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).