Pittsburgh PA resident Monica Garrison launched Black Girls Do Bike in 2014 after returning to bicycling to beat her wintertime blues. She quickly realized that a black woman on a bike was a rare sight and decided to do something about it. Since then more than 80 Black Girls Do Bike riding chapters have been launched across the U.S. and in the Virgin Islands, and in 2016 she hosted a successful Black Girls Do Bike "meet up" in Atlanta for 300 women.
For too long biking has been seen, like the title of a popular book and blog, as "Stuff White People Like." It's also viewed sceptically as a big city thing, an ultra-fit athlete thing, a twenty-something thing, a warm weather thing, an upper-middle-class thing, a Portland- and Brooklyn-thing, a foreign thing, and a thing for people without kids. Paradoxically, in some communities, it's also viewed as a “loser” thing or “weirdo” thing.
Above all else, it's seen as a guy thing. (This is truly ironic, given early feminist Susan B. Anthony’s lavish praise: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”)
But guess what? The times they are a changing.
More than 100 million Americans rode a bike in 2014, and bicycles have outsold cars most years in the US since 2003. The widespread stereotypes about people who ride bikes don’t hold up on closer inspection:
- Bikes are not-so-white. Latinos bike more than any other racial group, followed by Asians and Native Americans. African-Americans and whites bike at about the same rate.
- Older Americans account for about a third of new people taking up bicycling each year.
- Actually, most bicyclists are low-income according to census figures—as many as 49 percent of bike commuters make less than $25,000 a year.
- As for other misperceptions, keep in mind that Minneapolis (in chilly Minnesota) and Arlington, VA (in suburban DC) rank among America’s top towns for biking. And one place where bikes account for more than 20 percent of traffic on local streets is Davis, CA (pop: 65,000).
Davis CA resident Maria Contreras Tebbutt launched "The Bike Campaign" forWoodland (adjacent to Davis) when her grant for the suicide prevention program she headed ran out. Now, thisLeague of American Bicyclists certified bicycle education instructor volunteers her time and talent to teach people of all of ages and backgrounds to safely ride and fix bikes from the same Jr. High School.
“There’s growing diversity in the movement, but it is important to hear more diverse voices—people from lower-income communities, people of color. And more women too,” says Keith Benjamin, Director of Charleston, South Carolina’s transportation department.
Slowly but surely—thanks to work by bicycle advocates, neighborhood activists and forward-looking transportation professionals—more and more U.S. communities are realizing that future of mobility is bigger than cars. Biking is becoming an attractive, cost-effective, healthy and convenient way to get around.
Bike commuting tripled in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington DC, Minneapolis, Portland and Denver from 1990 to 2012, and doubled in many other urban centers. This leap in people-powered transport is not just a big city phenomenon. Bicycle trips of all kinds increased 64 percent in US metro areas with populations between 500,000 and 1 million between 2001 and 2009 (latest figures available). In metro regions between 250,000 and 500,000, it was 42 percent.
This success is changing what people see as possible for life on two wheels. The main thrust of bike advocacy until recently was legitimizing bicycles as a form of transportationfocusing on creating painted bike lanes on streets and off-road paths. Now there’s a new push is to make bike-riding more mainstream with low-stress, convenient routes that take even inexperienced riders to all the places they want to go by creating networks of protected bike lanes (where riders are safely separated from speeding traffic) and neighborhood greenways (residential streets where bikers and walkers get priority).
Protected bike lanes are sprouting in communities coast to coast. This 21st-century upgrade can now be found in 82 cities across 34 states. Their proliferation is prompted by studies showing that most people of all ages, races, regions and incomes want to bike more, but are fearful about sharing busy streets with fast-moving vehicles.
But the culture shift in biking is about more than bike-friendly infrastructure.
In 2009 Long Beach California created the first two protected bike-lanes in Southern California as a Federal DOT pilot program. The lanes had to be created as a pilot program because at the time protected bike lanes were not permitted under state and federal guidelines. Since then the California Bicycle Coalition spearheaded the work to change the law. California now has more protected bike lanes than any other state.
“It’s the transition from a small group of people who strongly identify as bicyclists to a bigger, broader grouping of people who simply ride bikes.” explains Randy Neufeld, a veteran bike advocate who founded the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation (now the Active Transportation Alliance) and is now Director of the SRAM Cycling Fund.
Another marker of the bike’s expanding popularity are many new models designed for casual riding, rather than racing or pedaling up mountains. Stylish brands—including Electra, Public, Linus, Shinola, Tern, and Martone Cyclery— show off bicycling as an active, happy and even sexy way of living.
Meanwhile, we’re seeing more e-bikes (you still pedal but a battery gives a boost when needed) and bikeshare stations (where you can rent a bike right on the street).
And the ultimate sign of a bright future for biking is how often bicycles turn up in a wide range of pop culture images, including advertising all kinds of products wanting to a convey a healthy, vital image.
Beyoncé is known to be an enthusiastic rider, so much so that she's been known to pedal to some of her own concerts. Lebron James has been also been known to bike to his NBA games, and actress Keri Russell loves to ride whether or not she has her children along.
There are many theories to explain the recent rise of biking—from people’s increased health consciousness to a widespread desire for a more leisurely, relaxed life.
People who don’t ride are shocked at the steady growth of bicycling over the past two decades. But it comes as scant surprise to those who do—no matter whether young or old, male or female, rich or poor, urban or suburban or rural, white or not. That’s because bicyclists know how good it feels to whoosh on a bike, the wind in your face, blood pumping to your legs, the landscape unfolding in front of you. The great thing about riding a bike is that it feels sexy. A sensuous sort of sexy, where you feel joyfully in the moment and fully alive!
That’s the biggest reason why the bike will play an increasingly important role for a wider variety of Americans in the future.