Monday, March 29, 2010

Bikes Outside: Where the C.C.B. At?

This Monday's Bikes Outside takes us back nearly a week to Elizabeth Park's Pond House for last Tuesday's annual CCBA dinner. There was a nice mix of bikes there: Schleppi's Classic-style Schwinn, Ken's geniunely old Columbia Tourist, El Prez's Motobecane fixie, Robin's Trek Hybrid, Rich's Breezer city bike, and my own Yuba Mundo cargo bike. In this motley crew, we had an internally geared hub, 5, 6, and 7-speed derailleur hubs, and a fixed single-speed. There was a wide range of frame styles and materials represented, with three or four different rim sizes between them. It was a veritable Benetton ad for velo multiculturalism. That said, these bikes do have a couple of things in common. They were all ridden in the rain Tuesday night (hooray for fenders!) and they all belong to friends of mine. I've personally ridden and/or worked on four of the six pictured bikes at some point. While I get a warm mix of comfort and pride gazing upon a rack full of my friends' bikes, it also means that nobody outside of my circle of friends actually rode to this bike-centric event.

Wow. Really?

A CCBA member in the know told me they believed attendance for Tuesday evening's shindig was 171 or 172. If that figure is accurate, it means that just 3.5% of event attendees actually rode their bikes there. I later learned of at least one attendee who walked to the event. This boosts the verified non-motorized attendance to 4.1%. Keynote speaker Jeff Miller devoted a fair amount of time to identifying and seeking ways to improve such paltry single-digit percentages. The CEO and President of Alliance for Biking and Walking should have been preaching to the choir at such an event. This below-capacity bike rack seems to say we have a long way to go.

How did we come to have such a disappointing turnout? let's look at some possible culprits:

The Weather
It wasn't very nice out that night. The chilly temperature and light-to-moderate rain certainly were a letdown after the fantastic weather we had the previous week, but it really wasn't all that terrible. I didn't even bother bringing my rain pants, and I made it to the Pond House and back without regretting that choice. Rain gear can be had pretty cheaply from many sources, so this excuse doesn't really hold water.

The Clothes
This was not a gala event. Several people were wearing suits or dresses, but I didn't see designer threads of the sort that would have precluded anyone from hopping on a bike for a few minutes, especially with the aforementioned rain gear. Our own Ms. Longstocking rocked a nice dress AND high heels whilst riding her shiny new Jenny to and from the event, so it can be done.

The Distance
I'm glad that people from further-flung parts of New England saw fit to show their support, and I certainly won't fault someone for driving from Providence or New Haven to join us. The more, the merrier. Many people had their hometown written on their name tags, so I could see that a lot of Hartford, West Hartford and Bloomfield residents were in the house. These people didn't have terribly far to ride, yet they didn't.

The Toil
In spite of the cold, the rain and the darkness, six people rode to that dinner, and had a fun time doing so. With minimal preparation and good company, a dreary night can be transformed with the addition of two wheels and two pedals. In fact, five out of six of us continued riding to meet up in Hartford for a beer after the dinner ended. You could have, too. We already belong to the same group. I hope that next time you will join us.

I apologize for stating the obvious, but the best way to get more people on bikes is to get more people on bikes. If committed bike users are a fringe group among the advocates, our strength and relevance in the general population is at a tremendous disadvantage. An organization that encourages people to bike everywhere should strive to boost the ranks of its own members who do just that as often as possible.


Schleppi Longstocking said...

I also was not wearing any of this newfangled "rain gear" of which you speak. I did not melt. It can be done.

Avery Jenkins said...

For us attendees from the hinterlands, the ideal way to get there would have been by a combination of mass transit and cycling.

No such banana, at least in my neck of the woods.