The Natural Attraction to Bicycles

I am still thinking a lot about bicycle marketing, and how important a simple and positive message is for eventual infrastructure change. I strongly believe that on a basic level people are naturally attracted to bicycles. Cycling reminds them of the freedom and fun of childhood. If only we can expose everyone to the beautiful side of cycling – think Copenhagen – the tide would start to turn in our favor.

11-8 sunday

Out and about with Oma

Am I veering too far into unicorn-and-faerie territory?  An experience today makes me think that this idea is not too far-fetched.  Two people approached me in awe of Oma, neither of whom seemed like bike enthusiasts in any general way: a middle-aged man and an elderly woman with a cane. While I was unlocking Oma outside a thrift shop, both came up to me excited to talk about her, and we all chatted for several mintutes. The woman actually exclaimed, “What a bike!” and had such a happy gleam in her eye. There is no denying the power of that type of natural attraction.

11-8 bow

Lulu Letty Bow

(I am going to give some credit to my bow, because I think there’s something about wearing a huge bow that makes a person more approachable. This one – a hair bow I tied around the waist of my vintage dress – I recently bought from the fabulous blogger Lulu Letty.)

Wouldn’t that make for a better world? Bikes and bows for everyone! :)

11-8 shoes

Cycling shoes - thrifted Manolo Blahniks

Seriously, there must be something to this. The people I met today certainly do not approach every bicyclist they pass on the sidewalk.

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45 thoughts on “The Natural Attraction to Bicycles

  1. Mike says:

    This reinforces my belief that your joy of cycling is the best form of marketing. You look genuinely happy (not to mention stylish and fetching!) on/with your bikes and it’s contagious.

    Keep up the great ambassadorship!

    BTW, I love the El platform behind you in the first shot. What a gorgeous city.

  2. Carolyn says:

    What a touching story. Do you think that if one looks likes she’s enjoying doing something, others will be more interested in trying it out? Wow..well I do smile lots on my I hope I get others inspired to bike too. And that makes me want to smile even more!

  3. Sungsu says:

    When we first got our trail-a-bike, we got a lot of looks and comments, but over time as trail-a-bikes became more common, not so much. Then we upped the ante and got a double trail-a-bike, and the “love” returned, especially when the girls have their umbrellas up. :-)

  4. Su Yin says:

    I was laying out a page today and there was a line that read: ‘At least [cyclists] are wearing lycra so that you don’t have to’.

    When I was done, I marked ‘I do not approve of this sentence’ on the print out. I hope my editor changes the line to something a bit more positive seeing as it points to a story that is supposed to promote cycling.

    Otherwise I’ll just throw an all-mighty tantrum until I get my way. ;-)

  5. Felicity says:

    That’s it…I’m slapping a bow on my bike tomorrow!

  6. Frits says:

    David Hembrow has a video from 1990 on his site. Well worth seeing, even with a marketing eye.

  7. Stephen says:

    I wonder if you’d have received the same reception or interest had you been dressed up in “bicycling clothes.” The tight lycra thing might have been intimidating to the middle-aged man(I certainly would have been), and offputting to the elderly woman.

    The bow is only part of it. With the way you dress and present yourself, you not only demystify bicycling, but you are a de facto ambassador for rational urban bicycling.

  8. E A says:

    Not to mention the bikes! Betty and Oma are lovely cycles. People may feel intimidated by a race-looking bike but feel they can approach Oma. I always like when I get a compliment on my bike – el toro. Even though it’s a black clasic Schwinn frame, the pink accents seem to get the looks. ;-)

  9. dukiebiddle says:

    Yesterday I was riding through a residential neighborhood, testing out some fixes to an old 3 speed I’m rehabbing, when a gaggle of 12 year olds complemented the bike. Silly me, I took them literally and thanked them, to which of course they burst into laughter and questioned my sexuality mockingly. The tears in my eyes were from the wind, not their hurtful words, I SWEAR! ;-)

    Maybe if I was wearing a bow they would have been nicer? ;-)

    • G.E. says:

      {giggling} I think we can never take 12 year olds seriously. I say, ignore the pre-teens and keep up the work. Others will definitely appreciate it, even if the kiddos don’t.

      • dukiebiddle says:

        No worries. My concerns for the next generation would have been far more grave had they not mocked me. I got a good chuckle out of the whole situation… after I peddled harder to get away from them, of course.

    • Frits says:

      A bow doesn’t go well with lycra, you should know that! Children … I came home this afternoon carrying groceries in a very red bag, so imagine a rather short 70 year old in a long black coat and a hat. Two girls of around 10 rode by and yelled from afar that I had a wonderfully red bag. Now I’m aware that I live in a rural part of the country where children are still innocent enough to talk to strangers, so I think they meant it as a compliment. But you never know.

    • Giffen says:

      Hah! I find teenagers so intimidating even though I pretend not to.

  10. […] Bicycle Transportation Examiner wants to make the point that bicycles are not just a white thing. Let's Go Ride a Bike talks about the natural attractiveness of bicycles. And The Infrastructurist reports on another […]

  11. Michelle on a step thru says:

    I feel like my vintage bikes (both from the 70s) tend to get pleased looks from folks over 50 or so. I haven’t had a chance to speak with anyone – usually in traffic and running late for something – but I wonder if the classic bicycle reminds them of their youth. They get a wistful expression on their face, like they are reminiscing about bicycling to high school or something…

  12. […] Bicycle Transportation Examiner wants to make the point that bicycles are not just a white thing. Let's Go Ride a Bike talks about the natural attractiveness of bicycles. And The Infrastructurist reports on another […]

  13. […] Bicycle Transportation Examiner wants to make the point that bicycles are not just a white thing. Let's Go Ride a Bike talks about the natural attractiveness of bicycles. And The Infrastructurist reports on another […]

  14. […] Bicycle Transportation Examiner wants to make the point that bicycles are not just a white thing. Let's Go Ride a Bike talks about the natural attractiveness of bicycles. And The Infrastructurist reports on another […]

  15. Catherine says:

    Everyone loves my Amsterdam–I get people commenting on it positively all the time. It’s about half women in the 25-45 range, the other half a mix of men of all ages and older women. One of the more unusual admirers was a middle aged, paunchy man driving a Mercedes northbound while I was headed southbound. We were both stuck in a bit of traffic. His window was rolled down, he was smoking a cigar, his wife in the passengers’ street. He said that he really liked my bike, and he’d like one just like it–where did it come from? I was particularly surprised by him because my experiences with middle aged men in nice sports cars are really not of the “bike friendly” variety (and certainly not Dutch bike friendly).

    Also, incidentally, I’ve noticed that a good portion of the men who comment on the bike are foreign-born. I’ve stopped to talk with several older British men who profess to have had one just like it when they were younger and who regret that they don’t make them like that anymore, an Indian cab driver (I needed rescuing one night–long story) who LOVED it and also claimed to have had one just like it and would pile on it with his two brothers.

    It’s really very interesting!

  16. lorenza says:

    Dottie I love everything about the first photo, that bow is soooo cute!

    Who takes the photos btw, Mr Dottie? I usually cycle on my own to work (we work opposite ways unfort) so a part from some sideways panda shots not so much chance of showing what I wear while I cycle ;)

    L xxx

  17. sara says:

    I am not a bow woman, but yours is lovely, Dottie. No bows but ROBOTS help. Yes, our robot-decorated cargo bike seems to elicit smiles and positive comments.

  18. Kristyn says:

    So…I’m scanning my Facebook live feed via my Blackberry this morning, and who do I see but Dottie and Oma, a familiar enough sight. But, wait! Why are Dotty and Oma on my Facebook?

    Well, seems my bikeshop posted a link to this blog article. What a small world and congrats. Seems your article has been circulated far and wide. ;)

    BTW, I’m enjoying my Pashley very much (just wish I could get the light working). I still want an Achielle, though, lol.

    • Trisha says:

      Oh, Kristyn, eager to hear more about your Pashley. Sorry to say that if our experience is any guide, buying one bike does not keep you from lusting after others. :)

  19. grambev says:

    l’ve been thinking of that possibility even before you posted about this. You probably could do it if anyone could! ;)

  20. chibikegal says:

    Oma is a magnet, taxi drivers, senior citizens, fellow bicycle grocery shoppers, cyclists passing me, teenage suburbanites in shopping for the day on Michigan avenue, Spanish tourists walking by my house (they asked if they could take a photograph, she was locked up on my front stoop) – they have all come up to ask about the bicycle. I once came out of the ladies room off the bike path by soldiers field, and there was a semicircle of people around her. And note, I purchased Oma just three months ago … I haven’t really figured out the energy of Oma, but it is a good one.

  21. What a pretty outfit! I like the black bow on gray; very French.

  22. People stop me to admire my bicycle as well. I think it’s the overall Gestalt of the basket, the loop frame, the dressguard and chaincase, etc. And when I am dressed up I am a lot like more likely to be spoken to about the bicycle. I think it’s mostly a matter of people being attracted to the unusual – especially when the unusual has a bit of a magical feel to it, like these elaborate old-fashioned bicycles of ours.

  23. miss sarah says:

    You totally know I’m sold on both bikes and bows. People talk to me about Pashley too, all sorts of people. The other day this guy was like, “yeah, my girlfriend doesn’t ride very often, she’s too into her shoes and stuff.” I just stood there thinking, “And uh… do you KNOW who you’re talking to?”

    Ironic. Since I had the shoes. And stuff. And Dexter! But I told him to peep my blog and send it to her saying that maybe if she saw somebody riding like a “regular” person she would feel better about starting up?

    I think the fear mongering is the worst for more cyclists. If people just weren’t so afraid of traffic. Also, if cars would stop running over people.


    • chibikegal says:

      since traffic can be scary, I’m thinking that an added benefit of a lovely outfit + lovely bike + sitting up is that they make a cyclist just that much more visible. (or am I just creating an excuse to go shopping?…)

    • Mamavee says:

      yes to fear mongering. I didn’t ride b/c of it. I even had my friend the bike shop owner tell me NOT to use a kid seat on the back of the bike b/c it was SO unsafe. He gave me a trailer which I appreciated but I was too scared to try it. I then felt that bikes were for bike paths and had no clue how to get my bike and trailer to the bike path many miles away. Plus bike paths ( that go no where and one cannot get to) are boring so I never tried too hard… I feel sad. I missed out on 4 years of cycling when I really wanted to give it a try back then.

    • Su Yin says:

      Chibikegal, you’re right on the money! In my experience, people tend to take more care around you when you’re NOT in hi-vis gear or ugly cycle-specific clothing.

  24. Mamavee says:

    I missed this. Yes! Today an elderly lady stopped me and talked to me for quite some time about the bike. About how it worked, noting the rain shield and how happy the kids looked. We finished our conversation with her saying ” You are a really good mom”. Now I won’t take credit for being a good mom simply b/c I bike. I just as cranky and apt to yell and reprimand etc. But I appreciated that she took a liking to it when she didn’t look like she had been on a bike in years. And that she decided that I was benifiting my kids by it and therefore a good mom was really nice- rather than the- that is so unsafe- refrain. I think The Sorte just makes people feel safe about biking as it is so steady and looks like a pram-bike. I can’t count how many people have commented on it’s supposed safety and then railed against parents who use trailers. I always have to say the trailers are safe too, I just find this bike easier to use than the trailer is all…. long ramble…

  25. While riding around South Beach last weekend for Sleepless Night, our Amsterdams were total rock stars (well, my wife’s more than mine, but still). It’s not common at all to see two Euro-style city bikes in Miami, and with the amount of people on South Beach, there literally hundreds and hundreds being exposed to a completely different style of bike than what they usually see. We were stopped over and over to talk about our bikes, especially my wife (hard to ignore an Amsterdam in yellow with tulips painted all over), about my panniers, her wicker basket, etc. We were asked how do we use them, what kind of riding we do as well. It was grassroots, word-of-mouth marketing from two happy consumers, and our enthusiasm was contagious. That’s one kind of marketing I can totally get behind. People like bikes inherently; cute bikes just bring it out in gushes.

  26. Peter says:

    If you don’t mind me saying, but you and your bike look stunning in that picture.

    Funny to see they’re called ‘oma’ (Dutch for ‘granny’) bikes over there too.

    I’ve never understood why in some other parts of the world (e.g. USA) bikes are so utterly un-utilitarian – no fenders, no chain guard, no integrated locks, no rear rack, no bicycle pump/repair set, no kickstand, no bell, no lighting, etc.etc.

    The reflective tyres really stand out in your picture. They’re legally required to be reflective over here (Netherlands), legislation that was introduced around 1986 (my first year in highschool, IIRC). At the time I thought it was silly (‘surely they can see me without it?!’), but over time I’ve come to really appreciate them, both as a cyclist and car driver. It still amazes me often how hard it sometimes is to see bicyclists in the dark when sitting inside a car, especially in the dark and when raining. I wouldn’t want to ride a bicycle without reflective tyre rims again (ignoring the fact that it’s hard to find non-reflective tyres here anymore nowadays)

    As to the elderly people remarking that ‘they don’t make bikes like that anymore’… sure they do! They commonly sell oma-fietsen in hardware stores and the Aldi even over here. I’ve seen them for as low as 139 euro (about 200 US$) – just don’t have too high expectations of the quality.

    BTW, the white lower part of the rear fender is no longer legally required – at least not in the Netherlands, not for the past twenty years…. :-) Though I’ve got to admit it looks good. Think I should re-do the white paint job on the lower-rear fender of my iron stead too, it has mostly worn off after 25 years of use.

    Peter.(<– mostly a Challenge Hurricane recumbent rider nowadays, but still often uses the 'opa' variant bike too)

  27. Kelly says:

    Love your dress!

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