Tim Johnson, apparently a prominent cyclocross racer, recently got into bike advocacy. Says he:
Bike advocacy is about as far away from ‘cool’ as one can get. It’s a world full of recumbents, Day-Glo yellow, helmet mirrors, wool and tweed; the stereotypes that make self-important racers and hardcore enthusiasts cringe.
I’ve often been confused by the question “Are you a serious cyclist?”. I don’t own a car, and bike virtually everywhere I go. I’ve spent a year or so cumulatively living on my bike touring. In eastern Europe, in Mexico. To my mind, this makes me serious. But not so in some other minds. To many it seems that only competition can make one “serious”, and I just don’t understand. But then, I’ve never watched a SuperBowl either.
The gist of the article is that bicycle advocacy has a marketing problem, and I agree with that emphatically. The Day-Glo yellow and helmet mirrors (much though we might love them) turn off not only the spandex-clad superheroes, but also the public at large. However, I don’t think that the “hardcore enthusiasts” are really the right face to put forward either. Cycle Dork is a subculture to which only a few will aspire, but the sporty competitive folks, while “cool” within some narrow swath of the population, are inherently exclusive, by virtue of their competitiveness, as well as the dysfunctionality of their gear in the context of everyday transportation. They are also despised as pretentious aliens and weekend warriors by many non-cyclists. I think most normal folks — the populist bike market — cringe just as enthusiastically at the carbon fiber, body armor and/or color-coordinated skin-tight outfits that the so-called “enthusiasts” adore. The problem isn’t that we’ve chosen to promote the wrong subculture, it’s that we’ve chosen to make cycling subcultural at all.
We need somehow to communicate that bicycles aren’t just for cyclists. They’re for everyone. You’ll notice that the car companies and the AAA aren’t marketing to motorists or automobilists. Their market is every single person in the country. Ours can be too, but not by transforming the population into cyclists. We need instead to make cycling populist. Bikes are transportation for the young and old. For families and fashionistas. In rain or shine or snow. By day and dark of night.
We need a conception of bicycles that is accessible not to 5% of the population, but to 50% or more.