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Old 10-04-12, 07:45 AM   #1
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Bike boom of the 1970s

In the last bike boom (which I think was in the 70s though wikipedia suggests 1965-1975), was there increased media interest like there is now? For example, in the UK we just finished an 8 episode cycle show along the lines of Top Gear, news articles almost everyday, new cycling magazines coming out and so on.

Then what was cycling's downfall? Why did people stop? Wikipedia says there was a sharp dropoff in cycling... what just like that? It just stopped? Why?
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Old 10-04-12, 09:54 AM   #2
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Who knows why it petered out? It always reminded me of the Great Folk Music Scare of the same time period.

A bicycling show along the lines of Top Gear? That's something I'd love to see.
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Old 10-04-12, 10:16 AM   #3
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I remember being surprised during the Oil Embargo that more people weren't switching to bicycles. My bicycle commute to school then was 12 miles and I was the only one that semester in my classes who made it to every class. Everyone else was in the gas line I guess.

It was my impression that perhaps that the trouble they had getting gas actually made them less likely to give up their cars, that the struggle to keep the tank filled somehow bonded them to their cars.

Here's what I was riding back then, and it's still in my stable.

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Old 10-04-12, 12:34 PM   #4
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In 65 I joined the Marines and up to that date- I had been riding a cycle. Never noticed a bike boom -just a series of crappy cars that I struggled to keep on the road.

But by 75 the baby boomers were in full swing. They were just beginning to earn respectable wages so why did they want a bike?

Those baby boomers are around retirement age now and the misspent youth is catching up with them. That and the fact that they probably can't afford to run a car has probably helped in the current bike boom that is going on.
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Old 10-04-12, 12:50 PM   #5
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I bought my "boom bike" in 1970 and rode till the mid 80's, when career and family got my focus. About seven years ago I got back to riding regularly and converted my old 1970 bike to fixed.
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Old 10-04-12, 01:28 PM   #6
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The 70's bike boom was mostly due to the Arab Oil embargo, high demand and low supply, and the price inelasticity of gasoline. When the gas prices went down and supplies were resumed, the bike boom faded for most people. Only the real passionate cyclists kept riding. For me, being of quite a penurious nature, it just made way more sense to ride the bike. Plus I was racing back in those days.

As far as the media went, though, the boom only extended to printed media, as I recall. Lots of newspaper articles and a ton of books, largely by people who knew little but wanted to capitalize on the fad. But I think the boom did help kick off somewhat of a revolution in fitness, which has pretty much continued to this day.

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Old 10-04-12, 02:51 PM   #7
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Then what was cycling's downfall? Why did people stop? Wikipedia says there was a sharp dropoff in cycling... what just like that? It just stopped? Why?
This gets discussed in the C&V forum every so often. The more pertinent question of course is why the boom occurred in the first place. There are some good answers here already. FWIW, IIRC, sales figures in the US rose sharply from maybe '70 to '72, but then fell off for '73 and within a few years were back down to the pre-boom levels.
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Old 10-04-12, 03:30 PM   #8
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I'd already established my riding/life style, so I had a good commuting bike by 1970. Didn't stop me from buying a nice Italian factory bike in 1973, which I still have. My take on the falloff is that simply, most of those who were aiming to make a bike purchase - those who had incorporated alternative transportation into their life - purchased in these boom years, and those to whom such a purchase simply flowed from their disposable income frequently found that moving about with these machines was too much work. This latter group simply hung them up in their shed or garage.
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Old 10-04-12, 03:42 PM   #9
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My dad bought a Schwinn Super Sport in 1969. I'll bet he rode it all of 50 miles. He was one of those guys who spent $$$ in his early thirties on a bike that he thought he would use but never did. I think he was typical of that boom.

Five years later, at the age of 14, I appropriated that bike and rode it for thousands of miles well into my twenties.

For what it's worth, I think that today's 'bike boom' has a lot more depth, with adults actually putting in miles. That said, judging by some of my friends who have been bitten by the bug, I think that the shark may have been jumped on this boom too. (How's that for a mixed bag of metaphors?)
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Old 10-04-12, 05:30 PM   #10
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The 70's bike boom was mostly due to the Arab Oil embargo, high demand and low supply, and the price inelasticity of gasoline. When the gas prices went down and supplies were resumed, the bike boom faded for most people.
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Nah. I bought my first "real" bike in college in 1970, when everybody (at least in California) was riding "10 speeds." The Arab oil embargo was later, 1973 or '74. By then I was working for Hot Rod magazine and gas at the station near our office on Sunset Blvd went from about 25 cents a gallon to 49.9 in about a month. Made it pretty hard to write enthusiastically about cars that got 6 or 7mpg.
As I recall, the boom was inspired (again, at least in California) by growing awareness of environmental issues. We even picketed the police department because they bought Crown Vics or something instead on Pintos...

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Old 10-04-12, 05:38 PM   #11
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...The Arab oil embargo was later, 1973 or '74.
IIRC, there were two embargos, the second being in '74, the first in '72. That's how I remember it.
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Old 10-04-12, 05:40 PM   #12
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In the early 70s, I rode my blue Raleigh Record to high school. But, I was one of the only ones to do so. I had a sympathetic science teacher, who also rode his "ten speed", and he let me keep it in his office, just off of a classroom. I'm convinced that one of the reasons for the poor turnout of kids on bikes was due to the poor design and placement of the bike rack. Parking your bike here was simply an invitation to theft and vandalism. You know, I'm not sure, but I think it was the bicycle theft problem in the 70s
that gave rise to Kryptonite lock company.

Today, I'm seeing more cyclists on the road that at any point since the 70s. Still not many bikes in the racks at Boston College, but the racks at MIT are so full, you need
to hunt carefully for a spot!

So, why did cycling become "un-cool" during the 80s? Good question. While I see a lot of MIT and BU students riding, I see very few HS students doing so, I believe "Cool factor" has everything to do with this. With gas prices on the rise once again, it will be interesting to see what happens with HS students and their all-important cars.
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Old 10-04-12, 05:47 PM   #13
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The 70's bike boom was mostly due to the Arab Oil embargo, high demand and low supply, and the price inelasticity of gasoline. When the gas prices went down and supplies were resumed, the bike boom faded for most people. Only the real passionate cyclists kept riding.
But actually the bike boom peaked before the oil embargo. I think that some of its causes were the environmental awareness that was growing, as well as the discovery of the 10 speed by teens and college students who had outgrown their balloon-tired bikes like Stingrays and were looking for something different.

I remember that my first elementary school had enormous bike racks, the second one smaller ones, jr. high smaller ones, and high school had a small but very crowded cage for them.
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Old 10-04-12, 07:06 PM   #14
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The Bike boom started with the environmental movement in the late 1960's, also helped along by the introduction of competitively priced European bikes that were lighter and better built thatn the American stuff (Schwinn Varsities and Continentals were quite popular).

Oil embargos were in 1972 and 1978 when Israel took over the West Bank and the Golan Heights; the USA supported Israel in both those, so that's why the Arab Embargo. Real beneficiary of those events were the Japanese car manufacturers and their fuel effieicent compact cars. I didn't have a car in 1972, and in 1978 my VW Bug had just gotten totaled by a drunki driver. A few mini-booms occured when Lemond and Armstrong were winning the TdF, but you never heard of any other races.

The USA media? They typically don't follow any endurance sprots since they're too 'drawn-out', lack moment-to-moment drama, and don't have planned breaks for commercials. Most bike races also lack Americans competing for the top prizes.

I know lots of folks who would like to start biking, but they're confused as to what bike to buy, specialized clothes & shoes, safety, etc; you might say the barriers to entry are too high, both fiscal and social ('will I look OK riding this bike and these clothes?). And safety is a BIG issue = they'd rather go to a gym than ride on streets where they fear getting either hit of mugged.
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Old 10-04-12, 07:21 PM   #15
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Besides the environmental and energy benefits, there was a general concern about exercise and physical fitness. The running boom started big with the 72 Olympics and cycling followed right behind running/jogging.
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Old 10-04-12, 08:36 PM   #16
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I don't think the bike boom had much to do with oil shortages/boycotts, etc., which began in 1973, years after the beginning of the boom. I also don't think it had much to do with the beginning of the environmental movement- in those days that was strongly associated with the counterculture, and those people were not the ones buying all the new bikes.

The biggest contributor to the bike boom was the sudden availability of imported light 10 speed bikes from Europe and Japan. Suddenly, there were bikes that were appealing and cool and lots of people wanted one.

Another contributor to the bike boom, beginning a little earlier than 1970, was the advent of sting-ray bikes for kids. God knows how many of those Schwinn and others sold in the late 60s and early 70s. This is a cool blog post for those who are the right age to remember....
http://theselvedgeyard.wordpress.com...-first-wheels/
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Old 10-04-12, 08:52 PM   #17
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In the early 70s, I rode my blue Raleigh Record to high school. But, I was one of the only ones to do so.

Had a Record in the early 70s myself (Yellow), but we weren't allowed the bring bikes to school. I think they just didn't want to deal with the theft that would surely have been rampant. But if we had a place to park them, myself and all my friends would have ridden our ten speeds.

I often wonder if the 'bike boom' really meant more bikes on the road (it doesn't seem in retrospect that there were, but I can't really trust my memory) or if it's just that 10 speeds became widely available then and everyone wanted one. So sales rose even if ridership really didn't change that much. Also, there were a lot of kids back then and with the economic growth of the era the new generation of parents had more disposable income then was available in their family when they were growing up. So they were fairly willing to buy 10 speeds for their teens and perhaps for themselves as well. There was a general increase in leisure spending at that time as the burgeoning middle class chased their dreams.
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Old 10-04-12, 09:18 PM   #18
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...Oil embargos were in 1972 and 1978 when Israel took over the West Bank and the Golan Heights; the USA supported Israel in both those, so that's why the Arab Embargo. ..
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IIRC, there were two embargos, the second being in '74, the first in '72. That's how I remember it.
Oh my goodness. I have heard people get their knickers in a twist over the way the Japanese have rewritten the history of WWII to omit their atrocities, thus many young people in Japan have no idea why the Koreans and Chinese have a bit of animosity towards their nation. Well folks, have we done the same thing here?

The second embargo of the '70s occurred as a direct result of President Carter allowing the murderous Shah of Iran into the U.S. for medical treatments. At the time, the Iranian people were successfully revolting against a quarter century of tyrannical rule from the "Peacock Thrown" that we had caused and supported. In fact, Iran had a functioning democracy that Eisenhower overthrew at the behest of Great Britain because their President was planning to nationalize "British" oil that just happened to be in Iran's rocks. I assure you all that the Iranians have not forgotten this bit of history. (In spite of that, my many Iranian friends do not hold it against Americans or Brits in general.)
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Old 10-04-12, 09:25 PM   #19
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My dad bought a Schwinn Super Sport in 1969. I'll bet he rode it all of 50 miles. He was one of those guys who spent $$$ in his early thirties on a bike that he thought he would use but never did. I think he was typical of that boom...
A friend of my dad's bought a Schwinn Super Sport in '66 and rode it a similar number of miles. My dad bought it from him for $50 and gave it to me in '68. I finally parted with it in '92 when I was moving from CA to TX and ran out of space for more toys.

Like you, I rode that thing many tens of thousands of miles.
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Old 10-04-12, 09:29 PM   #20
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I don't think the bike boom had much to do with oil shortages/boycotts, etc., which began in 1973, years after the beginning of the boom. I also don't think it had much to do with the beginning of the environmental movement- in those days that was strongly associated with the counterculture, and those people were not the ones buying all the new bikes.

The biggest contributor to the bike boom was the sudden availability of imported light 10 speed bikes from Europe and Japan. Suddenly, there were bikes that were appealing and cool and lots of people wanted one.

Another contributor to the bike boom, beginning a little earlier than 1970, was the advent of sting-ray bikes for kids. God knows how many of those Schwinn and others sold in the late 60s and early 70s. This is a cool blog post for those who are the right age to remember....
http://theselvedgeyard.wordpress.com...-first-wheels/

I tend to agree mostly. The Boom however was at its peak in 73 and that was mostly for adult bikes. But I also believe the oil crisis caused people to accept smaller cars and even motorcycles more than they had up to that point. The little Honda 50s, 75s and 125s were all over the place here in california. People had a good car they kept at home for family outings and a small car for commuting. That is where we got the term econobox. The bike boom had been going on but I don't believe anyone cared one bit about the enviroment but did care about the exercise and the image of cycling around peaceful neighborhoods. when it was discovered the gas crisis was a farce and gas was easy to get people already had their small cars and motorbikes/motorcycles and bikes started gathering dust in the garage. I have bought a few that still have the same tires they had in the 70s. But I have moved away from the old steel bikes to favor newer ones with the 130 spacing in the back. I like the new wheels and cassettes much better than I did the old freewheels.

I could wax poetic, or curse in the case of my Varsity, about Viscounts, Panasonics and Nishikis. But by 76 or so the boom was gone. And we haven't recovered percentage wise even today. Here is an assessment but the industry. Not a bad read. http://nbda.com/articles/industry-ov...-2010-pg34.htm

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Old 10-04-12, 11:38 PM   #21
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I recall that there was a general environmental awareness after the formation of the EPA in 1970, which was then bolstered by the effects of the first Oil Embargo. With the sudden explosion in the availability of lightweight (mostly French) "racing style" bicyles, the "boom" went into full force. Americans were fascinated with these cool derailleur equipped bikes. Yet this "racing style" of bicycles carried the seeds of it's own destruction- Like the mini skirt, it was really only suitable for a young person. The very limited offering of adult cycles options prevented older people from joining in on the craze. Older potential riders found the drop bars and narrow saddle less than comfortable. These bikes could be a bit too delicate for rough handling. Not until the mountain bike craze was there very much evolution in cycle design to make the basic bike more rugged without sacrificing utility.
The lack of bike-friendly routes, the poor acceptance of bike riders on the roads by drivers and the overall poor riding surfaces (
DPW's and DOT's didn't really consider the needs of cyclists), left the actual places to ride and commute a particularly "jarring" experience. Employers and workplaces were NOT friendly to somewhat sweaty cycle commuters or their bike parking needs.
With the "normalization" of oil prices (actually a combination of lowered prices, social acceptance of a new, higher regular price and the new availability of car models with better MPG), the general public returned to their cars; leaving behind the less than ideal riding experience.
Today's renewed interst in bicycling has been more successful, IMHO, because many of the above described issues have been improved. Urban and Highway planners have both Federal guidlines for layout of bike lanes and routes and a public mandate to incorporate bikeways. A plethora of bike models (urban commuters, comfort bikes, upright roadies, SS/FG’s, X-country, TT, Tri-bikes, DH
MTB's, full or partiall suspension MTB's, full roadies, performance folders, specialty women's designs, Dutch style, long distance tourers, etc.) are now readily available from LBS's and fitness/outdoors outfitters. Literally hundreds of saddle offerings make almost any bike comfortable for a variety of riders. Riders of all ages, fitness levels and performance goals can choose a bicycle that actually works for them rather than having to adapt to a “racing” bike. The widespread acceptance of "personal fitness" has promoted lavatory facilities within or near the workplace. Employers, buiklding management and Municipalities incude bike racks in their planning, now.
When you add in the deterioration of car commuting experience (so many cars, traffic congestion and marginal road quality), the bicycle commuting option has never looked better! This medium of the internet also seems to have been influential in promoting better planning, execution and design for the broad needs of the bicyclist. Those of us who “carried the torch” for Bicycling from the Seventies, are generally pleased at the growth in interest in all things Bicycle.
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Old 10-05-12, 04:58 AM   #22
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With gas prices on the rise once again, it will be interesting to see what happens with HS students and their all-important cars.
Actually, it seems cars aren't as important to young people nowadays. The internet and cell phones are what it's about.
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Old 10-05-12, 07:31 AM   #23
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The contrived oil shortage in 73 did indeed cause a bike boom. My LBS was selling bikes almost as fast as they could assemble them. It kind of petered out, and then picked up again in the middle 80s especially around 84 when American cyclist did so well in the 84 Olympics.
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Old 10-05-12, 08:07 AM   #24
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People didn't move up to the next level...trailers and/or cargo bikes, so families didn't/couldn't adapt. Also all the grand plans for more infrastructure never materialized.
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Old 10-05-12, 08:38 AM   #25
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In the last bike boom (which I think was in the 70s though wikipedia suggests 1965-1975), was there increased media interest like there is now? For example, in the UK we just finished an 8 episode cycle show along the lines of Top Gear, news articles almost everyday, new cycling magazines coming out and so on.

Then what was cycling's downfall? Why did people stop? Wikipedia says there was a sharp dropoff in cycling... what just like that? It just stopped? Why?
Yes, it was pretty sudden. As the attached chart shows, it dropped all at once. Keep in mind that there were also shortages in production in the early 70s. The industry was not prepared for the boom, and it was not uncommon to have to wait a considerable amount of time for a quality new bike. I think there was no singular reason the boom ended. Alicestrong makes a good points in terms of the baby boomers moving into antoher phase of their lives and cycling infrastructure not materializing. The oil shortage scare being over probably contributed to it as well. Keep in mind that the bikes were still out there. They just weren't selling new ones. So, I'm guessing that one could also wonder if the market had simply been saturated?
Attached Images
File Type: jpg bicycle sales 55 to 75.jpg (79.0 KB, 27 views)
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