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How do we get more people on bikes?
Underlying my enthusiasm for Lance Armstrong’s new bike emporium is a common complaint about the bicycle industry in America: commuters get short shrift. Manufacturers and dealers cater to athletes and enthusiasts (collectively: bike geeks), ignoring the much larger group of people who just want a sturdy, affordable beater to get around on.
The Commute by Bike blog recently dug into this issue, which got me wondering: what does the bike-buying experience look like in places that do have a thriving bike commuter culture? Clearly there are a lot of infrastructural hurdles to cycling in the U.S., but what about the commercial and cultural hurdles?
So I asked a Dane. And not just any Dane, but the proprietor of Cycleliciousness, the Copenhagen bike culture blog, chronicle of “life in the world’s cycling capital.”
He graciously answered my questions at considerable length, so I’ll break up the exchange into a series of posts. First, some background on bike culture in Denmark:
Here in Copenhagen there are bike shops on almost every main street and they sell primarily bikes that you call “commuter bikes” in the States. To us they’re just bikes. If you want a mountain bike or a racer you have to hunt for a specialty shop. The vast majority of the 500,000 daily cyclists in Copenhagen ride basic bikes. One or three speeds, many older models, basic transport-oriented bikes.
Every day 36% of the population of 1.7 million ride their bike. Most bikes are quite anonymous looking, but functional. Cycling is transport here, nothing more. A bike needs to get you from A to B and back again via the supermarket. Buying a bike will involve style more than anything. A bike here is an extension of yourself and your personality so you choose one that fits the bill. Cost is important, too. There is a noticeable trend over the past 5 years or so of Danes buying cooler bikes. Brighter colours, cruiser bikes, etc. But you’ll still see, literally, a couple of hundred ancient Raleighs on the bike lanes if you ride around for an hour or so. Cheap, functional but also a style choice for many.
Next: bike shops in Denmark.