The ultimate goal of bike culture

Note: I originally wrote this as a guest piece for the awesome BikingInLA blog.  Seeing a video posted over on Cyclelicious reminded me a lot of the sentiment of this post, so I decided to share it again.

There are many of us so-called avid cyclists that are big on participating in, but also promoting cycling.  I’m one of those folks.  For me, this is partially self-serving.  The more folks that we have out on the road riding their bikes, the more accustomed to bikes on the road motorists will be.  Makes it safer for all of us overall.  Socially I think it is a win.  The oft-cited benefits to health and the environment seem like obviously beneficial gains to me as well. That, and the natural human compulsion to want other folks to enjoy what I enjoy.

For some, it is about fostering a “bike culture.”  A culture where going to the grocery store, or tootling down to the local cafe, or getting the kids to soccer practice, are all things that are perfectly reasonable to do on a bike.  A culture where riding a bike in the rain to get to work doesn’t make you extreme, eccentric or even on the fringe.  A culture where riding a bike is normal.  As normal as driving a car.

And now we have a conundrum.

You see, the ultimate success in striving towards a bike culture, is that you get no bike culture.

There are many of us that live outside of Copenhagen or Amsterdam and idealize what it must be like there.  We lament our horrible cycling situation, and lust after their cycling culture.  We drool over percentages of daily travels done by bike.

But ask them about their bike culture and you may be suprised by the response:  “What?  We don’t have a bike culture, silly!”

That is because they have achieved the goal, and cycling is an average part of every day life.  They don’t go to the store on their bike, they simply go to the store.  There are no velocommutes, there’s just a bunch of folks going to work.

Us crazy Americans often hear tale that we live in a “car culture.”  But in a lot of ways that is not true either.  Sure, we’ve had a fascination with cars for some time.  But just like the guy on the bike in Copenhagen pedaling to work isn’t being part of a bike culture, the mom driving the kids to soccer practice in an ordinary sedan isn’t a part of car culture.

So perhaps a better way to look at this is: the goal of achieving “bike culture” isn’t to make it a cultural movement, or even to make it so common it is overlooked.  Rather, we should strive to make it special in a different way.  We want the woman pedaling in the rain on Monday morning to be a non-noteworthy item, as we look forward to celebrating our bike culture on Saturday with a local bike race and vintage bike show.

If we do that, my fellow bikey folks…  well, then we will have something.