Bicycle Advocacy: Encouraging New Cyclists (Part Deux)

So I was checking out a bike blog that I am fond of ( and I came across this post.  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?

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.


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