When cycling is no longer trendy

There are fundamental forces behind the recent world wide increase in bicycle transport. A sharp increase in oil prices helped us in 2007. Crippling congestion has helped us in cities that have crippling congestion. Those cities also tend to set trends for smaller cities to follow. Which leads me to the issue of fashion. London, New York, and to some extent Copenhagen, have increased their cycling out of necessity, and in so doing have made cycling trendy, in smaller and more sprawling cities where driving still works.

The cities I have mentioned have the requisite density and urban morphology, that will ensure cars keep getting pushed out forever, and bikes remain in. Most of the world’s cities though, aren’t so dense that cars simply won’t fit. It’s as likely these cities will get abundant nuclear power, and electric cars will be the new fashion.

The photos in this post are from around Byron Bay, and were taken by my ol’ buddy Scoop while he was there for their recent Boozefest. Everyone, he tells me, is riding around on old upright bikes with no helmets, up there at Byron. Yes: for now. What about next year, when cycling is old? People with weekenders in the holiday town of Byron Bay are notorious for hiding the German cars they drove up from Sydney, then spending their weekends in costume. One year it will be the Hippy Trail look, with sandals and detachable dreadlocks. The next they will all be disguising themselves as legends of surfing. This year, apparently, they have all taken style notes from cycle-chic.

In anticipation of the day when the bike craze is tired, it would seem prudent to ask why people cycled before cycling got cool. People who have been cycling as their main form of transport for the past 20 years, tend either to be poor and therefore with no options, or else sports cyclists like me. Add to that a small number of bike nerds, who for some reason became fascinated with Rohloff hubs back in the 80s, perhaps a handful of commendable greenies, who traded their combies for bikes, and lastly staunch protestant types, who cycle to prove to themselves they’re made of tough stuff.

In dense cities that are now building bike infrastructure, none of these old motivations will matter. Cycling will be the quickest way of getting to work. In regional towns we need to think of ways to either keep the bike fashion alive (with new types of bikes, and new bicycling outfits), or else awaken fashionistas to some of cycling’s more lasting rewards.

6 Comments

  1. tk says:

    are you kidding me steven? you’ve forgotten the other crucial element of congestion – parking at the destination.

    have you been to an even semi-popular coastal town lately (in summer), and tried driving to the beach? not just byron, lorne, torquay (bells and jan juc), but places like 13th beach, mogg’s creek, cape paterson, the oaks, etc etc, after about 7am you can’t get in the carparks, or have to pay to get in, or like byron have to pay AND can’t get a park. cycling to beat the crowds will always be a prime motivator for many – as will hitch hiking.

    • Steven says:

      No, I was wasn’t kidding. I was forgetting. Thanks! There should be a message here for my local council who keep building parking near coastal attractions, in order to please all their new voters, who they accommodate in new land releases away from the coast. Next they are planning to cut the train that currently extends to the beach, I guess with the view of making space for more parking. But look at the dopiness in all of their eyes: http://www.newcastle.nsw.gov.au/council/elected_council/elected_council

  2. Don says:

    I live in one of those regional towns in the U.K., where cycling is apparently on the increase but still marginalised. More often now though, I see teenagers riding upright bikes in ordinary clothes, without helmets or hi-viz, and it makes me want to cheer.

    I hope to God that our wonderful youth can see through the lie that cars = freedom and rescue us from the mess that we’ve made for ourselves. Otherwise we are all, frankly, royally f**ked..

    • Steven says:

      Well figures show car ownership declining among (America’s) young adult population. I’m optimistic that lots of people catching hold of the current bike craze, will get a whiff of the deeper more lasting rewards.

  3. I think it’ll be a while before we see any real change in Mercedesville: the motor industry is still holding sway and is still seen as a ‘job for life’ by our otherwise very intelligent young friends, which can only mean they aren’t looking at the news too closely.

    “People who have been cycling as their main form of transport for the past 20 years, tend either to be poor and therefore with no options, or else sports cyclists …bike nerds …commendable greenies, and …staunch protestant types…”

    I’m now rtrying to decide which one of those I fit mostly…

    • Steven says:

      well I think most of us better examples of the breed would fall into all of those categories in some way or another

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