Gearing up for cycling

DebSF -- March 28th, 2010

The experiences of the recent Hburg group working trip to Davis, San Francisco and Sacramento have been covered by Hburg News here and here; local news stories also appeared on WHSV and the DNR (paywalled).

The group brought back invaluable information about ways to develop and retrofit bike infrastructure, from segregated bike lanes and sharrows to ways to manage large numbers of bicycles in the urban landscape (think bike racks at retail locations.) But another piece of the puzzle in putting together a more bike-friendly community will involve changing some perceptions in the local community about cycling.  Paradoxically, the welcome emphasis on safety has made any bike riding feel a little, well, dangerous and scary. The advances in cycling technology may have created the perception that one needs expensive, sophisticated equipment with difficult instruction manuals to even get started. Some of the most visible cyclists in the community – the athletes and racers- wear training gear that seems inaccessible to the average not-so-athletic person.

We know that safety equipment is important, but biking is generally very safe. All clothes are cycling clothes – suits pearls, and, of course, jeans and a t-shirts accessorized by flowers and kids.   This was biking in the 60’s when I grew up (that’s Gus Grissom and his wife).  But this image is just as common today.  So how to begin to alter some of these perceptions so this isn’t unusual in the Valley?

Make it easier to get bikes

How about an annual community used bike swap/ sale? Use the Farmers Market parking lot, safe and accessible to the Water Street deck. Get the local cycling clubs involved to help people figure out what they have to do to get the bike they just bought /bartered fixed up for reliable riding. Ideally, you’d do this between early April and Memorial Day- just as the weather turns seriously warm, attracting kids who have outgrown a bike and are looking to trade up, or adults, looking to get into biking again. Tie this into a Saturday Farmers Market in the spring, or maybe the opening night for Fridays on the Square, getting people downtown in the bargain.

Make it easier to fix bikes

Get the local cycling folks to teach basic bike maintenance. Promote owner-maintenance so people begin to trust their bikes and their own ability to fix the simple, basic stuff on the road. Encourage the creation of something along the lines of the Davis bike collective as a model; this gives a sense of what a working no-frills community bike maintenance shop might look like, and includes an interview Kai Degner did with a young repair-guy biker who clearly knows what he’s doing. All confidence, no fear. Awesome.

Make biking fun and cool for kids

Include bikes in every December /Christmas/ holiday, and July 4th parade.  (Winter bike riding is gaining popularity).

Start with kids and decorated bikes, and encourage entry of middle, high school and adults (Beauty and the Bike, for example, to especially encourage girls; their cycling participation rates are much lower than boys). Fashion and the cool factor is key.   Ignite parental pride -imagine an entry with bikes that pull small floats, a dozen bikes pulling a dozen trailers will little kids holding (leashed!) critters from the SPCA or SVSNC. Change the perception; look at bikes in a new and different way.

Make biking fun and cool and useful for adults

Show grownups the kinds of bike helmets that don’t make you look like a 12-year old, and and those that are just too  fun for words.  City cops use bikes on a day-to-day basis;  get them involved, too.  Bikes are the best kind of transportation for more stuff that we think.

Think about an annual stand-alone bike parade for everyone, competitive, judged, with awards. The kinds of parade categories are endless- silly bikes , weird bikes , hi- tech bikes , art bikes , antique and vintage bikes, as well as decorated bikes associated with a set of themes for that year. Widen the perception of what it means to bike in the community – and who the bike people are.

Almost anything goes – almost.  As a former board member of HDR and a current Hburg planning commissioner,  I suspect we wouldn’t want to join in the promotion of World Naked Bike Day in our efforts (danger, Will Robinson, definitely NSFW), usually held on March 8. The weather, you know, would be an issue.


7 Responses to “Gearing up for cycling”

  1. Sarah says:

    Thanks, Deb, this was very helpful. I own a bike, but am intimidated by the long stretch of S. Main I would have to travel to get to work, to get downtown, etc. I would love to see some of these ideas put into place!

  2. I have supported the introduction of a city-supported bike rental or even free-bike-use system here in Harrisonburg. Washington has a limited one now. These are now widespread in Europe, including in communities smaller than Harrisonburg, so it can be done here.

    Regarding clothing, I have seen men riding city bikes in Paris wearing suits, fancy and expensive ones even. These programs have been popular everywhere they have been introduced. While most involve some sort of payment, in some places the bikes are free, with Copenhagen’s program being the most famous such one.

    Probably the biggest barrier remains the existing nature of the road network here in Harrisonburg. I know that efforts are being made to make it more bike friendly, and an expanded system of bike trails would help.

    In any case, I think something along these lines would be a good thing, and I know that Mayor Degner is open to the idea (although, of course, he may not be mayor for much longer). But I think those on the City Planning Commission, such as DebSF, are open to it, and I suspect that that is support on the Council as well.

  3. Thanh says:

    Great post Deb.

    Bicycle Collective – New Community Project’s “Everyday Bikes!” Program, is working on starting what Deb describes that is like the Davis Bike Collective. They are housed on the property of Our Community Place and until recently were only open on Mondays. They started opening one more day a week, but I don’t remember which day. To be able to help more people and be open more days of the week they will need donations and volunteers to add to this great energy. More information:

    Biking and Looking Good! – Thanks Deb for touching on this topic. While our group was in Davis, CA it struck me that most everyone we bicycled with and saw biking there were in regular street clothes. There were also many UC Davis students wearing cute skirts on bikes, and then we met Lorena Bieghtler from Sacramento, CA. She “advocates bicycling with style”. Here’s a picture of Lorena in her awesome high heeled shoes, biking! Her blog

    Davis Bike Trip Presentations – A few dates are coming up where there will be presentations/Q&A and a showing of the documentary. Interested people are encouraged to come to these events and meet others to discuss bicycling in Harrisonburg and find out how to contribute and grow the support for bicycling as transportation and fun thing to do.

    – Friday April 23, 6-7:30pm @ Blue Nile, “Bike City”. Cost: Free. Davis Delegation members will discuss their experience in Davis, CA: what they learned from the city’s bicycle infrastructure and culture, what inspired them, and how they think we can apply these lessons to Harrisonburg. Discussion will be followed by a Q&A session. This event is part of our community’s Earth Week Celebration (April 17-24) .

    – Saturday May 22, @ Court Square Theater (time to be announced later). Cost: $7. Showing of “American Flyers” & Harrisonburg/Davis Bike Trip Documentary by Paulette Moore, documentary filmmaker/professor at EMU. The Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition will also be accepting donations for local advocacy efforts & canned food for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. A social and dialogue will occur after the movie showings at Blue Nile Cafe. This event is occurring as part of Bike Month. Bike events happening throughout the Month of May! More information or to volunteer during Bike Month contact Lara Mack at lcmack4286 [at] gmail [dot] com or Thomas Jenkins at tj [at] shenandoahbicycle [dot] com.

    Everyone should keep their eyes open for Bike Month events which are being led by members of New Community Project, Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition and other members of the community. There are a lot of great things planned like Bike to Work Week/Day, a bike mural, AlleyCat scavenger hunt, Hoedown, Bike Etiquette class, etc. More information with be forthcoming. If anyone is interested in volunteering for an event or contributing in any way, or if their workplace is interested in participating in Bike to Work Day or learning more about it, please contact Lara Mack, email provided above. Lara and the small group of people working with her are doing a great job creating these Bike Month events, but I think it is true for me to say that they could use and would love more volunteer energy to help grow the event this year and in future years.

    And lastly, reflections from the group who traveled to Davis can be found at their blog,

  4. Thanh says:

    From SVBC’s newsletter: National Bike to Work Day: Get your business/workplace and fellow employees to participate in “Bike to Work” day on May 21st. For more info contact Carl Droms: dromscg [at] jmu [dot] edu

  5. Thanh says:

    Check this out, Sacramento’s Tweed ride event, too cool and too fun!

  6. Deb SF says:

    I’ve read about Tweed Rides, too; they sound like a ton of fun. DC had one last year.

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