Tag Archives: media critique

Marketing the Simple Bicycling Lifestyle, Part 2

Earlier this week I asked what you would do as a marketer tasked with getting people to switch from cars to bikes. The resulting discussion was impressive.  The main points were to emphasize the ease and desirability of cycling, while not being too pushy or preachy and remembering that infrastructure is the most important piece of the puzzle. Steven Vance is discussing this approach in his Making cycling normal series, and of course it’s a constant theme over at Copenhagenize. Today I was hoping to report back on how I had the opportunity to spread this message via the mainstream media, but life is never that simple.

I volunteered to participate in the filming of a segment on winter cycling for a show on the new ABC Live Well network, along with a few other people, including Elizabeth of Bike Commuters and Julie of The Chainlink. Prior to filming, the producer sent us the following instructions:

Please be bike-ready, that is, bring your bikes and gear. We don’t want anyone showing up to the shoot site coming off a bus in work clothes! And finally, please bring your winter gear. We want to capture some footage of you guys wearing balaclavas, your three layers, and someone applying gel toothpaste to their goggles! (emphasis added)

After reading this, I considered canceling. I have no balaclava, goggles or gel toothpaste tricks, and my goal is to dress in work clothes looking as if I could have stepped off a bus instead of a bike. They obviously had a story in mind that I did not fit into. I should have followed my instinct.

The Interview

The Guys

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Cycling Is More than a Fashion Statement

Cynthia Rowley rides a bike

Cynthia Rowley rides a bike—might want to adjust that seat!

The New York Times has once again acknowledged cyclists—and once again, bikes are newsworthy only as a fashion accessory or style statement. I found this disappointing.

It’s true that bicycles are a thing of beauty and craftsmanship. Just like your choice of car, they have the potential to reflect your personality and make a fashion statement. And of course, bikes made by designers like Cynthia Rowley and Fendi remind people that hey, there are still bikes around, and sometimes people ride them.

But overall, I don’t think that the bicycle as accessory fad will have a long-term effect on cycling culture or make a significant addition to the number of bicycle commuters on the road. And it’s not because I am afraid of “wobbling fashionistas” endangering my safety—I’m happy to encourage anyone who wants to give riding a bike a try.

Here’s my reasoning: By making a bike seem like a luxury item or a fashion accessory, it takes away from the idea of the bicycle as a functional instrument that can be part of anyone’s day-to-day life. Yes, it can and should add beauty to that life as well. Yes, I personally prefer to cycle in everyday clothes, and I try to make those clothes fashionable. But  since a bicycle is meant to be a practical, useful tool for getting around, it’s not something you should buy on looks (or designer name) alone. Are the people who buy these bikes really getting something that fits their needs and lifestyle? If not, they’re not going to be riding longterm.

Perhaps this worry is pointless, since it’s likely that these designer models will only appeal to those who were waiting for a bicycle with enough bling to dazzle them into forgetting that riding it entails getting off the couch and turning off “Gossip Girl.” Those people will likely be perfectly content with a Rowley cruiser. But anyone who thinks these bikes are going to lead to a large increase in bicycle commuters and bike advocates is fooling themselves.

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