The Spokesmen #133 – Big Brains

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Today’s Spokespeople:


Video: Unboxing a Bike from JensonUSA (via 


Cyclist Safety and Advocacy

Industry News

Tips, Hints and Best Practices

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  1. April 4, 2016

    I was left this excellent comment by Ryan, on my Two Wheels and Half a Brain blog post about the show;

    Just got done listening to the show and wanted to share a couple things. First, as someone who has performed medical services at 906 cycling events I can say that vehicles are certainly a problem. There are times the promoter or other officials askpeople to drvie in the caravan or perform some other duty and they’ve never driven in a caravan before and many have never even raced before (and I’m not just talking about doing wheel support at some local event). i’ve also gotten contratcs to work races BECAUSE I have caravan experience. Some more responsible promoters recognize that as a great and rare skill to have and appreciate it. There are still times I have been zipping along a city street 80mph and praying that no kid runs out in the street. They HAVE to allocate sports on the road though…some guarenteed and some on a lottery system but there needs to be a system where there are just so many press cars, sponsors, etc.

    I had an opportunity to be on a moto at one race and a rider’s girlfriend want to ride along. I explained to her that it would be really boring. As medical, I’m always in the back (like my racing days as well) and I’m never closer than 20 yards behind the main group. By the end of the day, I’m mentally exhausted because I have to be 100% focused on whether or not riders are coming up behind me, where I am in the race, etc.nnThe only people who NEED to be in the caravan are the ones who need to be there. Otherwise, they need to be at the back of the race 1/2 mile behind the riders tossing out goodies to the fans.

    As for cycling advocacy, there is ONE thing that has been really successful in getting people on bikes and that has been the high school mountain bike racing leagues that have formed. While it’s obvious that the kids interested in mountain biking are signing up, there are a ton of kids who weren’t particularly interested or who wouldn’t otherwise sign up for a race but did it because ot looked like fun, their friends were doing it, or because they want to participate and be part of something. The cool thing about bike racing is that there is no sitting on the bench. For many kids, the reason they don’t or stop going out for the ball and stick sports is because they don’t get playing time.

    If you look at the leagues that have formed in the past few years, at the schools where there is cycling, there are more kids going out for mountain biking than for football. That’s not an exaggeration, that’s fact. Less than 5% of adults get their physical fittness through team sports, yet, in schools, that’s all we teach and that’s all that’s offered. The kids who are already interested in cycling and racing in these leagues will likely continue cycling, but there are a ton of kids to come to cycling through the high school mountain biking leagues and they otherwise would not have taken an interest or become advocates for the activity.
    It’s difficult to go to a school and have an hour to present on cycling and then hope that a few of the 500+ kids will get the cycling bug. It seems much more effective to target these leagues and throw support behind them. There is a captive audience who has already expressed enough interest to go to the meeting or sign up and there are many who are first-timers or beginners. While there is certainly a division between racing and utilitarian cycling, I believe this is a great place to get kids hooked and THEN they become the commuter and utilitarian cyclist.

    Just some thoughts from an former racer turned race event EMT turned psychotherapist who specializes in work with athletes and also owns a pedicab business.

    Thank you Ryan! Great insight into each of the topics you commented on.

  2. Ian
    April 5, 2016

    As for cycling advocacy, there is ONE thing that has been really successful in getting people on bikes and that has been the high school mountain bike racing leagues that have formed.

    As a long time mountain biker, I would love it if this were true nationally. But only a tiny percentage of US high schools have a mountain bike team, and it’s largely an (awesome) regional phenomenon. On, the 2014 report shows 15 leagues with 5006 student riders. By way of comparison, Cherry Creek HS in CO had an enrollment of 3,507 in 2016.

    I would love to live in a world where HS mountain biking becomes a significant force driving cycling among the general population, but I don’t think it’ll eclipse the positive effects of infrastructure advocacy and encouraging general purpose cycling.

  3. Vince
    April 5, 2016

    A couple thoughts from this episode…

    There was a lot of talk about the rider’s unions, and they’re lack of ability to get anything done. In the major US pro sports, the athletes provide a very high “value over replacement”. e.g, if the top baseball/football/basketball players don’t show up to play, the fans won’t show up to watch. Is the same true in cycling? Do pro cyclists have any value over replacement? If the Tour de France was run without Froome, Contador, Sagan, or anyone I’ve heard of, would it affect attendance or TV viewership at all? From my perspective it would not, thus I wouldn’t expect the riders to have _any_ leverage at all.

    There was also a lot of talk about advocacy, mostly based on statistics showing ridership has flatlined. This doesn’t compute with my anecdotal experience of seeing a _lot_ more riders on the streets, and commuting to my office, than 5 or 10 years ago.

    The data on the graph here lines up more closely with what I think I’ve been seeing in SF & LA in the same timespan:

  4. Ian
    April 5, 2016

    I think the success of advocacy & infrastructure in the US is a bit like the parable of the elephant and the three blind men.

    The schism between industry folks (Rick & Jay) vs those more in the advocacy camp (Tim & Carlton) was pretty illuminating. Particularly the back and forth between Carlton and Rick[?] on infrastructure. I had a bit of an ah-ha moment while listening:

    Carlton: We need infrastructure.
    Rick: We’ve been building infrastructure for 15 years.
    Carlton: We need connected infrastructure.
    Rick: It is connected. We’ve got “Rails to Trails”!

    It was like a light came on for me: The Industry model is that cycling is a recreational pursuit. Success will come in a form of a snappy ad that convinces a “cycling mom” to take up the “sport” and to put aside her unfounded fears and let her kids ride too. She’ll put the family bikes on the rack on the back of the SUV, and they’ll drive to the “cycling path”. They’ll adopt it as a “family hobby.” Success!

    But if that’s the industry model, I’m not sure exactly what the problem is. If bikes are primarily a form of recreational equipment, then we should be looking at how bicycle ownership stacks up against, say, whitewater kayak ownership. As one of your guests said, “Everyone has a bike in their garage!” Not everyone has a quad-runner or a windsurf board in their garage. If you look at it from that perspective then the bike industry is doing pretty darn well.

    But that’s not how we think of bicycling. We look at the cratering percentage of Americans who ride bikes, and we wonder “what happened?” Well, what happened was that in the 50s-80s kids used bicycles as a form of transportation. And there are no places adults consider safe enough to allow them to do that any more. And no ad campaign is going to change that reality.

    The advocacy camp looks at the problem of growing cycling as primarily a problem of growing transportation mode share. When they talk about connected infrastructure, they don’t mean connecting Crested Butte to the Utah border. Or a converted rail right-of-way that connects Town A with Town B over 20 miles on a gentle grade. They mean a network of cycling infrastrcture that connects homes in the suburbs with offices downtown. Or houses to entertainment districts. Etc, etc…

    What’s obvious to me is that the industry/advocacy divide largely maps onto the rural/urban divide in the US. When Carlton argued that we need comprehensive infrastructure that allows people to go from home to work, or from home to the theater, etc… he’s describing London, yes, but he’s also describing NYC, DC, and increasingly places like Asheville, NC or Boulder, or Austin.

    Most of geographical America is never going to be cycling friendly–the distances between Point A and Point B are just too great. But the good news is that most Americans live in urban/suburban areas, so when it comes to increasing bicycling at large, it doesn’t matter if rural Utah has a bike path or not. While *geographically* most of America is not like Europe, the places where Americans live are becoming more and more like Europe–or at least susceptible to that kind of infrastructure improvement.

    (One thing I did find a bit galling was the charge that advocacy folks have “had fifteen years”. Carlton nailed it when he said the bike industry has had 100 years, and in that time frame, the auto industry has wiped the floor with them. The bike industry knows how to build bikes. Notwithstanding gravel grinders, carbon fat bikes, and 11 speed drive-trains, the bike industry has not shown it understands how to grow market share.)

    Anyway, sorry for the lengthy comment, and as always a thought-provoking and entertaining podcast!

  5. April 5, 2016

    @ Ian

    There are studies that show people tend to get into cycling via recreation (I probably said that in the show). Well connected rural trails are excellent resources, and can get people to trial their town cycleways, if they have them.

    London continues to impress. Today I saw the first photos of the wide cycleways being installed right under Big Ben and next to the Houses of Parliament. Our great leaders cannot fail to notice the growth of cycling, and hopefully will start to give it some decent cash so what has been started in London rubs off on other places, too. UK, of course, but globally as well.

  6. Ian
    April 6, 2016

    Hi Carlton,

    It makes a lot of sense that studies show people tend to get into cycling via recreation, particularly in places without a bike culture like the UK and the US. I guess what I’m arguing is that that only takes us so far–a place where “everyone has a bike hanging in the garage”. That world is always going to be limited by how and where you can ride a bike.

    London is still significantly ahead of places like NYC and DC, but I think things are catching up. There’s a virtuous cycle created by the interplay of a) the urban renaissance, b) population growth, c) non-auto transport infrastructure.

    More people means greater congestion in metropolitan areas, which means the effective distances are greater–increasing the value of density of housing and commercial areas.

    (Where once upon a time you could live in a suburb of London or DC and have a 20 min commute, now it’s an
    hour or more. That tends to ).

    More density makes it practical to actually build infrastructure that knits together destinations where people need or want to go. Bike paths and sharrows are minimal infrastructure, but what they do accomplish is to *signal* that biking is a legitimate form of transportation. Whether it makes people safer or not, it legitimizes cycling–and that’s enough to increase the number of cyclists. From there you (potentially) get a “safety in numbers” effect.

    But the other effect of increasing numbers of cyclists is increased political leverage. More people on bikes means more support for bike initiatives. The same is true with pedestrian-friendly policies and infrastructure. And over time there is a “sorting” effect ( People who value easy motoring and ample parking tend to value walkable places less. People who value pedestrian and cycling-friendly environments will pay more for those places. So over time the political composition of walkable urban places changes to become even more amenable to change.

    I was in London briefly last year, and as you say, the change has been profound and relatively fast. If I remember correctly, you were in DC (where I live) recently, and although we’re behind London, the pace of change is quickening here–it’s just a radically different city than even a decade ago.

    Looping back to the studies that most folks get into cycling via recreation, that has always been my experience in the past when talking to people in my hometown. But with the advent of our bikeshare system and the rise of *transport* infrastructure (as opposed to recreational infrastructure) what we’re seeing is an increase in the number of people taking up cycling as a practical matter. They ride because that’s the fastest and easiest way to get from home to work. Or from work to the 9:30 Club. Or from home to the Smithsonian. The dual forces of congestion and scarce parking on the one hand, and more infrastructure (even rudimentary infrastructure) on the other is really what’s driving adoption.

  7. Ian
    April 6, 2016

    Ugh, sorry, I managed to drop some of my parenthetical:

    (Where once upon a time you could live in a suburb of London or DC and have a 20 min commute, now it’s an hour or more. The effect is exactly the same as if the geographical area had physically expanded which tends to drive development into the center).

  8. April 7, 2016

    @ Ian

    Yes, agreed. And yes I was in DC last year, and the year before that. Love the place. Took out a bike share bike to see the sights.

    Of course, not everybody can ride (not even a bit) so cycle training programs will be key at getting more people on bikes.

  9. Dan
    April 7, 2016

    What a great episode. One of your best, and I think I’ve listened to all 133. Rick and Jay are great additions to the team.

    That said, I think Ian is spot on about a number of things, including his “ah-ha moment.” There was a kind of “ships passing in the night” phenomenon that no one (including me) realized.

    Also, the need to get some women on the podcast is clear, and I support Dave’s intent to redouble his efforts. In addition, if cycling advocacy is going to be occupying more of the time–which I support, as I sort of stopped following racing when I got tired of the doping–then maybe consider getting someone to supplement Carlton’s role on that side of things. Ideally, you would recruit someone who’s really, truly an expert, like Mikael Colville-Anderson.

    Good luck, and keep up the great work!

  10. DonB
    April 11, 2016

    Carlton had the understatement of the year when he talked about the “testosterone fueled” bike industry. While it’s far from universal, objectifying women is par for the course in sports. Just look at the NFL and NBA cheerleeders; the MotoGP umbrella girls; and of course the cycling podium girls. That all filters down to the consumer bike stores. (And motorcycle stores, etc…) Guaranteed.

    We have laws which seek to prevent sexual discrimination in the work force, but it’s difficult to enforce. Of course, it doesn’t prevent discrimination and objectification in the marketplace. That is rampant. Just look at advertising for just about everything.

    I would love to hear a spokeswomen roundtable discussion on your show with as many knowledgeable cycling women you can find. (From pro riders to enthusiasts to industry reps.) Their interesting perspective awaits.

  11. April 30, 2016

    @Ian, Just to be clear my intention is not to equate connected infrastructure with Rails to Trails.

    My point was that we’ve been building infrastructure in the US for 15 years and ridership continues to decrease. Carlton’s point is the infrastructure isn’t connected.

    I can’t speak to whether Carlton believes that having the infrastructure connected would increase ridership, although it probably wouldn’t hurt.

    Hope this helps.

  12. May 1, 2016

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  13. Ian
    May 3, 2016

    “My point was that we’ve been building infrastructure in the US for 15 years and ridership continues to decrease. Carlton’s point is the infrastructure isn’t connected.”

    Hey Rick,

    But we can’t look at national numbers for that. Where is the infrastructure being built? Where is ridership growing or falling?

    I’m having a hard time understanding what “unconnected infrastructure” is though. We’ve built a lot of infrastructure in this country over the last 15 years, as you say. But if that infrastructure isn’t connected from origin to destination, then people aren’t going to use it to get from point A to point B. That’s just tautological.

    So if the infrastructure is unconnected, people are *only* going to be riding as a recreational pursuit. And if people are riding purely for recreation, the numbers are going to continue to fall.

    Connect your infrastructure (as cities like NYC, Chicago, DC, etc… have done) and you’ll see ridership explode.

    So long as cycling is a hobby activity, the ridership numbers are going to continue to collapse.

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