A few observations about Bike to Work Week and casual commuters

Bike to Work Week, flagstaffbiking.org, 2008I’m a year-round bike commuter, usually riding four or five days per week, every week of the year. Every week but Bike to Work Week, that is. Year after year something happens, without fail, usually forcing me to drive the whole week, or a good chunk of it. This year, I drove twice. One day it was because of “white out” conditions on the interstate highway I ride into Flag. I didn’t miss a day of bike commuting this winter due to snow. That had to wait until May.

That said, I did get in three days of BTWW this year, and have a few observations to share.

When you ride year round, on the same route, at the same time, you invariably end up seeing the same people, over and over, and you develop a relationship with them. You know who nods, who waves, who says ‘hi,’ and who won’t acknowledge you. You know what they’ll be wearing given the weather and day of the week. You know their bikes and how they ride. All in all, you know these people, in a way you cannot know other commuters when you’re in a car, and all without ever saying more than ‘morning.’ And, after a while, your relationship becomes familiar. Formality is unnecessary and soon you’re just grunting at each other or barely attempting a nod as you pass at the same spot you’re been passing each other for the last three years.

Then, along comes BTWW. Suddenly you’re passing people you’ve never seen before. And they’re smiling! Unbelievable. And the bike path is thick with them. Riders of all stripes, pedaling in a sort of mechanical harmony. You feel hope for humanity and all seems right with the world, and the sense of universal alignment sticks with you all the way through the weekend.

But, like all good things, BTWW has to end, and here is my point: it does end. All of those new, smiling faces go away as quickly as they appeared, and I’m left grunting at the same familiar faces as we ride past each other for the 917th time. This is, I think, a tragedy, both personally and socially. True, there are usually a handful of new people who keep riding through the summer, but come fall, you know exactly who you’re going to see on your commute.

Perhaps the bike industry should be doing more to promote commuting. The Terra Pass Blog discusses the shortcomings of the bike industry as a whole. The Commute By Bike Blog discusses this issue within the realm of Bike Shops specifically. At the Bike Trailer Shop and the Bike Bag Shop we’re doing our best to make quality products available like the Burley Nomad, the Carry Freedom City and a great selection of bike commuting panniers by the likes of Ortlieb and Vaude to help eliminate the excuse “I need to drive so I can carry all of my stuff”. But to really see change we’re going to need a concerted effort and long term effort from a variety of circles.

One sign of both opportunity and resistance to change is the effort to encourage Google to include a “bike there” feature on their Google Maps, showing preferred bike routes. The sign of opportunity is the 33k and growing number of cyclists who’ve signed their petition, the resistance is evident in the Bike There Petition’s Blog status of the petition “Google says ‘Thank you, but no new information to share.”

How can we encourage more people to ride regularly, or even occasionally? I thought I was sufficiently friendly to the new riders. Maybe I should have smiled and waved more. I need some help with this because I’m getting tired of grunting.

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