine a comparable situation in a car. A person rolls into a parking space, only it’s not a ‘space’ it’s just some spot on the sidewalk wide enough for a car and there’s already another car next to it. There isn’t enough room for both really, so they have to get so close that they actually scratch the paint off a  door. The guy squirms out the passenger door and then spends the next minute crawling around on the ground trying to attach his front wheel to a parking meter with a chain so no one steals his tires. He gets dirt and grease and junk all over his professional clothing. It’s a bit farther than he thought though and the cable doesn’t reach so he has to move the car another foot, scratching up his car and the other car more. This whole time, people are watching and getting annoyed. He goes back in the car, takes out ‘the club’ and attaches it to his steering wheel. He then gets out of the car and locks the door. He walks off, exasperated. Pedestrians and grandmothers can’t walk down the sidewalk. The other guy comes back and gets pissed that he’s ‘parked in’ and the door is scratched. Plus the guy accidentally locked his wheel too.

Can someone make a rough approximation of this into a catchy video?

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Here are some good ideas for bicycle locks.

Stereo systems for bikes

I’ve often wondered why bikes can’t have stereos. One of the great joys of driving your own car is being able to listen to your own music, even at high volume. But the only way to do that on a bike is headphones- which are dangerous due to traffic- or boomboxes attached to the bike – which may annoy passersby.

This is a neat version of the latter but obviously not especially practical. Here are some slightly better versions but they are still far from your ears so would need to be loud with low sound quality and high neighbor disturbance.

I think there’s still room for more innovation in “bike stereo systems” that allows me to listen to music without it being dangerous and without annoying everyone else around me.

Tunebug seems like it might fit the bill by putting the music near my ears but not in my ears. Probably requires wearing a helmet though and if you are wearing one you probably already feel unsafe and may not want to reduce your safety further. But this seems to be the right direction.

Anyone know of any others?

Why women don’t bike more in the US

The following is a response-gone-wild to my fellow Reed anthro alum and bike critic counterpart Elly Blue in Portland, Oregon. She just wrote a nice piece on gender equity and cycling, arguing that economic inequities between men and women play a large role in why women don’t bike more

Great post, Elly. Thanks for shining some more critical light on this important issue. I’m happy to hear some new thinking beyond the fashion and safety issues. Here are some thoughts I have on the issue of why more women don’t bike in the US.

In the Netherlands, male cycling rates drop around the time people get families but female rates increase. Overall rates are about 45% men and 55% women. Here in Denmark, cycling rates decrease for men and women around child raising time. Rates here are 45% women and 55% men. This leads me to suspect that Denmark actually has better gender parity despite fewer women biking. This is based on a hypothesis that men may do more of the heavy lifting in Denmark when it comes to picking up and dropping off kids than do their Dutch counterparts.

Also, the distance to grocery stores may vary.  In Copenhagen, there are usually about 5-10 grocery stores within easy walking distance of any apartment. The daycare (or bus pick up) is usually within a km or two of home. Plus, we have a wide variety of cargo bicycles for kids and bigger loads. When I lived in Amsterdam it was similar at least on the grocery front. Not sure about daycares and schools.

Another key point that needs to be mentioned in this is that in Copenhagen, the vast majority of cyclists are only traveling 2-5 km (1-3 miles). Commute distances over 5 km are less common here and few make it much over 10 km. You hardly break a sweat in a 10-20 minute bike ride. Plus, few people wear a helmet (compared to the US, not historical rates in Copenhagen), which makes things like Copenhagen Cycle Chic much more plausible.

On the economy point, I suspect it’s not the cost of the bicycle. A used bike in the US is easily 2-3 times cheaper ($1-200) than a lower quality used bike in Denmark ($300+). If pretty much every American can afford a car- even a beater- they can certainly afford a fancy bike and all the expensive (and unnecessary) ‘lifestyle’ goodies that they think they need to ride it.

In most US cities it’s the rich, yuppies living in the urban centers riding bikes. But in most of the world’s developing countries, it’s the rural poor who can’t afford anything else who bike. How can we then say that biking is somehow inherently an affordability issue for the rich or the poor? Local context and culture plays a huge role here.

Economy plays a big role in cycling, but I’m not sure it’s the reason women in particular don’t cycle. If it did, I don’t understand the logic that they can’t afford a $100-1000 bicycle but aren’t too poor to afford the average $8,500/year for a car.

I think it’s more likely that what people can’t afford is not the bike, but an apartment in the city center to live within short range cycling distance of all the things they need to accomplish all of these activities. This is particularly true once they have kids and are trying to fulfill the suburban family dream.

Now, fulfilling the strong social narrative of ‘being a good mother’ and whether you can do that on a bike or while living in the city is a different matter worth unpacking. Even here in Copenhagen, many of the people I have interviewed suggest that to be a ‘good parent’ you have to get a car, and you should move to the suburbs. That’s in Copenhagen. Cycle capital of the world and all whatnot.

There are those here too bucking the trend, which is easier to do, but they are still bucking the trend and have to jump through some hoops- most notably the high cost of finding an apartment that is ‘big enough’ for kids. Most of them just hold off for a few years until the kids get older and then have to eventually move out anyway. The cargo bike may just delay the seemingly inevitable.

I suspect there are also a lot more social pressures that poor people in the US face to get a car to demonstrate that they have been “successful” to their peers, whereas the educated elite more likely show off their status by being “smart/eco-friendly/health conscious enough” to choose to ride a bicycle.

Here in Copenhagen, which values modesty and social equity, standing out and thinking you are above others is a no-no. People prefer to be seen as ‘the kind of person who would ride a bicycle’. The kind of person who doesn’t think of themselves as being too big and above everyone else. Driving a hummer or big SUV in Copenhagen would likely raise scorn and eyebrows, which explains why I don’t think I’ve seen either in the past 3 years here. Even the crown prince and prime minister both prefer to be seen on bikes.

I think it’s pretty unlikely we can change American culture to be more modest, pragmatic and equal. But perhaps we can leverage the tropes we have like freedom, independence, and self-reliance to push bicycling further in the US. And in both cases, we will have to figure out how to make affordable, family friendly cities and reframe ‘the good parent’ and the ‘successful adult’ into one who rides a bike.

Why I’m not a “cyclist” anymore

I ride a bicycle. Practically everyday. I’ve stopped calling myself a “cyclist”.

Something happened when I crossed half the world from the US and started living in Copenhagen. I very quickly realized that something had changed. I still rode my bicycle everywhere, but so did everyone else. Riding a bike wasn’t a radical rebellion. It wasn’t a fist to “the man” or some kind of branded identity I wore proudly like a badge of honor.

I stopped carrying my one-of-a-kind San Francisco Mission-made messenger bag. Why carry things on your back when you have a lovely machine that can take the weight for you? I’m not racing to deliver parcels quickly. I’m just carrying my laptop.

I stopped wearing a bike helmet. No one else was anyway (although helmet use is now on the rise despite traffic safety here being at an all time high).

I gave my celeste colored Bianchi fixie to my ex-girlfriend (who subsequently quite reasonably put gears back on it). I left my bright pink chopper tall boy with some friends in Berkeley (who immediately got fined for riding a dangerous vehicle). I sold my Bridgestone 12-speed road bike on craigslist. No one rides any of those things here in Copenhagen.

I looked around for was the locals were riding and bought an old upright 3-speed Raleigh Club de Luxe. Later, when living briefly in Amsterdam, I bought a Dutch Sparta “women’s” stand-over bicycle complete with attached raincoat yellow messenger bags courtesy of my friends at FietsFabriek.

My bright orange REI jacket I  had bought for “visibility” seemed suddenly radical and out of place amidst a sea of black clothing, which seemed a clear statement of the locals’ desire to blend in and become invisible amidst the crowd.

I slowed down. I stopped caring about how many PSI my tires are. I started following the traffic rules (well, almost all the time). People here say Copenhageners “ride like crazy”. In fact, “other cyclists” are probably the reason for what helmets there are- not other cars. Yet I find them to be perfectly tame, slow and mild-mannered compared with Americans.

Riding a bike became completely banal and everyday. This was not a transition that happened over night and was not without its challenges.

I have long built up an identity around thinking of myself as “different”. Perhaps this was a symptom of my own insecurities constantly surrounded by overachievers. Maybe it was due to being raised by semi-reformed hippies.

I still think I’m a bit “off” and different from the everyday person (whatever that is). But I’ve given up on worrying about my identity in relationship to my particular preferred mode of transportation choice. I even sometimes let myself take a bus or train when the weather is lousy or the distance seems too long- and don’t beat myself up over it too much. Why should I? I’m just a normal person going about my daily routine.

Often when I speak with people who come from a city where they have to fight on a daily basis just to survive on the streets, they develop a strong identity as “cyclists”- as though there were something particular that sets them apart from the rest of humanity because of the way they move through space. When they come to a more bike friendly city like Copenhagen, they don’t know how to respond.

On the one hand, they appreciate how their lives have been made easier and safer by a million tiny thoughtful gestures distributed throughout the urban design and traffic planning of the city. It’s all those things they themselves have been pushing for in their own cities. Yet they also seem to feel like their identity as an individual is somehow threatened. It’s almost like they actually like being ostracized.

These divisions and dichotomies based on how we move aren’t getting us anywhere collectively. We need to better understand and empathize with why the majority (in most other cities than Copenhagen) don’t ride their bicycle and then develop solutions to make them feel safe and comfortable to try it out. When those people ride, we shouldn’t lament that it is no longer “cool” to ride anymore because “everyone is doing it”.

Biking isn’t a fashion statement that’s “in” until the next thing comes along. It’s a fantastic way to get around town. We should delight in our successes in sharing that joy with others. We can’t let our desire to hold onto our individual identity stand in the way of others’ ability to join us.

Jelly Bean Bikes

This is a super cool bike shop in Australia called Jelly Bean Bikes that I came across in the blogosphere. It has a great online tool to mass customize the colors on your bicycle that you can check out here. Start with a very simple, yet sleek, single speed/fixie design and then you can click around to view different color configurations or choose one of their pre-designs. Then choose your size and free or fixed gear, enter your credit card and address details and blam-o, within 5 minutes you have a semi-customized bike coming your way for only $500 AUD. Super cool. But only available in Australia…