Interbike 2012: Getting America Out of Their Cars And Onto Bikes

Twice as many bicycles as cars are sold in the US each year, and the past few years have seen an exponential rise in commuter cycling. The recession has inspired people from all walks of life to save gas money by getting out of the car and onto a bike. The benefits of increased commuter cycling far outweigh the risks, even for daredevils like me- less CO2, more endorphins, better bodies, less traffic… The list goes on…..and on….

These facts and more are being dolled out by Bikes Belong, which is an NGO that works with governments and the bicycle industry to get more Americans onto bicycles. Through donations from bicycle manufacturers, they supply grants to fund cycling infrastructure projects. Since 1999, Bikes Belong has awarded more than $1.9 million for 236 grants in 46 states, building more than 1,600 miles of paths and trails.

At Interbike 2012, their booth holds a prominent spot, with a map for attendees & vendors to show what they’re doing to “Build more than Bicycles”. This afternoon they will award $1,000 to the top three builders of more than bikes- community, infrastructure, or the next generation of cyclists.

Bikes Belong’s “Safe Routes to School” partnership states that kids who bike to school are not only more fit, but also do better in school. From 1969-2009 the percentage of children who bike to school has fallen 70% while the child obesity rate has increased nine-fold. Sure, the pervasiveness of high fructose corn syrup and paranoid parents who keep their kids locked indoors contribute greatly to this, but that doesn’t negate the fact that exercise improves people. And not just one half-hearted hour of PE class. The feeling of freedom kids get from being on their bikes is unparalleled. The same feeling comes to adults who’ve previously spent their mornings and evenings stuck in traffic.

The Be Kind to Cyclists crew

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Whenever I bring up the topic of urban cycling, motorists point out the cyclists who’ve pissed them off by disobeying laws or riding like jerks. In Los Angeles it often feels like a war zone where cars and bikes fight each other for road space on a daily basis, with cyclists always suffering more casualties. I remember a high school classmate telling me her driver’s ed teacher had taught her “Courtesy is Contagious”- the philosophy of “Paying it Forward” in driving.

At the time, I didn’t want to hear anything of it. However, as an urban cyclist in one of the most hostile cities I not only buy into it, I find it necessary for my survival. When I’m aggro toward motorists, I find myself more easily on the wrong end of a 4,000 pound killing machine. The Be Kind to Cyclists campaign hopes to fix that.

Yes, it goes both ways, but I would strongly recommend dusting off your bicycle and riding a few miles from home before judging those crazy cyclists. You may be pleasantly surprised to rediscover the joy you knew as a kid on a bike. After all, all the cool kids are doing it, as reported here.

But Cycling To Work Is Gross!

Here at Interbike there are a plethora of vendors supplying bikes and equipment for the bicycle commuter, particularly electric bicycles. There are 80 vendors in this category, with demo rides available from many of them. My inner mom made me stop after I dumped one pretty hard trying to bank through the corner real fast & low like I was on a motorcycle. Not so smart on a slick convention floor! Tomorrow, after putting more Spider Tech tape on every aching muscle, I’ll get back out there and try to give you the rundown on all of them. There’s a wide range of electric assist bikes, everything from slickly styled cruisers to 10-speed road bikes.

After wiping out on the dusty convention floor, I was able to test out my Action Wipes sample, and discovered it really does have a nice Eucalyptus scent and leaves no sticky feeling. A friend who pedals 25 miles to work in LA swears by them for being clean & fresh at the office. Visibility is the key to safe urban cycling.

Bicyclists are invisible simply because motorists don’t perceive us as a threat, so don’t even register seeing us. The more obnoxious we can be visually, the less obnoxious we have to be physically. Then it’s just a matter of wearing something adequately bright and carrying your fresh work clothes in a handy suit bag from Henty while riding in a brightly colored reflective tee from Fiks Reflective. Dust off your old bicycle and give her a tune-up at your local bike shop or kitchen, then take her for a spin to dinner, the park, wherever. If you’re near Los Angeles, check out CicLAvia for a fun way to ride the streets coming up October 7th.

Susanna Schick

Susanna is passionate about anything fast and electric. As long as it's only got two wheels. She covers electric motorcycle racing events, test rides electric motorcycles, and interviews industry leaders. Occasionally she deigns to cover automobile events in Los Angeles for us as well. However, she dreams of a day when Los Angeles' streets resemble the two-wheeled paradise she discovered living in Barcelona and will not rest until she's converted the masses to two-wheeled bliss.