Archive for June, 2011

Summertime Grocery Run

Well it is hot hot hot down here on the Gulf Coast and it will be so for another several months.  But you know, with a little adaptation one can keep cycling through the summer without much problem.  Now the combination of high temps and humidity does turn people off to cycling in Mobile for much of the year.  And the weather is one of the more frequent reasons I hear people say they won’t ride their bikes or they feel cycling cannot take off in Mobile.  I for one don’t buy this.  Virtually every place in the world has some form of inclement weather.  Southern California might be “perfect” weather but the most bike friendly cities in North America are found in the rainy northwest or freezing Minneapolis or Montreal.  Mobile is hot during the summer but we almost never have snow or ice on the roads.  We get thunderstorm bursts in summer but just about everywhere gets summer afternoon rains.  Nope, Mobile has mild weather 7-8 months of the year and it is a flat topography.  Rain might cramp you style every once in a while but this is a minority of times.  Most hours of the day the sun is out.  By the way New Orleans is coming along just fine as a bike town.  Their climate is identical to Mobile’s.

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My jaunt up to the grocery store is approximately 2 miles and on the way I ran into several neighbors and chatted them up.  One of the great things about getting out of the car is it is so much easier to see, stop, and speak with the people in your community.  It really does build a sense of community and place.  And while I never feel like I’m getting exercise I know all the little activity created by casual cycling really adds up and is good for me mentally as well as physically.  And I only had a slight sweat going, not enough to show through my t-shirt and something that was gone after 5 minutes back in air conditioning.  By the way, my feeling is that on flat terrain and hot weather that a speed of approximately 7-8 mph is ideal for getting somewhere on a bike because it is just the right balance of exertion and breeze creation.  But I’ll need a speedometer to know for sure!

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Local Business and Bike Marketing

I work in downtown Mobile.  Last year  a new hotel went up right across the street from my office.  It is now an up and running Candlewood Suites.  One day while walking to the local YMCA for a lunchtime workout, I noticed two bikes parked just out in front of the lobby .   Intrigued, I walked over to get a closer look.  Turns out the hotel provides two Huffy bikes, with baskets, for their guests to get around downtown Mobile.  This is the first business I know of that provides bikes for their customers.  Wow!  You’re telling me a business in Mobile is using bikes as a part of their marketing strategy.  Someone, somewhere, decided that purchasing bikes, and a rack, and placing them super conveniently right outside the lobby entrance, was a smart business decision.  Maybe they think providing the bikes gives them a slight edge or differentiates them from competitive hotels.

David, a visiting businessman, using his hotel's bike to check out downtown Mobile.

While eating downtown I noticed David (pictured above) riding a bike I recognized.  Sure enough it was one of Candlewood Suites’ bikes.  I introduced myself and asked him if I could take his picture for local bike advocacy purposes.  He happily agreed.  I learned he works for Alabama Power Credit Union and visits downtown Mobile regularly.  He enjoys taking the bikes out in the evening because he can get around downtown more easily and quicker than by walking.  Nice way to use bikes in your business Candlewood Suites!

Bicycle Advocacy: Encouraging New Cyclists (Part Deux)

So I was checking out a bike blog that I am fond of ( http://www.ecovelo.info) and I came across this post.  http://www.ecovelo.info/2011/06/07/pdw-come-ride-with-us/  This got me to thinking about how cycling is marketed in the United States.  My unscientific analysis tells me that most bike marketing is aimed for children and for athletes or fitness enthusiasts.  There is nothing wrong with this except that it leaves out a very large population of potential cyclists and stereotypes the bike as solely a toy for a kid or a toy for an adult and not a legitimate vehicle.   Very rarely are bikes marketed as a vehicle to handle your everyday short errand trips.   In fact many adults that use their bikes to go 50+ miles on athletic adventures will tell me that using a bike to go two miles to the store or mile to visit a friend is silly because you can just drive a car.  Or I will notice that a lot of people who are very concerned with cycling for weight loss won’t use their bikes to go the one mile from my neighborhood to downtown Mobile for things like the local artwalk, church, the farmers market, work or to simply socialize.  Seriously, ONE mile!!!  I know this is Alabama but seriously.

Look here. Two very regular seeming adults using bicycles to go to the local farmers market. Why they even look a bit fashionable while doing it.

Most bike shops here don’t carry practical bikes for city use.  I’m talking about bikes that come standard with a kickstand, fenders, chainguard, rack, and lights.  These are the basic things anyone who uses a bike daily would need.  I know the demand isn’t there but I’m surprised the bike industry doesn’t try to tap the large market of folks that could potentially embrace cycling for short trips.  Especially people that live in urban areas where distances are close and a gridded street network enables people to avoid busy streets.  The local bike group Mobilians on Bikes is trying to get more “regular” folks to use bikes.  Our marketing strategy is to normalize the bike.  This means that we want people to see the bike as a fun, practical tool for doing all kinds of things, but most importantly transportation.  But marketing is marketing and showing men and women that bikes can be fun, fashionable and useful is a great way to get folks on a bike.  So while technical clothing, gear, safety data and seemingly militant obsession with bike rights might be interesting for bike nuts like me,  I get the feeling they can be big turnoffs for the average person.

This is an information piece out of Toronto about winter bike commuting. Do you have to be an ex Navy Seal to apply?
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Bike commute photo from Copenhagen. Does this look more appealing? Dare I say pleasant seeming even?

The two images above right or wrong, definitely send a different message about bike commuting.

A recent blog I read compared the differences between how bikes and cars are marketed.  Car commercials are inspiring, sexy, and connote a “go anywhere” vibe.   While there are rarely bike tv commercials, the magazine ads and bike shop/manufacturer promotional materials almost always focus on athletics and really not much more.  On top of that bike advocates tend to focus too much on safety issues as a lead in to marketing cycling.  Sure people want to be safe but a constant focus and emphasis on the perceived dangers of cycling is damaging to getting more people on bikes.  This is especially frustrating considering the data show cycling to be as safe as driving or walking.  The fact is bicycling is good for you and can be an extremely healthy, environmentally friendly, good-for-your-wallet, fun, and practical way to accomplish many trips one has to or wants to take.  That means not just commuting, but bike dates, visiting a museum, going on  a picnic, visiting a friend, etc.  Start the focus on using bikes for fun adventures.

Mobile, AL cycle chic? I think so.

My Experience with Bubbles and Biking

When I started biking to work about six weeks ago, I had no idea the adventure I was in for. Although I have always been very active, I had not been on a bike in over a year, and had not done any real biking since I was in Junior High.  I have learned much from my experience that has allowed me to tweak my rides for the better and I expect there will be more adjustments in the future.   Though the temperature has been rising, I have enjoyed my rides and hope to continue indefinitely.

My first rides resulted in a very sore rear end and padded bike shorts didn’t help much. But, I seem to have broken in my derriere and now suffer no repercussions even when the ride gets bumpy.  The  bicycle I am riding is probably not the optimal style for my rides. I am using my daughter’s Walmart-special mountain bike since mine was stolen last year when three hoodlums broke into our house and decided to take off with their loot (my jewelry and cash) on our three bikes. We replaced both of my daughters’ bikes, but have yet to replace mine. I initially had trouble with her bike which was apparently not put together well, but after several disastrous trips where my pedal fell off, my handlebars twisted around or my tire popped halfway to work (you can read my accounts of these early rides at http://bikingmobile.wordpress.com/), all the parts on the bike have been tightened down and seem to be working fine. I am also short on equipment for the bike – I did not want to spend a lot of money on this project before I had even tried it and determined whether I could keep it up. I have a helmet and back pack, but baskets and other accessories would come in handy.

I am careful with any traffic and try not to give cars the chance to make a mistake. Some cars don’t seem to see me or the stop sign at intersections, while others stop to let me cross even when they don’t have a stop sign. I am cognizant that no matter who’s fault, I will surely be the loser in any collision.

                            

I have also learned that the best route is not always a straight one. Mobile doesn’t seem to know what a bike lane is and I don’t expect they will be adding any anytime soon. After reading some of the “soundoffs” in the paper about bikes, I guess I know why – many Mobilians simply don’t see any advantages to encouraging biking over their gas guzzling ways. Yet, if people would stop relying on their cars as much and sit their butt on a bike occasionally, Mobile would be a quieter, cleaner and greener city with fewer obese residents. Unfortunately, although Mobile has many wonderful attributes, it has never been known for being green. So, since there are no bike lanes, the safest and best route for my 5 mile trek to work is to stay off as many busy streets as possible and instead wind through neighborhood streets all the way to downtown. This route has the added benefit that I get to see many beautiful historic houses and neighborhood scenery.

My favorite day to bike is Friday. Every Friday there are residents on each side of Brown Street that put out bubble machines facing the road. I never imagined that bubbles could be so uplifting! I’m not completely sure why, but I have found it impossible to ride through a cloud of bubbles without smiling. No matter how sweaty and tired I am, the first sight of floating bubbles always brightens my afternoon.

So, to anyone that is unsure about attempting to bike to work or just around the block, I strongly encourage you to, as Nike would say, just do it! I’m not suggesting you give up your car – heavens no! I still burn up the gas in mine when I have places to go that are too far to bike or when I can’t arrive dripping in sweat. It may not be easy at first, but I expect the adventure will be worth the trouble. Who knows, you might discover your own neighborhood bubbles.