Thursday, July 24, 2008

Food for thought: Utilitarian Cycling vs. Sport Cycling

A post at (which, as the name suggests, is a blog about sous chefs), argues that there is too much emphasis in the U.S. on high-end sport cycling, to the detriment of commuting and such. I have often been frustrated by this at bike shops in Connecticut, where all the floor space seems to be devoted to multi-thousand-dollar road machines, but I don't know if I agree with Commute By Bike guy, who says we must "take bicycling back from the sports enthusiasts." What say you, dear BBB readers?

And here is the rest of it.


Karma said...

I also disagree that we need to take cycling "back" from sport cyclists. Compulsively watching the tour over the past several weeks drives me to get out on a bike, ANY bike! In no way do I feel that the growth of bike commuting should come at the expense of any other market than that of the automobile. Yes we should increase the profile and numbers of bike commuters, but as several comments to the original article suggest the biking community should be unified not divided.

Much like an earlier BBB post (Heroes) I doubt if this debate can ever be fully agreed upon.

Karma said...

Regardless, I would still like to see more sweet commuter rides in shops. While the process of creating one for one's self is also a fun and rewarding process I think it would be much easier for the average consumer to get into commuting if this step is taken care of for them.

Ben said...

I also disagree. I don't feel that there is anything to "take back". There is not one style of “cycling” that is appropriate for the masses. As such, how can I disagree with another cyclist’s style? I don’t need to take back music because my wife chooses to listen to a bad 80’s tune a few times a week. As for myself, I enjoy a long ride with the scruffy peleton as much as riding my oversized Shogun to work on a nice day. When I get home I enjoy a leisurely ride around WeHa on the fixie. I enjoy riding bikes. I don’t care what type of bike it is, how fast it rides or how far I can travel on it. I’ll ride with my 6 year old nephew down the driveway or with Karma in his sexy spandex tights. Keep riding and keep spreading the word.

Rich said...

Those sous chefs have some nerve!

I'm very interested in this topic based on personal experience. It was a year ago this month when I took the plunge and bought my first bike since high school (this despite having lived on the beach in LA). I'm utilitarian in nature and knew little about I knew what I wanted. I checked out the "Marts" the Big Box Sports stores, and the LBS's. I came away not knowing much more than I did going in. Luckily in today's day and age, the interwebs exist with a whole spectrum of people giving their opinions and experiences. I'm good at research, picked out what I wanted, and bought exactly what I wanted after a short test ride at a distant LBS in Mass.

My experience puts me firmly in the camp of Karma and Ben. It's not about "taking back" the bike from anyone already using bikes. It's about getting more people ONTO bikes. One word: marketing. My first couple of exploratory trips into LBSs slapped me with a certain air of intimidation and a level of insider snobbery. I started off afraid to ask the dudes in the lycra any novice questions about commuting bikes for fear of being looked down upon. The bikes I liked were shoved in the back. Signs were up for century rides. They need to be more welcoming. More informative. Less intimidating. (This is in general. There have been shops and stores I've been to where the help has been very helpful and not condescending in the least)

At the same time, the sports enthusiasts NEED to stay for the culture to grow. Now that I've been riding for a year, my desire to get a sturdy road bike for longer trips is growing rapidly. Now I know enough people in the bike culture to ask questions without fear. The hard part was the sticking that foot in the pool.

Here is an amusing photo-essay by a guy who seems to have a typical level of American bike-awareness visiting Amsterdam. It's pretty interesting to read his comments and reactions to the ultimate utilitarian bike city. That these things that this dude saw as "oddities" are possible to be seen as "normal" is exactly what this country needs to open up to.

Brendan said...

Since our earlier debate center around marketing, I'm going to to continue agree with Rich and say that it's marketing that is the key. And, it looks like it's working. People actually are commuting more by bike because it's being marketed pretty effectively. Chanel has jumped on the bandwagon.

It's funny, though. I wouldn't really want to commute on one of those utilitarian things. They don't look very fast or stable.

Karma said...

Yeah they are pretty sweet for cruising around somewhere flat like Amsterdam but I think something like the Surly suits you better around here.

ben said...

I didn't see a single biker wearing a helmet in the photo-essay. Unless the dude wearing the motorcycle helmet was on a bicycle. I've seen stranger things.

ben said...

I didn't see a single biker wearing a helmet in the photo-essay. Unless the dude wearing the motorcycle helmet was on a bicycle. I've seen stranger things.

Brendan said...

speaking of utilitarian, I forgot to go to bike to work this morning for free breakfast.


chillwill said...

sucka! i got to take home (well, to work actually) a 1/2 gallon of OJ!

bagels and bananas ohh my!

ben said...

I stopped in for bike to work. I got the hairy eyeball from several riders. I'm assuming it was because I wasn't wearing my Lycra suit and yellow vest. I tried to talk to one dude and he didn't even answer me. I ran into him again while locking my bike up at work and told him about critical mass. He barely acknowledged that I was talking. He was a commuter, fenders and all. I know its just one person but it shows that there is nothing to "take back". Snobs exist in all niches of biking.
Don't mean to carry on here but I I'm passionate about this topic.

chillwill said...

don't you get hairy eyeballs from too much masterbation!??!

Rich said...

ben said:
Snobs exist in all niches of biking.

Great point, ben. So true, so true.

I overslept for bike-to-work, as I often do. With so many biking events this weekend, I needed my rest anyway. I'll have to eat a lime or something for lunch to get my Vitamin C on, since I missed all the OJ that chillwill is hoarding. Unless there will be screwdrivers before Critical Mass.

Oh, and since Amsterdam is a topic, I'll use this opportunity to brag that I'm going there in less than 2 weeks for a wedding. A biking event is planned for the pre-partying. I should load up with BBB propaganda.

Anonymous said...

Most of the folks I've meet in the industry (large bike producers) are racers or ex-racers so their focus is on racing. They seem to spend my time and energy supporting races than advocacy. Bikes Belong has been on only really push to increase industry funding for advocacy.

On a side note, when was the last time you watched a bike commercial on TV? How about in a non bike/outdoors magazine? The only time you see the industry trying to sell bikes is during the X Games and TDF. Other than that it's as if bike don't exist. You will find some local bike shops advertising but other than that you don't see much.

How do you plan on selling bikes if the only folks you advertise to are the ones already interested in riding? How much money does the bike industry spend on advertising compared to other industries? How much advertising goes on in Europe compared to the States in promoting bikes?