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Bike commuting: what has changed?

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Bike commuting: what has changed?

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Old 12-10-17, 10:11 AM
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Bike commuting: what has changed?

This thread, started in 2005, has recently been bumped:
Advice for New Commuters

...made me think of what might be different across your bike commuting career. I know there are some people on BF who have been riding since before the 1970's bike boom, but that's probably the point in American history where lots of people thought it would be a good idea. What has improved and what did you not expect, what still needs to change?

For my own opinion/experience, since riding to grade school and junior high in the 80's-90's, there has been one major new thing and one major evolution.

The major new thing has been city-run bike shares, and then ride-and-park rentals.

The major evolution has been in power electronics, allowing both LED/lithium head and tail lights, and lithium/brushless e-bikes. These are both now amazing compared to what was available in my youth which was basically alkaline/incandescent flashlights and rare e-bike systems that were basically the same as pow-pow-Powerwheels. The same revolution has allowed electric cars and motorcycles, far better power hand tools, and nearly killed off the traditional balsa-and-nitromethane R/C airplane.

I wish there were more progress in bike lane infrastructure. One of the reasons I chose not to move to Huntsville this year was their utter lack.
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Old 12-10-17, 11:01 AM
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I grew up here in New York City where bikes have been used for commercial deliveries since they could be used for that. I don't remember seeing many bike commuters growing up, but people did it. In fact, my mother bought herself a folding bike around 1970 so she could get around. I think one of the biggest improvements is that it's become quite common. Nowadays, if you arrive at work or a store or wherever wearing bike gear or carrying a helmet or whatever, you're not seen as weird. Some people even walk around wearing helmets because they're on the way to their bikes (or Citi Bike) or coming from them.

NYC adopted helmets later than everywhere else. There's a big "wild west" attitude around here. Don't bother me with any stinkin' laws. Not that helmets are required by law, but the outlaw attitude extends to the view of helmets. I don't want the law or even social mores to pressure people to wear helmets. It's a personal choice. Helmet use is rising here, but I'll bet it still lags behind most other areas in North America.

We didn't use lights on our bikes until recently. Even though lights were lousy until recently, that was pretty dumb of us. In fact, a lot of must-have accessories were rarely used such as fenders and bells. Now their use is increasing. Some delivery people still loop their cargo (plastic bags) over their handlebars.

We still have lots of people earning their livings delivering food and other things by bike. In fact, there is a business here that delivers a popular illegal substance by bike. You summon them by text and a few minutes later have a respectful transaction with a fellow wearing trouser bands.

We've had a lot of bike lanes put in here in recent years. I think the best things these did was 1. invited more people to ride, making many more feel safe and 2. legitimized bikes as transport, leading motorists to expect and respect us. On the other hand, many of them use misguided designs and actually make riding in them more dangerous than riding in regular traffic lanes. The worst part about this is that it increases danger for the least experienced people rather than people like me. Oh well. Worse, NY state law requires use of bike facilities where present, so if I decide it's not safe for me and I take a traffic lane, I could be cited and fined. It's a risk I take, hoping I can argue that I made a judgment for my safety.

The bike retail industry here is very tough, as it is everywhere, but we still have tons and tons of shops, closely spaced apart. Some of them have various different specialties. Unfortunately, a good number of them fail soon. Some manage to stay in business a long, showing that there is demand, and you can make it if you really know what you're doing.
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Old 12-10-17, 01:20 PM
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I grew up in a suburb of Detroit. People actually rode bikes -- every kid had one, and a fraction of adults did. My family had one car, and my dad car-pooled, so we had only sporadic access to a car during the week. We also walked -- school, the library, the pool, and some shops, were within walking distance from our house. Eventually my mom re-joined the workforce, and we got a second car, but when my brothers and I needed to go somewhere, we usually had to rely on our bikes or walking.

But there was certainly a car culture. Every other family worked for the car companies, and people got employee discounts on new cars. In a lot of families, you got a car when you turned 16, and then you got a job to support the car. My mom taught high school and noticed that her students with cars got significantly lower grades.

There was one day when some fad came through town, and all of a sudden, we all had to remove every convenience and safety feature from our bikes: Fenders, baskets, kickstands, the works. Gone. It was suddenly "cool" to ride a completely stripped down old fashioned bike. All of the kids in the neighborhood gathered in someone's backyard where they had some tools, and we stripped the accessories off of our bikes.

That hasn't changed.

My parents assumed that Schwinn was the pinnacle of cycling, and we got Schwinns, new or used. Only a few kids had bikes with multiple speeds, which we called "speed bikes." The bike boom came, and people got "ten speeds," which worked very poorly and discouraged people from cycling. The brakes didn't work in the rain, and getting the drive train wet would cause it to rust and seize up. That was the beginning of having to lubricate a bike. (Of course my dad taught us how to re-pack the bearings, but that didn't need to be done very often). Near the end of my high school years, a new brand appeared at the Schwinn shop: Giant. I wondered how a bike made in the far east would stack up against Schwinn Quality. I was dead certain that the "mountain bike" would be a passing fad -- just a BMX for big kids.

In my view, two big things have happened to cycling. First, quality design and manufacturing (the Toyota philosophy) has really improved the functioning and reliability of some components. There is more use of aluminum and other corrosion resistant materials on lower end bikes. No more Brillo pads and elbow grease on your handlebars and rims.

Second, the Internet. We laugh about chain lube threads, but imagine in 1978, trying to find out how to deal with a ten speed that had been left in the rain, or maybe preventing it from getting that bad in the first place. If you know how to look for good information, you can find a wealth of knowledge that was simply out of reach in the past. This is huuuuge.

I believe society overall has gotten more fussy about gear, perhaps also due to the Internet. It was a lot easier to choose a bike back then: You went to the Schwinn dealer, and decided how many speeds you wanted. Today, folks are faced with a bewildering array of options and a corresponding array of mutually contradictory but completely authoritative opinions.

We've gotten more risk averse. For instance we all had patch kits when we were kids, but carrying one on the bike occurred to none of us. If you got a flat, you pushed the bike home. I pushed my bike more than five miles on multiple occasions.
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Old 12-10-17, 01:35 PM
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I suppose lights have improved. My Night Sun was a nice light, but whew, the battery pack (lead acid) was a beast.

Other lights, the LEDs are just much nicer.

Better bike paths and more emphasis on cycling network. But, at the same time, I hit a lot of roads with no designated paths.

In Eugene, they had just started extending the Alton Baker Park pathway into Springfield. It is longer and more complete now, and the city has annexed more park property.

A couple of new bike bridges, and better connections to the bike bridges that had been built without any way to get onto/off of them.
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Old 12-10-17, 02:26 PM
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The most obvious is the technology--bikes, electronics, lights, clothing, protective gear (helmets). But I think attitudes have changed as well. I am hearing more and more politicians and city planning experts, as well as environmentalists and the like talk about cycling infrastructure, like it's the future of the livable city. I don't think people talked about this back in the 70's and 80's. The impending catastrophic doom of global warming might have something to do with the shift in attitude.
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Old 12-10-17, 09:00 PM
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It has occurred to me that city planners are beginning to realize that cycling and related factors (parks, pedestrian neighborhoods, public transit) may be emerging as factors when people decide what constitutes a good place to live. It's no longer cool to drive 50 minutes each way to your job every day.
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Old 12-10-17, 09:48 PM
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Sure back in the '60s and '70s our lights were awful at best. However, our lights didn't need to be very good inside town because the motorists were actually paying attention and there wasn't a ton of light pollution everywhere. Even the car lights were a bit on the dim side (and their headlights were actually aimed properly, per enforcement by random roadside checks). So, now I can see the road with my bike lights even when I'm on a road with no other sources of light, but those roads are harder to find and when I'm amongst the cars I'm even less noticeable now than I was forty years ago. Still, it's nice to see the skunks running away as opposed to the one that got me years ago, only slightly made up for by the one that I slaughtered by running him over with my bike (we never saw each other; good for me, bad for the skunk).

As far as infrastructure goes, it's been a sad trend, imo. There was so much potential, and some of it was done well initially. For instance, first we had bike paths (bike right of way). Those became "shared use paths"(right of way unstated), which have now become de facto off-road sidewalks (pedestrian right of way only). Bike lanes were initially put in where they were most needed and were adequately wide and rarely in door zones. Now they are squeezed in, dysfunctionally narrow and mostly of the dzbl variety that any sane rider won't ride in. Now we're seeing implementations of stuff that requires/encourages cyclists to hang out at intersections by doing a two-step left turn as the default. Ugh! Worse yet, rather than make the point that bikes belong, bike infra today really teaches motorists that we should be staying completely out of their way. It's sad, but we might have been better off without any infrastructure at all, though the best solution is neither extreme, just infrastructure done well (which will mean inconveniencing motorists, which is why it isn't done that way).

Equipment is much better. I don't miss repacking bottom brackets every week and wheels every other week during the winter. Shifting systems and gearing choices are much better, though I never had any complaints about my half-step plus granny with downtube shifters, it's really a lot more convenient to shift without taking a hand off the bars. Now one can shift gears, give a commuter salute, and keep one hand on the bar. Pedal systems have really come a long way from the choice between toe-clips or Cinelli death-pedals (early clipless system that required you to reach down and push in a button to release). And saddles, ohhhh, so much better now.

Where the rubber meets the road, there's an overlap of the best things in equipment and a cultural/legal change that has made things much better. There are a lot of different types of tires available now that don't easily flat. Add in the now-ubiquitous bottle returns and a sense of duty to not just toss them on the road (plus so many of them being plastic) and the days of three flats on a twenty-five mile commute are long-gone. Flats just don't happen (unless you live in goathead land, then you're just screwed). Glass all over the roadways used to be the norm, but is now rather rare. Add in tubeless/sealant options and it's just grand.

One other big change has been the overwhelming reduction in traffic law enforcement and driver's ed. and what that has done as far as driver behavior. I know it's hard to believe, but motorists used to actually stop at stop signs, often behind the limit lines. Right on red after stopping involved, get this, actually stopping. When a light turned green, very few of us had the habit of waiting three seconds before proceeding because very few motorists would run a red light that flagrantly. Of course I really miss the nationwide 55 mph speed limit, not so much for what it did on the freeways but because it caused everyone to acclimate to driving at a slower speed overall. I would say I suspect the drawdown of traffic law enforcement is just a plot to get us to accept self-driving cars, but who would believe such a ridiculous conspiracy theory? (Kidding, really.)
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Old 12-10-17, 11:34 PM
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I was born in 1962, and began riding a bike in kindergarten. I began serious adult bike commuting, 25 years ago in 1992. Aside from all the technological changes, I think the biggest changes have been in my attitudes towards riding with regards to purpose, safety, fitness and comfort.

The way we used to ride bikes as kids in the streets on the north side of Chicago I should have been a smudge on Lincoln Avenue. No concept of the potential danger...we were just kids having fun.

Even after getting my driver's license at 16 (but not my own car), when I was out on my 10-speed, I didn't see myself as part of traffic, or think of the potential danger.

I didn't ride in college, but resumed at 25 in 1987 as I had begun swimming for fitness and found I had the stamina to ride and enjoy it as I did as a kid. I rode for fun and rode to work a few time in nice weather for the next 5 years in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There wasn't much traffic (at least compared to Chicago), but I began to see that I was a part of traffic, and needed to be cognisant of how I fit into traffic, and how my actions affected others in traffic. I bought a mirror lights and my first helmet.

When I moved to Colorado Springs 1992 I began biking everywhere for fun and to commute to work. I read bicycle magazines and learned a great deal, but it was mostly commerce driven. I joined a cycling club, but it was more performance oriented. However I learned and received advice on what really mattered to bike commuters. Riding on the streets with the club I noticed the attitudes of the older riders with regard to traffic.

I guess getting older, we get a little wiser, and a little less prone to peer pressure. I learned what worked for me, with regard to safety, fitness, and a new concept to me...comfort.

And then I discovered bikeforums.net in 2008, joining in 2009 a day before I turned 47. OMG! I had access to opinions from people more experienced and wiser than I was, but also those less experienced and not as seasoned...I saw my younger self in them.

And now I am healthier, riding more, more safely, on with better equipment, in more comfort, in more types of weather and enjoying it as much as when I was a reckless kid in Chicago, except I am whatever the opposite of reckless is.

tl/dr: My attitude went from "it's you vs. traffic" to "you are traffic"; which is why I chose as my "quote" the motto of Captain Nemo's Nautilus in Jule's Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea": "Mobilis in Mobili". Which (according to Wikipedia) may be roughly translated from Latin as, "moving amidst mobility".

G-d bless bikeforums...it has changed my life for the better.
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Old 12-11-17, 12:24 AM
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Been seriously commuting since 2007 (every day) and a little bit before in the US (mostly Maine and Texas). After 2007 includes Stockholm, Sweden; Copenhagen, Denmark; Frankfurt, Germany, Newcastle/Durham, UK; Portsmouth, UK.

I think the attitude toward cyclists is different is all of those locations. Also, how acceptable it is to cycle is also different. A lot of academics tend to cycle, so it is seen quite well by colleagues. Most in Europe use public transport or cycle. In the states, it was less common, but still more common at the university compared to most of the general public.
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Old 12-11-17, 08:16 AM
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Originally Posted by Gresp15C View Post
It has occurred to me that city planners are beginning to realize that cycling and related factors (parks, pedestrian neighborhoods, public transit) may be emerging as factors when people decide what constitutes a good place to live. It's no longer cool to drive 50 minutes each way to your job every day.
Yes. Apartment listings in NYC mention how close a Citi Bike docking station is to the building. It's a benefit. Some docking stations are on the curb right in front of a building.
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Old 12-11-17, 01:14 PM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
We've had a lot of bike lanes put in here in recent years. I think the best things these did was 1. invited more people to ride, making many more feel safe and .
Yes.

I took a bit of a break from bike commuting during my early 30s during a career change, and I'm honestly not sure if I would have taken it back up again if bike lanes had not improved in Chicago. At least not to the extent I do now...year round, rain or shine, light or dark...

I remember what it was like 10-15 years ago in my 20s...riding in tiny spaces, fighting for a piece of the road. I don't think I could do that again now. Or, at the very least, I don't WANT to, for a variety of reasons...
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Old 12-11-17, 03:49 PM
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the bike gets more respect now. in the 70s we didn't call it "cycling" & we didn't wear helmets
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Old 12-11-17, 05:27 PM
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I'm 58 and grew up riding everywhere I couldn't walk until I was 16 because that's how I got places if I wasn't going somewhere with the rest of the family. I rode through most of high school and part of college, starting with riding in a small town where the milkman would drive around the dogs sleeping in the road while making his morning deliveries. I was doing many things then that would now be considered wrong like not checking my tire pressures, lubing my chain, carrying tools etc... in addition to the safety oriented things like lights/helmet/bright colored clothes. When I resumed bicycling again in 2005 I did so for the exercise, and gradually changed from riding for exercise before work into a commuter who does check his tires pressures, brings tools a pump and spare tube on rides as well as using lights and bright colors. I'd been a motorcyclist for many years before resuming bicycling and wearing a helmet while bicycling was a given by then.

Bicycling is still a great way for me to get around, but now I'm more aware of the increased dangers of riding in modern traffic as well as the possibilities of riding further. As well as the benefits of exercise by riding too.
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Old 12-11-17, 05:56 PM
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OP mentioned eBikes, which are not that prevalent yet, but growing, and I think will become a lot more significant.

I think the biggest change in cycling since the 70s is Mountain Bikes. A whole new category that is still evolving and improving fairly rapidly. 'Hybrids' exist because they span the gap between road and mountain. (Although dutch/townie bikes have been there all along).
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Old 12-11-17, 06:13 PM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
Yes. Apartment listings in NYC mention how close a Citi Bike docking station is to the building. It's a benefit. Some docking stations are on the curb right in front of a building.
There was a house for sale on my street, and under the agent's usual for-sale sign, there was an additional sign attached that said: Bike! Bike! Bike!

The house is on one of the designated bike commuting routes.
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Old 12-11-17, 06:29 PM
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Lights, blinkies, helmets, and tires have improved dramatically since I started.
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Old 12-11-17, 07:18 PM
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Yeah lights and blinkies.

I've been commuting since about 1983.
I had a bigass Belt Beacon - about the size of a tuna can, used a 9-volt battery and an incandescent bulb that flashed once a second.

Oh - here it is... you may all commiserate with me now.


I don't remember what I had for the front, but it was big and heavy and not very bright.
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Old 12-13-17, 11:45 AM
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I've been riding seriously since around 1972. Other than technical changes to bikes (lighting, tire quality, better pumps, etc. as mentioned in the OP) nothing has changed. My city is not "progressive" or hip enough to make much of a difference in daily riding.
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Old 12-13-17, 05:52 PM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
I grew up here in New York City where bikes have been used for commercial deliveries since they could be used for that. I don't remember seeing many bike commuters growing up, but people did it.

We've had a lot of bike lanes put in here in recent years. I think the best things these did was 1. invited more people to ride, making many more feel safe and 2. legitimized bikes as transport, leading motorists to expect and respect us. On the other hand, many of them use misguided designs and actually make riding in them more dangerous than riding in regular traffic lanes. The worst part about this is that it increases danger for the least experienced people rather than people like me. Oh well. Worse, NY state law requires use of bike facilities where present, so if I decide it's not safe for me and I take a traffic lane, I could be cited and fined. It's a risk I take, hoping I can argue that I made a judgment for my safety.
Yes, sometimes I shake my head at transplants that complain about bike riders getting respect or preference in certain situations. I don't think they have any idea what it used to be like in the city. It was most certainly not "bike friendly."

In all honesty, I don't know if I would commute without the current bike paths. I would ride in the streets, but not every day. What I like about the paths is that they let you "relax" a little bit if you want to. On the street you have to be 100% switched on at all times (at least I feel that way), and on some days I just wouldn't want to deal with that during the AM commute. Plus, it would only exacerbate the summer sweat issue.

As for my background, I grew up in the burbs during the boom, so every kid had a bike at some point (mostly BMX for the younger ones, 10 speed for the older), and we rode them a lot.

Originally Posted by B. Carfree
However, our lights didn't need to be very good inside town because the motorists were actually paying attention.
Yes, lots of technology (lights, etc) has helped matters, but of course it has greatly contributed to distracted driving, which is an absolute plague. I don't want self-driving cars either, but if they replace the 17 year old texting his/her friends while driving dad's SUV, I'll take them.
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Old 12-13-17, 05:59 PM
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Interestingly, I have at least one friend who is annoyed at the bike lanes and liked riding in the city before the lanes came in. I do see his point, and as an experienced cyclist, I would be OK without them. They don't make me feel safer. They just make me feel legitimized.
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Old 12-13-17, 08:58 PM
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I bike commuted from 1984-90 and then again from 2001 until the present. I am currently riding on some of the same streets as I did over 30 years ago. As other posters have said, the gear has improved (although my 1970's Phillips 3-speed was impressively fit for my needs back in the day) and the (partial) addition of bike lanes and "entitlement" to space have also improved. I would say that the accustomization of drivers to cyclists in the city has been the biggest change, and mostly in the last 5 years, due to rapidly increasing ridership (particularly among women and older people) and strong bicycle advocacy sending out the right message. Back in the 80's, I could have been riding an alien spaceship and been more recognizable to local drivers than I was on a bike.
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Old 12-14-17, 12:44 AM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
Even though lights were lousy until recently,
IMO, the most disappointing development (or rather lack thereof) has been that no one has crushed the pathetic button-cell-powered "naively think you might be seen" light category by putting out something useful at a similar price point and getting it into the big box stores where most casual riders shop. I really hate the tiny, pathetic <50 lumen headlights and often <20 lumen taillights that are being marketed to people who never think to go look at how they actually perform in traffic. I've actually mistaken one of the button cell headlights for a reflection off a beer can while riding on a poorly lit street before. It wasn't until my headlight picked up some sparkle off the unpainted part of the guy's suspension fork (and that reflection at ~30 yards was brighter than the direct light from his headlight) that I realized it was something moving. If I'd been driving, or if there had been a car behind him, he'd have been completely lost in the visual noise and/or glare until likely too late for much maneuvering, and given that he was salmoning on a narrow street, there would have been a need to do something.
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Old 12-14-17, 12:53 AM
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I used to ride a 10-speed. Now it would be called a 5-speed.
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Old 12-14-17, 01:14 AM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
Yes. Apartment listings in NYC mention how close a Citi Bike docking station is to the building. It's a benefit. Some docking stations are on the curb right in front of a building.
Unfortunately, too many bikeshare setups seem to be almost flat out anti-utility; small, poorly designed front baskets, (if they have them at all) and if they have a rack, it's usually got some bit of share hardware in the way of throwing on a quick-attach connected pannier set or trunk bag. Then the 30 minute ride limit on most (all?) of them; unless there's a station at the grocery store, you're going to have to rush to get much between a 10 minute ride to get there and another to get back to the rack before you get hit with an overage fee. If there is a station at the store, you're pretty much limited to that store. (Though that would be a good way to get stores to subsidize some extra racks.)

Slap some half-a-shopping-cart sized baskets on the back of x% of the bikes and offer a single 90 minute ride once a week without extra charge for each pass, and then folks can actually use it more like a car. I'd think some local stores might even subsidize part of that cost, including getting those bikes into the stations nearest the stores, since riders likely won't need them going to the store. (Maybe a discount or $0.25 credit on one's account for each cargo-equipped bike ridden to a store station from a non-store one more than a quarter mile away?)
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Old 12-14-17, 08:08 AM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
Interestingly, I have at least one friend who is annoyed at the bike lanes and liked riding in the city before the lanes came in. I do see his point, and as an experienced cyclist, I would be OK without them. They don't make me feel safer. They just make me feel legitimized.
When I first moved to Colorado Springs in 1992 they had a small smattering of faded bike lanes and bike lane signs around downtown and out by the Olympic Training Center. Over the years the lanes moslty disappeared, and the signs faded into illegibility. Then about ten years ago they began re-striping and re-signing, and then in the last 5-years greatly expanding the network of bike lanes and MUPS.
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