Bicycle culture and the bicycle are two sides of the same coin. During my travels, I have come to realize that one of the best indications of how a culture views bicycling is through bicycles themselves. In places with a strong bicycle culture, the bicycle becomes ubiquitous, cheap and utilitarian. Bicycles in these cultures can be characterized as single, three or eight speed bicycles, with baskets, heavy duty rear racks (think bikepooling), child seats, fenders, front and back lights (sans battery), large profile tires, an upright riding posture, etc. All these things are a physical manifestation of how people view and use bicycles. Fewer gears show they ride slower and shorter distances. Baskets and racks show they carry everyday things. Mud flaps show they ride in the rain or snow. Front and back lights, well duh. Same goes for child seats. Bicycles are as much a part of their daily life as cars are here, and are designed accordingly.
Here our bicycle culture is distinctly different and our bicycles show it. Bicycling here has been heavily influenced by sport riding, mostly in the form of road cycling but also mountain biking. Compared to most other cultures we own the equivalent of a two seat roadster or SUV. However, over the past few years this has started to change. Hybrids, which by their very name shows the assumptions of our bicycle culture, have become more popular especially for commuters. Also many of the above mentioned accessories and bicycle design are starting to work their way into our bicycling culture. For example bicycle lights are becoming more and more common and I’m not the only one to notice this. Montlake Bicycle Shop has started selling cheap city bikes and the Dutch Bike Company has started importing beautiful city bikes from Holland.
A few weeks ago I spotted a man dressed in a suit riding into downtown. This is normal in Copenhagen. I wonder how long until it is normal here?
An interview of Tom Miller, chief-of-staff for Portland, on bicycle culture in both cities. H/T Erik Griswold