September 29, 2008

The Wheels on the Bike Go Round and Round

The United States was once a nation of bicycle riders. Americans loved bikes so much, in 1895, they owned 10 million of them. But these bikes started rusting into oblivion with that first sniff of the intoxicating aroma of car exhaust. Yep, a love affair with cars almost killed the bike. Almost.

Total U.S. Cars
1898: 30 cars
1900: 8,000 cars
1920: 8.1 million cars
1950: 40.3 million cars
1970: 89.2 million cars
1990: 133.7 million cars
2005: 136.6 million cars

But the wheels on the bike go round and round. According to a recent story in The Economist, worldwide bike sales and manufacturing are upshifting big-time. (Lame, I know.)

The article states, “Europeans mainly use bikes for commuting, but have the odd habit of ignoring [commuter bikes] in favour of sleeker, faster models which are then expensively modified. Americans prefer off-road BMX trail bikes."

Given this good news, I hate to be critical of American bike-buying habits. But here goes: Are off-road bikers the lowest form of life in the biking world?

After all, two of the primary reasons people buy bikes are a wish to save money by not buying gas and a desire to save the planet by not burning gas. But bikers who drive to a trail defeat both of those purposes.

Why not hearken back to the mindset of those original, high-wheeling bicyclists? If they wanted to ride a bike, they rode it.


Peter said...

I have to admit I'm guilty of the American 'the ride is the destination' approach to mountain biking (though there often is a destination within the ride itself; i.e. - top of the mountain). But it does counter the current (and growing more mainstream as opposed to counter) culture of cycling as a means.
That Al. Cannondale I got a decade ago, the one perfectly designed for sprinting to the top of Mt. Tam. (it's a hardtail, and don't ask me the last time I sprinted up Mt. Tam.), now has some Schwalbe Marathons slapped on it and a nifty little DiNotte light for commute purposes. But the ride is still harsh (front suspension does not take the edge off of OS aluminum), and I've spent the last year trying to figure out how to satisfactorily mount some sufficient fenders.
I'm enamored with Retrovelo, carried at your LBS Clever Cycles (I can't find any down here in the Bay Area). Those Dutch and Deutch folk sure know how to make bikes 'to use'. As you well know, they've been doing it for a long time.
I could go on and on. Great topic Bart! Partly because I'm in the midst of piecing together my own lugged steel commuting machine, so it's on the brain, and mostly because this is good stuff for people to think about (in my humble op.).

Bart King said...

Don't get me wrong, I've driven to riding destinations too. (Nothing worse than a sanctimonious biker...)

As to aluminum frames (I've got one), the other week, a guy asked me how I could stand all the vibrations. I hadn't really noticed before, and now it's all I can think about. :)

As to Dutch bikes, they're awesome... but not the greatest climbers!