Tagculture

What I like best about bicycling in Chicago

In an interview with a student reporter I gave this past weekend, I was asked to say what I like best about bicycling in Chicago.

I didn’t want to give an answer that would have been true about bicycling in any other city – the question was about here and not about riding a bike. My first answer may seem to disparage Chicago (maybe it won’t be printed…) but a few questions later I told the reporter I wanted to revisit this question.

My new answer put bicycling in Chicago in an extremely positive light and I was being entirely truthful:

What I like best about bicycling in Chicago is the existence of many and diverse subcultures. I mentioned that you can find a group of people who like riding fixed gear bikes, or find a group of parents who ride with their children, or even a group of cargo bike owners (actually, this subculture hasn’t taken off yet – I need to work on that). There are also group rides for every occasion, including one on Sunday for May Day, the Haymarket Ride to Union Park

I felt relieved that I was able to eventually answer this question. I didn’t want to leave the interview telling the reporter that I didn’t like anything about bicycling IN Chicago.

The 2010 Perimeter Ride rolls out after a late dinner at Superdawg. Photo by Eric Rogers.

More evidence of your bicycling culture transition

Low numbers of people in “your” cycling organizations and advocacy groups. From the comments on “Why I’m not a ‘cyclist’ anymore,” a story about moving from a bicycle subculture (United States) to bicycle culture (Copenhagen):

In Amsterdam, 700,000(?) people cycle, only 4,000 are member of the Fietsersbond (cyclist’s union). We always explain this comparing it to the non-existing vacuum-cleaners union. Everybody owns and uses a vacuum cleaner, no-one feels the urge to unite themselves around this.

People riding their bicycles in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Cargo biking, one big sub-sub-culture of American bicycling

Updated May 10, 2011, to include link and information about cargo bike meetup.

As far as the sub-culture of American bicycling goes, cargobikes are quickly becoming one of the fastest sub-sub-cultures.

I’m part of a group of cargobike owners and enthusiasts. We blog and post photographs about our cargo bikes and spread the cargobike love to our friends and neighbors. A friend of mine in Portland, Oregon, first owned a bakfiets (Dutch cargo bike with bucket in front), a Madsen (bucket in back), and now simultaneously owns an orange Yuba Mundo and a black Harry vs. Larry Bullitt (modern, aluminum take on Danish Long John bike).

Travis may like cargobikes more than me – he makes t-shirts!

So what did I do to earn my cargobike chops this month?

I just added five new comments to Dottie’s review of her one-day trip around town with the Yuba Mundo, now for sale at two Chicago local bike shops, J.C. Lind and Blue City Cycles (where mine was born).

I’m also working on emulating this Portland cargo bike meetup for Chicago. My first problem is finding the appropriate bar/restaurant that has a lot of space out front for all the Chicagoans to bring their family and cargo bikes.

Cargo bike meet-up outside Green Dragon Pub in SE Portland. Photo by Jonathan Maus.

I went all the way to Portland, Oregon, to test ride a Yuba Mundo at Joe Bike on Hawthorne. See more photos of my Yuba Mundo or from that trip.

Moving from a subculture to culture

Mikael says bicycling in Chicago is a subculture.*

It will become a culture when lots of people (of all sizes, shapes, and colors) ride bikes for all kinds of trips. Read about the 8 to 80 threshold.

But I’m afraid that our subculture won’t exist anymore if it elevates to being part of the American or Chicago “culture.” Bicycling is the subculture that puts on bicycle scavenger hunts, teaches schoolchildren to repair bikes, takes in abandoned bikes and sells or donates the fixed up ones, goes on Tweed Rides. The same subculture that introduced me to strong friendships, based heavily on our shared passion for using the bicycle as transportation and trying to encourage others to ride for utility as well.

I’m not sure if any of this applies to Portland, Oregon, though. They will be successful in keeping the quirky and whimsical aspects of an American bicycle subculture as they transform into a bicycle culture. This is probably because Portland is so “weird.”

I went to Europe in December 2010/January 2011 and I rode a bike in Como, Italy, watched people ride their bikes in Milan, Italy, then rode a bike in Bremen, Germany, and Utrecht, Houten and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I then rode again in Copenhagen, Denmark. I saw a lot of bicycle culture happening; er, does culture happen or does it just exist?

I would like to move to Europe and get a job or Ph.D there. Continue to learn how to transplant certain aspects of European culture to improve transportation in the United States. (“Making Transit Work” is one of the most interesting papers I read comparing European and American transportation-related cultural characteristics, discussing how urban form and automobile usage affects how often and how many people use transit – we can learn about more than bicycles in Europe.)

But in some of the places I visit or live in Europe, those that have a bike culture, I would have to adapt to a new culture and base my relationships on something other than riding bicycles to get around town. Because connecting to each other because of a shared passion for bicycling and “sustainable transportation” is not a thing. Fixed gear riding is a thing. Riding for sport is a thing. But riding a bicycle because it’s cheaper and more convenient than riding the bus is not something you tell your European friends about – cuz they ride just as often as you do.

*Mikael said this to me when we had dinner and drinks in Copenhagen during my January 2011 visit. Here’s us late that night.

In a bicycle culture, we won’t need to stop people biking on the street and ask them if they want a free headlight. Everyone’ll have a light because the police will ticket them if they don’t (this could happen now but it doesn’t, so education first and a free light is the strategy used in some places, including Chicago).

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