A Quiet Velorution is Taking Place


The Breezer Citizen U-frame town bike. Run an errand in style.

Covering Interbike 2007, the largest bicycle trade show in North America, Wired magazine notices an emerging trend:

Some people believe that, right now, a quiet revolution is taking place. In cities like London, San Francisco, Boston and New York, the ranks of bicycle riders are swelling with the rise of a new breed: the urban biker.

Traffic snarls, soaring gas prices and worries about global warming have prompted a big boost in cycling, affecting even places like Los Angeles — America’s freeway capital — that have traditionally given bicycles the cold shoulder.

"What’s really happened in the past year is a cultural shift," says Monica Howe, 31-year-old outreach coordinator for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.

At Interbike 2007, the bicycle industry’s giant annual trade show, the shift toward the urban rider is loudly evident. Fancy road and mountain bikes are clearly no longer king of the roost — or road. It’s the scads of fixed-gear, town, single-speed and other urban bicycles that are drawing the crowds.

  • DESIGN WITHIN REACH is selling a bike. it seems we have turned a corner!

  • ddartley

    THIS is the perfect rebuttal to yesterday’s laughably out-of-touch editorial by the Daily News. That editorial ignorantly tried to put all NYC cyclists into two categories–“commercial” and “recreational,” and in doing so, overlooked the vast majority of NYC cyclists: people using a bike simply to go about their necessary business. The reason I didn’t submit my own response to the News is because I couldn’t think of a concise phrase to use in debunking their stupid dichotomy. Wired magazine has done it with “the urban cyclist.”

    Nice, broad in definition, and human.

  • ddartley

    Oh, except they didn’t use the word “cyclist.”

  • steve

    Next move for DoT: have the city establish a monthly “bike to work” day. Make it the first Friday of each month (a co-opting maneuver in the tradition of Labor Day nee May Day). Do a little print publicity, remind subscribers in the DoT bicycling e-bulletin AND remind subscribers in the motorist e-bulletin to use particular care to avoid bicyclists that day and consider bicycling to helop reduce congestion. Maybe even get Mayor Mike out there on 2 wheels to see how the “lightweights” feel.

  • move ‘critical’ mass from the evening to the morning commute – sort of like the walking school bus idea for kids. bike commuters meet in large groups at predetermined spots and all ride in together, maybe doing a predetermined route and then everyone goes their own way. 2-3-4 miles extra, at most. 5-6-10 different starting points targeting various areas of the city. ride to the start, ride a short loop, ride on to work. start your day in style.

    ‘hov’ for bikes. do it once a month or once as a social event. get some cafes / coffee / foodie type shops to sponsor carts somewhere along the routes. bike shops too. eventually co-workers to cyclists will join in the fun.

  • lee

    steve/mike, those sound like good ideas.

  • Ferdinand Cesarano

    “Fancy road and mountain bikes are clearly no longer king of the roost — or road. It’s the scads of fixed-gear, town, single-speed and other urban bicycles that are drawing the crowds.”

    It is great that the bike industry is seeing a shift towards everyday biking.

    But, single-speed bikes baffle me. I see people on these one-speed touring bikes, but I just can’t imagine why someone would ride one.

    Also, the idea that there is something more appropriate for general urban riding than the “mountain bike” strikes me as odd. It seems to me that a “mountain bike” — with its 15/18/21 speeds, wide wheels, and sturdy frame — is in fact, despite its name, the ideal city bike.

    So, while I am glad to think that urban riding is now considered a “new” trend, I’d hate to see some kind of new so-called “urban” bike crowd out the basic “mountain bike” style.

  • ddartley

    Ferdinand, I’ve been commuting on a decent entry-level mountain bike for four years now, and I ride fairly “assertively,” let’s call it.

    For a long time now, I have wanted to replace it with a sturdy hybrid. With my relatively small wheels, wide tires, and heavy frame and (unnecessary) front shock absorber, I envy those cyclists who speed past me–with what seems to be less effort!

  • steve

    Ferdinand, I couldn’t agree more. I break enough spokes and lose true often enough on a hybrid as it is. A road bike would have me in the shop constantly. I’m thinking of switching going to a mtn bike, maybe swap out the waffle tires though since they do slow you down.

  • On a bike

    Nice bike!

    For myself, I’d stick w/ mountain bikes (18 speed or higher).
    I know that if I had a road bike, I would have destroyed it by now. I love going over potholes at full speed, and many roads that I use have considerable debris that I feel only mountain bikes can handle safely.

    In other words, they’re perfect for the city!

  • ddartley

    Jeez, am I wrong? Should I stick to my mountain bike and skip the hybrid I want?

  • Sarah Goodyear

    I just got a Surly Cross-Check. It’s a cyclocross bike but it’s really versatile and great for the city. I’ve been in touch with a lot of satisfied urban commuters who ride this style. I just don’t like mountain bikes on pavement myself.

    Fortunately there are a ton of bikes out there for everyone. Ride what you love!

  • Mitch

    This thread might be a good place to mention a new publication, out of Montana, of all places, call The Practical Pedal. They focus on bicycles as a form of practical transportation — “an awesome way to get around,” in their words. They’re on their second issue, right now, and their articles so far have covered practical matters, like bakfietsen, Xtracycles, and techniques for biking to work without smelling bad all day.

    Streetsbloggers will like this publication’s spirit, and might be able to find ways to help it develop. They also have a website and blog:
    http://practicalpedal.com/

  • I’ve got myself a touring bike with road geometry and tough wheels. This bike is rugged, but moves quickly and efficiently like any other road bike. Plus it has a sturdy front & rear rack, so I can carry lots of stuff. Much better than a mountain bike for city riding (assuming you can deal without the suspension fork). I use to have a hardtail mountain bike for commuting and after switching to a touring bike, I can’t see using a mountain bike for anything but off-road riding.

  • I’ve got a Specialized Cirrus Elite hybrid at Bicycle Habit that is great for city commuting. It’s light, sturdy and rarely gives me any trouble.

  • Ferdinand Cesarano

    Steve — Go for it! I bet you’ll enjoy the switch. But maybe you are right about the waffle tire design. Still, once you change to a more appropriate tire, then the sheer width of the mountain bike wheel will be a big plus in the non-Manhattan-avenue portions of the world, where one encounters bumps/potholes/pebbles galore.

    Ddartley — While I’d doubt that switching away from a mountain bike will let you go any faster, I’d agree with your sidelong glance at shocks. (I don’t have shocks, and so I forgot that they are now considered standard on a mountain bike.) If the hybrid you are considering has fewer speeds than the mountain bike you have, then this factor, combined with the thinner wheels, would likely leave you needing to use more effort than you do now.

    If your current mountain bike is not cutting it, and you want to get a new bike, maybe just a better mountain bike might do. You don’t have to spend much — you can get something good and durable for $250 or maybe less. (At a real bike store; not at Toys R Us or some deptartment store.)

  • Spud Spudly

    I have a Specialized hybrid as well and it’s always been good for me. I don’t commute with it, but I’m also not one of those recreational riders who only uses it in a park or some other protected space — I’ve had that thing all over the city and from Westchester out to Rockaway.

    Regarding gears, I think the issue of number of gears on a bike is overblown. My Specialized has 15 gears and really, few people would use all of those. Ten gears is more than enough and I bet that five would be sufficient for 95% of people if they had properly spaced ratios.

  • E Gore Stravinsky

    Bikes are like shoes; you need a slew of trusty steeds in order to satisfy every occasion.

  • mfs

    I have noticed more and more bikers in Brooklyn and downtown this summer. Last night on the way home at 10p we had an impromptu mini bike parade on East 3rd street of commuters.

  • Felix

    I have the same bike as Aaron and Spud. I first used it as a recreational (in-city) bike and now I commute with it. I like it a lot.

    Mike, TimesUp used to do a Thurs. morning ride from Brooklyn (mid 1990’s?), but I don’t think it ever caught on. I’ll bet it would now.

  • i borrowed one of those one-speed cruiser bikes while i was out in portland, and it was really fun to ride (except up mt. tabor!). seems like a similar design to what they call a “city bike” in amsterdam, meaning you sit upright, and it is heavy and wide enough to ride on or off any curb and barely feel it. that type of bike is also nice for people who can’t take a lot of pressure on their hands and wrists, because the handlebars curve to the side instead of being directly in front of you. they usually have a chain guard, nice for folks who ride in dress clothes. plus it makes you feel like pee wee herman!

  • Andy B from Jersey

    It’s about time the American industry started catching on to the fact that total novices don’t start a lifetime of cycling by buying a $2000 carbon fiber road bikes. Many people just want a casual bike that they can ride in normal cloths. I’ve been complaining for over 2 years now that the American industry has become totally out of touch with the needs of people who are currently non-cyclists. They (particularly older Boomers) remember riding 3speed bikes in an upright position with a grocery basket (for delivering newspapers) and maybe a (dreaded) generator light.

    If you go into any German bike shop (I visit often to see family), 80% of the bikes on the shop floor are simple commuters and town bikes with comfortable upright rider positions. This is even the case for shops that have a reputation for carrying higher end road and mountain bikes. Commuter bikes start for as little as 250 Euros and include fenders, generator lights and a rear rack. Compare that to a $500 low end commuters being offered by the American companies. Your lucky if that bike even comes with fenders at that price. Also most entry level cyclists won’t spend $500 on an entry level bike. They still think a bike is supposed to cost $150 but with a little explaining you could entice them with a bike for $300. (Sucks that the Dollar ain’t worth a hoot anymore!)

    The new “Coasting” bikes from Shimano are not the answer either. I bet there is at least over $125 in added technology and componentry in that system just to make the 3-speed hub shift automatically that could be used for fenders, rack and lights. I say, if you can’t figure out how to shift a 3-speed internal hub then you’ve got bigger problems; Like missing a brain!! Nothing could be easier to use than a 3-speed internal hub but then again Americans have a reputation for not being too bright.

    The real bicycle innovations are happening in Denmark, The Netherlands, Germany and a bit in England (Those wacky Brits come of with some really cool, oddball ideas from time to time). The bicycle companies their keep on coming up with new and creative innovations that make the humble bicycle an increasingly practical option for tasks normally reserved for the automobile. Most notable are the Bakfietsen (Dutch for “box bike”), AKA the “Dutch Minivan”, coming out of the Netherlands with versions also being produced by German and Danish manufacturers as well.

    To satisfy an overwhelming demand by enthusiast Clever Cycles (http://clevercycles.com/) of Portland OR (Of course Portland!) has started importing Bakfietsen as well as the traditional Oma and Opa bikes (old-school Dutch townbikes). They can’t keep them in stock and are getting requests from all over the USA.

    If we want 20% bicycle mode share in this country, the industry will need to produce practical bikes that can be used to replace car trips, by regular people in regular cloths. For the past 20 years, the American bike industry has been merely producing toys for us bike freaks and not functional transportation for everyone else!

    Andy B

    PS – My daily commuter is a 3-speed Ross Eurotour from the 1970’s, complete with fenders, chain guard and rear baskets. It weighs about 40lbs but its one of the easiest and most comfortable bikes I own.

  • flp

    wrong, wrong, wrong!

    the REAL revolution is everyone building up bikes, buying bikes built up by independent shops, or getting their hands on used bikes via craig’s list, etc.

    many (but not enough) of the city’s cyclists are saying good bye to factory assembled, “off the rack” bikes!

  • Dave H.

    I thought all the bikes on Craig’s list were stolen.

  • Jonathan

    I ride a ten-speed mixte frame with a straight bar, narrow tires, fenders and rack. The mixte helps with extra suspension for bouncing off curbs, and the 700 wheels keep me going fast. Mountain bikes’ knobby tires are too wide and too noisy, and the geometry means you have to keep your hands on the bars all the time or feel wobbly. The mixte practically steers itself.

  • Ferdinand Cesarano

    Anne — You mentioned sitting upright on your one-speed bike. I certainly see why that is comfortable; but, of course, one also sits upright on a mountain bike! Indeed, this was the main feature that I noticed when I tried my first one out in 1992, and a huge improvement over sitting hunched over on the 10-speed frame. (This revelation happened the day after someone had stolen my previous bike, which was the regular 10-speed frame. I wound up wishing someone had stolen it earlier!)

    Jonathan — Well, yes, you have to keep your hands on the handlebars of a mountain bike! Though I admit I rode with no hands from time when I was a kid, it is not something I would consider doing now, even if I could.

    I think this makes for a jumping-off point for a different discussion. So, here goes: If you ride with no hands on the street (as opposed to on a closed track), then, to be honest, this strikes me as an irresponsible thing to do. Also, I think it creates a bad impression of cyclists to any non-cyclist who sees you doing this.

    (Jonathan, please understand that I am engaging in what I perceive to be a fair criticism of your stated actions, in hopes of promoting a discussion among cyclists, and not a flame-war.)

    This is a critique that I have also made on occasion to friends. There is this one friend I sometimes ride with who used to cause me a little embarrassment along these lines. He would never stop at crosswalks for red lights — he would just roll right through, and then stop (or not) at the front end.

    I am not claiming that I wait out the entire red light in every case; but I *do* always stop at the crosswalk before continuing through if traffic allows, for the simple reason that the crossing pedestrians are entitled to an unimpeded path across the street.

    Several times while riding with this friend, I witnessed the crossing pedestrians being surprised by his rolling through the crosswalk. So I had to finally tell this guy that I didn’t dig riding with him if he was going to do that, for the same reason that I have cited to Jonathan — because I felt it put cyclists in a bad light.

    He seemed to understand this reasoning — or else he is humouring me. Either way, he doesn’t do that anymore when we ride together.

    Anyway, I hope that Jonathan will not take undue offense; and I also hope that others will agree that the concept of promoting a good image of cyclists is in the interest of everyone who rides a bike, and of everyone who hopes for the continuation of the recent trend towards improving bike infrastructure. If we make the general public think we’re mostly jerks, then that’s going to be bad for us.

  • Andy B,

    I recall, from a trip to Europe a few years back, that the 1 Euro is worth 1.50 U.S. Dollars.

    That may account for some of the price discrepancy between the German commuter bike and the U.S. commuter bikes you saw.

    My own two cents about this Interbike trend: single speed bikes require little to no maintenance – few carry brakes, and they can be removed or are coaster brakes, an there are no gears – so the drive train is easier to maintain.

    Once the bike is adjust to fit your body, all you really have to worry about are wheels going out of true or flat tires.

    What could be better for a commuter bike?

  • Jonathan

    I always stop at red lights, and I never ride no-hands in traffic. That’s what the Hudson river bike path is for. 🙂 But I can relax my elbows and shoulders more while riding the 10-speed than I can while riding the ATB, because the 10-speed is less wobbly.

    I forgot to mention in my earlier post the value of bike shoes and clipless pedals. Bike shoes keep your knees healthy by stabilizing your foot from flexing. Clipless pedals eliminate the risk that your foot will slip off the pedal when you mash down really hard.

  • vince

    I’m a retro newbee. I really haven’t been on a bike for over 50 years since I was 15. I wanted to get a sturdy bike at reasonable cost that I could use with my grandkids. Living in rural NJ with some off road as well as paved surfaces should I consider a hybrid or a low end mountain bike? Comments and advice will be appreciated.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I’ve had a racing bike for the past ten years, but I haven’t been riding much recently because I just don’t find it satisfying. I’m always going fast and worrying about cars around me. Having to lean so far forward to brake is frustrating too.

    A few weeks ago someone posted a comment here with a link to a post about the seat angles of various bikes. The idea that Dutch “comfort bikes” were only a few degrees less reclined than recumbents made me think about a more comfortable ride.

    I went down to Bike Habitat and priced some bikes. I talked to a guy named Matt, who pointed out that the comfort bikes were all a bit heavy to carry up to my third-floor apartment. He suggested a hybrid and said that you’re not quite as upright in one, but much more so than in a touring bike. I took one for a spin and found it to be very comfortable and easy to maneuver. I’ll probably be getting one soon.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I found the diagram I mentioned above:

    http://clevercycles.com/?p=193

    (picture of nude bike jousters at the end possibly not safe for work)

    They’re not only heavy, but they’re expensive too. Guess I’m stuck with a hybrid for now.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Looking at the comments on the link I just posted, I noticed that our friend Andy B from Jersey posted a link to Worksman Cycles, based right here in Queens. These are much more reasonably priced, but I’m guessing they’re not as ergonomic. I’d also assume that they’re just as heavy to carry upstairs, and just as difficult to pedal across the Queensborough Bridge. Hm, I’m tempted, though. Has anyone here ridden a Worksman bike?

  • Andy B from Jersey

    The Clever Cycles diagram is excellent and explains the position issue perfectly. I was going to post the link but Angus, you beat me to it.

    I’ve never ridden a Worksman but the are very heavy. At least 35 to 40 pounds but that’s not the point. They are perfectly ergonomic for sitting in an upright position and cruising around with 20 extra pounds of cargo. The comfort of the upright positions makes the weight penalty disappear as long as you don’t have any major hills. New York has none that qualify in my opinion, including all the bridges. Plus Worksman soes make a great pizza delivery bike!

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