Creating the Bike-Friendly Tipping Point

Pippa Middleton in a screenshot in July's Vanity Fair. Image by Norman Jean Roy.

The past two weeks have been absolutely fascinating from a "Bike Minded Market Watch" point of view. Last week a story happened that I simply could not have made up. Charlie Gandy and I live across the street from each other in a part of Long Beach called "Alamitos Beach" just East of downtown. It's an older neighborhood with one way streets, lots of apartments, some cool Craftsmen houses, and very little parking but nice wide quiet bike lanes.

If you stand on my corner you can watch a very diverse and dynamic melange of bicyclists go by at almost any time of the day. Apparently GT Bikes thought it was a fascinating enough setting because as Charlie was making the arduous trek across the street to hang out for dinner he realized a professional photo shoot was happening - starring bikes. We, being the curious Georges of all things bikes, of course had to meander across the street and find out what the heck was going on. Yep, it was GT Bikes doing part of their photo shoot for their 2014 promos in Long Beach because, and I quote, "we think it's just so cool what you guys have been doing here about bike-friendliness."

Imagine how that made our week!I can't wait to see the images!

But ok, you say that's a bike company so hey we're happy for you Long Beach but it's not the world at large loving bikes more. You're right. So above I bring you an image that greeted me in the new July issue of Vanity Fair. Pippa Middleton advising readers it was smart to ride your bike to Wimbleton to avoid the crowded car situation. Will the sister of the future queen of England be the reason we'll hit the tipping point in bike-friendliness in our world?

No, but she's an excellent step in the right direction and I say well done.

There are those who like to try and make bicycling about class war fare, saying it's only a sport and only something the rich in lycra can afford. That's an argument going on here in L.A. right now over bike lanes. But I wonder who these critics are really kidding? Have they noticed the price of gas? Have they taken a look at how much of their income their car payment and insurance takes up?

The City Bike movement is gaining so much traction with the Lycra crowd that Bicycling Magazine's July issue has a woman riding one on the cover. Yes, I was as stunned and thrilled as you are. They don't seem to have the new cover image online yet or I'd certainly be sharing it with you.

I personally gave up my car because I simply couldn't afford it anymore and like many I started taking public transit, and walking walking walking. We have very good public transit in Long Beach, but it still only takes you so far - and a bike beautifully closes the gap. Do we need to do more for those who can't afford the price of a bike? Yes, certainly, but those who are calling bikes elitist aren't looking at the facts they're looking at fear at a changing way of life.

If we're smart in bike advocacy we won't make bike advocacy about the bike vs. the car, or even the bike about advanced athleticism. Instead we'll focus our energy on the bike as a tool for urban optimism. Here in Southern California many people have a commute to work that simply isn't feasible for them by bike. But what people here could far more easily do is replace many of their local car trips by bike. They can save substantial money riding their bikes for errands, exercise and fun. Fun is the key here. Getting people out to discover anew where they live, supporting their local economy. This is something almost anyone can do.

And this is how Kellie Morris and I will be marketing our "Street Savvy" novice adult bicycle education classes.

Standing on my corner I see people of all ages and races ride by on bikes. I see women in their 50's in conservative clothing ride by on folding bicycles coming from the train from LA. I see beautiful hipsters of both sexes I want to run after and invite to our next photo shoot. I see men who now proudly sport baskets and carry groceries home. I see families with children heading for the beach, and yep I see men and women in lycra. But not as much as I see bikes that have utility to help people get things done (and save money and their heart while they're at it).

Recently I had the great pleasure of finally meeting Lynette Carpiet, the editor of Bicycle Retailer, who just happens to live in Long Beach. She gave me much food for thought on how to better connect bike advocacy to the bike industry, something that is one of our new goals here. She also admitted that she and her husband were both looking for new bikes - bikes to ride around Long Beach so they don't have to hassle with parking. She loved the idea of vintage bikes so I told her about Evan Whitener and Nicole Maltz of The Bicycle Stand (in my own neighborhood!) and their amazing service. That weekend Lynette and her husband added two new members to their bike family.

To everyone who loves to wear lycra for their long hard rides who also wants to ride a city bike in their street clothes too I say welcome and thank you! Which is why young women like our "Athletic by Bike" columnist Jennifer Tetrick is such an important role model.

Each new person who rides a bike in everyday clothing is a pedaling advertisement - for the good or for the ill of bicycling. Each one of us is a possible ambassador for creating new ridership if we behave well and follow the traffic laws. Bicycles in T.V. ads for everything from Dove soap to Viagra, and chic ads magazine print ads from top fashion designer from Marc Jacobs to Hermes absolutely help, but it's really each new person who rides and does so proudly with a smile on their face that is the very best way to move us to the true tipping point.