Bicycling in the United States is at a turning point, say community bicycling advocates Suepinda Keith, Jonathan Maus, and Doug Gordon. In March, the League of American Bicyclists hosted its largest annual event, the National Bike Summit, in Washington, D.C.. One of the main themes at the summit was how to make cycling more accessible, and ultimately draw participants from groups who do not normally consider themselves to be cyclists. Since cycling is traditionally known for catering to a niche market, one way advocates hope to make it more inclusive is by shifting to a more utilitarian approach to cycling.
The week before the National Bike Summit, the third annual National Women’s Bicycling Forum was also held in D.C.. The Women’s Forum drew over 450 attendees, compared to 700 at the National Summit, and drew attention to the need to unify the sport’s participants. “Now people are starting to say, why is there a separate Women’s summit?” said Jonathan Maus of Bike Portland, “It felt like a different kind of summit, and I think the National Bike Summit could use some of that energy.”
The Women’s Forum, and women cyclists in general, have been instrumental in changing the approach to cycling from recreational to utilitarian. This is especially noticeable in the focus on family biking at the Women’s Forum, according to Suepinda Keith of Triangle Bikeworks. “I really never identified as a woman bicyclist before I had a kid,” Keith said. She noted how having a child changed everything from her commuting habits to the cargo she carried while biking, while the recreational aspects of biking became less important. “I’d do it if I had time, and not a two-year-old,” she said.
This is a feeling that many women bicyclists share. In the past three months, I have spoken with several women who came into Varsity Bike and Transit looking for a new bike, and they have each said something along the lines of, ‘I haven’t biked in so long, but now that I have a toddler I want to again.’ Whether they are looking for a bike for themselves or one that will have space to carry their children, too, having a family significantly changed their biking habits, and the Women’s Forum argues that family biking deserves the same attention from bike advocates and city planners as those who view cycling as a sport.
The League of American Bicyclists has also come to realize over the past several years that there are many people who bike frequently, yet do not identify as ‘cyclists.’ As a bike store that services a large number of college students, Varsity Bike sees a lot of this. When I ask ‘what kind of riding do you plan on doing?’ to someone who is looking to buy a new bike, the most common answer is commuting from home to school and work. Unfortunately, many of these people who bike on almost a daily basis, but do not participate in recreational races or tours, do not see themselves as cyclists (myself included).
“We need to simplify our message,” says Doug Gordon of Brooklyn Spoke. One way in which the league is attempting to do just that is by rebranding themselves. A name change has been suggested, which would change the League of American Bicyclists to the League of American Bicycling. Even slight wording changes such as that could make the sport identify with many more participants.
Varsity Bike is lucky to be located in such a bike-friendly city as Minneapolis, but even here we can see the struggle for bicycling to become more inclusive. Family bikers and commuter bikers are a large portion of who we service in the shop, and the National Bike Summit and Women’s Forum helped to remind bike advocates around the country that these groups cannot be left out of bicycling discussions.