So I had a bit of a discussion with frequent commenter k in the comment thread on this post about the difference between cycling for fun and cycling for transportation. Of course, the two overlap by a great deal: many recreational cyclists have been known to go places on a bike, and many utility cyclists (myself included) have been known to both enjoy riding while going somewhere, and to ride just for the joy of it on occasion. My father was a world-class mountain cyclist, and he also pedalled around town- I have memories of him hauling around my three, four and five-year-old self around in a yellow bicycle trailer through the streets of Fremont, and of driving off the mountain to pick him and his bicycle up and take both home. (He'd ride all the way to Palmdale from Wrightwood to work as a bike mechanic, and then would ride back to the foot of the mountain off SB County N-4, and my mother would meet him in her car with a bike rack. He's since gone on to teaching in a special education classroom.) The point is, without delving too much into my family life, there is substantial overlap between cyclists who do it for sport, fitness and recreational reasons and those who ride to get places. However, there is a difference between the two when we consider how we plan cycling facilities and our cities for cyclists, and I'd like to examine that difference.
The Sport/Recreational Cyclist:
This is often the image that comes to people's minds, at least here in the US, when you say the word "cyclist"- folks dressed in lycra pants and jerseys (often covered in logos), riding for the purpose of riding, and usually for the purpose of going far and fast. You often see packs of these folks out on our roadways on any given weekend, and a 40-50 mile ride is commonplace for them. They aren't trying to go anywhere in particular, or if they are (as is often the case- they meet up at the bagel shop in the Canyon Crest Towne Centre), they're doing it via a long and circuitous route designed to provide exercise. Often, they are competitive cyclists that compete in organized races, and are riding as part of a training program. Organized clubs of cyclists like these are very common, and Riverside hosts a very large one, as do many other IE cities. Recreational cyclists can often be seen advocating for cycling facilities along roadways, such as bike lanes and bike route signage, and are often the primary impetus behind recreational trails like the Santa Ana River Trail and the Victoria Avenue bike path. They can also be seen driving to ride meeting locations with bikes on car-mounted racks, and driving away again afterwards. While they are all cyclists on the weekends, many are the very motorists I am fighting against on the weekdays. And one last thing- the fact that many people think of recreational cycling when (if) they think of cycling at all leads to the impression that cycling is a sport (requiring special clothing, like Lycra pants), and that bicycles are toys or sporting goods (not serious tools for transportation).
The Utility Cyclist:
This young lady in Sydney, Australia demonstrates nicely the differences between the recreational cycling that already exists, and the sort of utility cycling that we need desperately to advocate for. Notice first the differences in equipment- she's wearing everyday street clothing, and her bicycle is obviously designed for comfort and carrying capacity (unlike racing cycles, which are often designed to be as light as possible, and omit such niceties as cargo racks and baskets). Second, the girl in the second photo looks entirely natural- while she's riding a bicycle, the bicycle is not the point of whatever outing she's on. This is the difference between driving a car in a rally or race, and simply running errands around town. Now, the girl in the second photo is actually making a "trip" that would otherwise have to be accomplished by automobile, and she has different needs from the sport cyclist. For example, she'll probably be parking her bicycle wherever she's going, rather than simply returning home or to her car's bicycle rack, so she'll need secure bicycle parking. Second, she's probably got a specific destination or two in mind, so she can't always just plan her route based on where the city has provided cycle facilities. If you're just out to ride 50 miles, then 50 miles on the Santa Ana River Trail are as good as any other miles, and you'll probably avoid roads without cycle facilities as much as possible. If, however, you're meeting friends at a restaurant, you might find that the street that restaurant is on has no bike lanes. I am always annoyed at the location of the Santa Ana River Trail- I love to ride it, because it's quiet, well-maintained and car-free, but it doesn't *go* anywhere- in most cases I'd have to ride to the other side of the city, take the trail, and then ride halfway back across the city. (I find Victoria a touch more useful, but it still has this problem.)
The point is that the needs of different classes of cyclists are very different, and we should be actively encouraging cycling specifically as a form of transportation. While recreational cycling is undoubtedly a good thing (it keeps people healthy and has supported a vibrant bicycle & bike part market, and it's fun!), it is not the sort of cycling that creates vibrant urban environments and solves our transportation and land use problems.
Photos are courtesy of swoo and Velovotee via Flickr, used under Creative Commons. See original photo pages for license details.