Friday, July 11, 2008

I'm seeing a lot more bike-commuters lately

As I ride in to work it's nice having more company. And it's fun seeing the wide variety of bikes, clothes, bags and such that these new riders select. A lot of them just bring whatever they have hanging around the house, literally, from years past when they briefly flirted with cycling as a lifestyle. And some interesting old bikes are seeing sunlight for the first time in years. But I have to admit that I am skeptical of the staying power of these "fair-weather bike-commuters."

The warm, dry weather, and the long daylight hours have helped encourage these riders, of course. But the high price of gas has too. I doubt that they are likely to keep riding if gas prices drop again. In the 1970s there was a similar surge in cycling, but it ended when the oil embargo did. That's understandable: We are human and it isn't normal to put yourself into an uncomfortable situation, like on a bike seat, when there is a comfortable alternative, like a car. Only weirdos like me choose the hard path!

I have been bike-commuting nearly every day since 2002, and before that I mostly worked at home. In fact, I have only ever commuted by car for about four years total out of my 25 year career, most of that while I was attending college and working full-time. I chose this in part because:

  • I was raised to care about the health of our environment.
  • I was also raised not to waste needlessly.
  • My health and fitness matter to me and I have tried to never take them for granted.
  • The typical commute by car didn't appeal to me and can be stressful.
  • I am a car enthusiast and have always taken good care of my cars and didn't want to put unnecessary miles on them.
  • I love cycling!

OK, I know this all sounds "holier than thou." Sorry. Though it should be noted most of those reasons are selfish, so how can that be seen as somehow noble? Hey, I do this mostly for me, and I do own and drive a car! So while I do feel good about my positive contribution to our world, I'd ride regardless.

But what I'm getting at is that it is unreasonable to expect people to take up bike-commuting unless they are absolutely forced to. People have shown that neither their own poor health, the deteriorating environment, the high costs, nor the death toll from driving, will get them out of their comfortable cars. We love 'em!

Gas costs have made driving a larger part of our monthly expenses, and inefficient gas-guzzlers are dropping in value to the point where the owners of them can't unload their vehicles... the low selling prices would cost them even more than the cost of the extra gas! Some people have bought scooters, electric bikes, hybrid cars or motorcycles in response. A few hardy souls have dusted off their old bicycles or bought new ones. Business is up in bike shops, and compacts are the top-selling cars in the U.S.

If gas prices drop again I will expect to see a drop in the number of bike-commuters out there too... all the great reasons for riding forgotten. And a resurgence of SUVs at the expense of hybrids. But who really believes the price for gas will drop again in our lifetimes? It won't for long, or by much, I suspect.

And even if people here keep cycling because of continuing high gas prices, it's not like the burn-rate of our limited oil reserves will go down. In fact it's mostly increased demand from developing nations that has caused the recent gas price increases. So we humans will be destroying our environment just like usual, and even paying more to do it, until we finally run out of oil.

I look forward to seeing you all out there on your fun old bikes!

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