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Why Americans don't dig cycling...

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Why Americans don't dig cycling...

Old 08-03-05, 12:32 AM
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It's kind of sad that EVERYBODY owned a bike growing up in this country, but for some reason interest wanes once you become a teen-ager here.

I think its because we are such a technically advanced , progressive nation full of rebels with no sense of history -what are we, only 229 years old?- that using a bike as an adult is only for college students whose dad won't buy them a car for school or the impoverished -I see alot of bums around here using old beaters to get them around town.

Our society is too "fast" to use something as rural and throwback as a bike. After all Henry Ford invented the Model "T", right? Can't get laid in the backseat of a bike, etc. A car is a major status symbol here.

I took a trip to Hong Kong last year with my wife who is from Taiwan and I was amazed that there were a zillion cylists using the streets, battling it out amongst cars with no fear. I went down to Mexico as an exchange student 25 years ago and there were crazy amigos mixing it up with cars in the center of the road but the difference is foreign countries acknowledge bikers in city traffic...point being that the bicycle is still an accepted mode of basic transportation in most countries except America and Canada...

Another thing about Americans is fear of being hurt. I see active people all of the time list their hobbies as jogging, walking, aerobics, even rock climbing far more than being cyclists and I think I know why: fear of interaction with cars. Everytime I tell one of my non-cycling co-workers or friends that I'm going out for a ride, they tell me to "be careful", which I know is well-intentioned, but can somebody once tell me, "Have a great ride and kick ass? ( I have a great sense of watching suspicious drivers from my rollerblade days - I'm usually 3 steps ahead of these buttholes).

The reason I'm thinking about this is because what Lance Armstrong said about the public not taking cycling seriously in this country on Letterman...got me to thinking "why?"
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Old 08-03-05, 12:48 AM
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Originally Posted by Sincitycycler
Can't get laid in the backseat of a bike, etc. : "why?"
I would sure love to get halfway on a hard ride and lean someone up on the top tube.......
then crush the descent home.
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Old 08-03-05, 12:50 AM
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Addendum: Cycling indifference is now spreading to Europe too.

A cycling rag recently asked Laurent Fignon why France hasn't produced a TDF champion in 20 years. He said that most of French kids would rather "play football (soccer)" than put in the hard hours to become a great bike rider these days.

Maybe they see the Michael Jordan of Europe, David Beckham making million$$ and nailing an ex-Spice Girl to boot and say "screw cycling - it's for geeks "?
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Old 08-03-05, 01:02 AM
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Originally Posted by Sincitycycler
It's kind of sad that EVERYBODY owned a bike growing up in this country, but for some reason interest wanes once you become a teen-ager here.
Kind of like soccer, don't you think? It seems everybody (boys and girls) participated in soccer (AYSO) as little kids because their parents wanted their kids' time occupied, doing exercise, learning team spirit and playing a less-injury-prone sport. By adolescence, soccer seems pointless (no future $$$), and just not as cool. It's sad that soccer (and cycling) is left to the smaller guys who couldn't make it in track (Olympic glory), basketball ($$$), football ($$) or baseball ($) -- the potentially big-money sports.

[edit: Your point about soccer in Europe equates to the big-money sports here. Soccer just doesn't draw the same money in the US.]
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Old 08-03-05, 01:03 AM
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I think you make a lot of good points. I think another root cause of a lack of interest in cycling as a sport is because Americans are lazy. I was a lazy American until about a year ago, so I have some experience with this.

Our whole culture is about making everything "convenient" and "easy". Cars are both -- no physical exertion required, and barely any skill. I mean, really, how can you ride a bike with a Big Mac in one hand, a cellphone in the other and 3 kids in the back watching a DVD? It's hard to be a consumerist slob on a bike, therefore it's hard to be an American on a bike.
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Old 08-03-05, 01:05 AM
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I'm not sure that there is very much that is 'rural' or 'throw-back' about carbon frames and ultra-tech savvy components. There is an elitism amongst many cyclists which seems very aligned with the outlook that your stance seems to oppose in the american view on bicycles. In other words, if a cyclist says "How dare they have the gall to ride that [outdated brand of bicycle] and have the courage to appear serious about it?" is very similar to a driver saying "These cyclists today, if they're going to be on the road, can't it be in a car?".

Also, I'm not sure I would describe much of middle/high class America as "rebellious." Conformist and rabidly individualistic are the descriptors which seem more appropriate.

I think the problem you are pointing out is valid- American drivers can be very egotistical and obnoxious. The root of the problem, however, is something of a much larger neurosis- to which cyclists are not necessarily immune. As I hinted above, the problem seems to have more to do with the individualist mindset and viewing others as means to your end (or obstacles on the road, while en route to your place of employment). This fragmented and divisive perspective seems to be the real problem at hand.
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Old 08-03-05, 01:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Sincitycycler
It's kind of sad that EVERYBODY owned a bike growing up in this country, but for some reason interest wanes once you become a teen-ager here.
The reason I'm thinking about this is because what Lance Armstrong said about the public not taking cycling seriously in this country on Letterman...got me to thinking "why?"
There are many many reasons. Too much affluence in this country is a big reason. Too few people exercise regularly for years. Car status and envy. Cycling is not a spectator sport (no matter what OLN would like you to believe). Poor urban planning & suburban sprawl. Bigger is better mentality. Acceptability of personal debt.

Edit: Not "too much affluence", but mis-directed use of affluence.

For our youth there are so many competing forms of recreation - computers/internet, video games, cable/satelite TV.

Also don't assume that everybody had a bike when growing up. 1 bike for 4 kids in my family.

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Old 08-03-05, 01:14 AM
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Same thing here in Oz and I suspect NZ etc. Our societies are definitely too 'cool' to ride bikes.

Because we are such young countries and have little history, I think we are yet to mature as nations and we seem to behave collectively as adolescents on an international level, (the teenagers of the world you could say). I think we suffer badly from inferiority complex, continually trying to 'show' the rest of the world that we are mature people. It's probably one of the reasons we excel at sports. Add to that our relative incredible affluence, we can afford to own motor vehicles on a grand scale, and sadly motor vehicle infrastructure gets the high priority as opposed to cycling infrastructure. Too bad when you consider the way we live is not sustainable and someone will have to pay the price for as frivolous behaviour.
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Old 08-03-05, 01:19 AM
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Originally Posted by novumcollegium
I'm not sure that there is very much that is 'rural' or 'throw-back' about carbon frames and ultra-tech savvy components. There is an elitism amongst many cyclists which seems very aligned with the outlook that your stance seems to oppose in the american view on bicycles. In other words, if a cyclist says "How dare they have the gall to ride that [outdated brand of bicycle] and have the courage to appear serious about it?" is very similar to a driver saying "These cyclists today, if they're going to be on the road, can't it be in a car?".

Also, I'm not sure I would describe much of middle/high class America as "rebellious." Conformist and rabidly individualistic are the descriptors which seem more appropriate.

I think the problem you are pointing out is valid- American drivers can be very egotistical and obnoxious. The root of the problem, however, is something of a much larger neurosis- to which cyclists are not necessarily immune. As I hinted above, the problem seems to have more to do with the individualist mindset and viewing others as means to your end (or obstacles on the road, while en route to your place of employment). This fragmented and divisive perspective seems to be the real problem at hand.
I agree with your views, I think you're right on the money.
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Old 08-03-05, 01:21 AM
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Not that anyone asked me, but I think there are a few reasons.

1- Cost. I've dropped at least $2k in the past couple months and have a pretty bottom line setup. Tools and equipment add up quick. Most people shudder at the thought of "spending thousands of dollars on a bike." Most popular sports can be played with little or no investment.

2- Hassle. Proper maintenance and repair requires time, knowledge, and yet more money. Being a newbie, I will say that bikes can be surprisingly difficult to figure out on your own. I've gone through half a dozen tubes, a set of wheels, tires, a new saddle, and a bunch of other stuff just trying to get past the intitial learning curve. Combining my problems with 2 week LBS turnaround times makes me pull my hair out.

3- People. You know the stereotype. I was passed today by a guy in full team kit riding a ti moots. I smiled and said hello only to get the stare of angry death in return. Nice to meet you, too.
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Old 08-03-05, 02:22 AM
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Originally Posted by berny
Same thing here in Oz and I suspect NZ etc. Our societies are definitely too 'cool' to ride bikes.

Because we are such young countries and have little history, I think we are yet to mature as nations and we seem to behave collectively as adolescents on an international level, (the teenagers of the world you could say). I think we suffer badly from inferiority complex, continually trying to 'show' the rest of the world that we are mature people. It's probably one of the reasons we excel at sports. Add to that our relative incredible affluence, we can afford to own motor vehicles on a grand scale, and sadly motor vehicle infrastructure gets the high priority as opposed to cycling infrastructure. Too bad when you consider the way we live is not sustainable and someone will have to pay the price for as frivolous behaviour.

There ya go mate...you put it my whole feeling on the matter in a much more coherent manner - Love the sig too- might have to steal it for my email !
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Old 08-03-05, 02:29 AM
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I would like to see cycling grow as a varsity type sport in high school. No better time than now.

As for cost, other sports ain't getting any cheaper. You can put together an affordable bike and get the requisite gear together without breaking the bank. Either work with the LBS or test your patience waiting for a steal on eBay.
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Old 08-03-05, 02:33 AM
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"It's hard to be a consumerist slob on a bike, therefore it's hard to be an American on a bike" - Classic!
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Old 08-03-05, 02:35 AM
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Originally Posted by lilHinault
"It's hard to be a consumerist slob on a bike, therefore it's hard to be an American on a bike" - Classic!
I think kandnhome deserves credit for that comment.

Next time use the "reply with quote" link.

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Old 08-03-05, 02:38 AM
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Originally Posted by Sincitycycler
I took a trip to Hong Kong last year with my wife who is from Taiwan and I was amazed that there were a zillion cylists using the streets, battling it out amongst cars with no fear.
Which alternate universe Hong Kong did you visit? I wish that I had lived in that one. The only cyclists you get are either the small smattering of dirt-poor people in the city, or the kids riding 3K full suspension Cannondales out in the rural New Territories. Or by Hong Kong, do you mean the New Territories villages out near China?

Besides all the reasons already given, another reason that Americans don't ride much is that too many cities are designed solely for cars. I've been to parts of New Jersey and Colorado where it's really hard to walk between blocks as there is no footpath- people are simply expected to *drive* to the next giant store. This wouldn't be so bad as bikes are designed for roads, but coupled with the fact that a large percentage of drivers in the US appear to be dangerously incompetent, riding in many cities involves sharing the road with too many aggressive or unsafe vehicles.
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Old 08-03-05, 02:39 AM
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OK, because it's HIS quote, and he's a genius for coming up with it, classic stuff!
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Old 08-03-05, 04:00 AM
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From a participation standpoint, I agree with Ben Cousins. Biking in the U.S. falls under the same umbrella as why we don't have a train system like in Europe. In most European countries, you can catch a train, go from one border to the other (or a completely different country), do you business and still be home for supper. You can go from London to Liverpool or Amsterdam to Brussels in just a matter of hours. Here, you don't live in the southeast and drop by New York city for the day.
Being lazy does play a part. Just the other day a lady at work asked me if I had ridden the day before. I said, "No, not really. I just jumped on my bike and rode a couple of miles down to the end of the road and back just to stretch my legs." She replied, "You rode four miles on your bike?!"
I had to laugh.
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Old 08-03-05, 04:13 AM
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The oil crisis will most certainly give more cred to bikes and as near as I can judge it aint too far off.
Wait till gas/petrol is $5.00/litre+ and then see how popular bikes become.
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Old 08-03-05, 04:33 AM
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Well, I can't speak for the entire US...

But in a shop that sells about four million dollars of bikes and accessories (and a couple mill more in fitness equipment) we are coming off a month that showed a 22% increase in bike sales. I sold 12 bikes in a day and an half, myself. And many are bikes in excess of fifteen hundred dollars.
Obviously that is not an industry trend, but based on what I am seeing from manufacturers who cannot keep up with demand...and the number of 50 somethings who have bad knees and backs and want bikes for low impact exercise, and the numerous bikes I've sold to people doing triathlons, and the several requests for cyclocross bikes...and the people interested in road racing...and the parents wanting their kids OFF the Xbox and on to a weight reducing family fun activity...

I'd say, in my neck of the woods, it's a very cool sport.
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Old 08-03-05, 04:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Hill Climber
Here, you don't live in the southeast and drop by New York city for the day.
Why not? I travel, in my consulting business a thousand miles for a day's worth of work...no sweat.

I lived in Brussels...traveling to Paris or Amsterdam is like my going from Indianapolis to Chicago. I have to drive, cannot take the TEE, but it's three hours, regardless. I can get to NY faster on a jet.
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Old 08-03-05, 05:00 AM
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Originally Posted by roadwarrior
Well, I can't speak for the entire US...

But in a shop that sells about four million dollars of bikes and accessories (and a couple mill more in fitness equipment) we are coming off a month that showed a 22% increase in bike sales. I sold 12 bikes in a day and an half, myself. And many are bikes in excess of fifteen hundred dollars.
Obviously that is not an industry trend, but based on what I am seeing from manufacturers who cannot keep up with demand...and the number of 50 somethings who have bad knees and backs and want bikes for low impact exercise, and the numerous bikes I've sold to people doing triathlons, and the several requests for cyclocross bikes...and the people interested in road racing...and the parents wanting their kids OFF the Xbox and on to a weight reducing family fun activity...

I'd say, in my neck of the woods, it's a very cool sport.
Yes it's the same here but how many of them will actually be ridden regularly and of them how many will be used as transport to the local market or as commuters?
My guess is, that there are more un-used bikes sitting in sheds all over the US, as there are here in Australia, than any other piece of equipment, besides maybe treadmills that is. Bikes actually out sell cars here but are there more bikes than cars on our roads? Not even 5% of total trips are on bikes.
Racing however does seem to be gathering momentum.
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Old 08-03-05, 05:49 AM
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Soccer is really a misnomer for Football (the real one, what's called football here is really "handball"), the most popular and better paid sport in the whole world, period. It may not be in the US, because of other "top" sports only in the US where some games are ludicrously called: the "world series" (what a joke!), I don't see any other foreign country in there to call it such.

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Old 08-03-05, 05:50 AM
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Its not that any nationality doesn't like biking, but kids at ages of around senior school and college, just stop exercising regularly except maybe the gym. When you talk to uni students, if they're exercising, they're going to the gym or doing laps in the pool, or jogging, they're not playing tennis, squash, waterpolo, cycling etc.

I think its because the only reason people exercise after school years is to get fit and healthy, while most of us cyclists ride to have fun, and if we didn't enjoy it we wouldn't do it. I wanna go to Copenhagen where 45% of people commute by bicycle.
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Old 08-03-05, 05:50 AM
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Originally Posted by roadwarrior
Why not? I travel, in my consulting business a thousand miles for a day's worth of work...no sweat.

I lived in Brussels...traveling to Paris or Amsterdam is like my going from Indianapolis to Chicago. I have to drive, cannot take the TEE, but it's three hours, regardless. I can get to NY faster on a jet.
Sure you CAN, travel around the U.S. the same as you can in Europe, but it is cost and time prohibitive. If you live in a major city, maybe not so much, but most of the U.S. isn't major cities. For me personally, the two nearest commercial airports are one hour and an hour and a half away. Neither one of them offer many flights that you don't have to have a connection in Atlanta, Cincy or Charlotte. Minimum ticket anywhere is going to cost you $350.
Compare that to walking a few blocks down the street and getting on a train for a $40 round trip ticket somewhere, and it doesn't compare.
As for driving, I can drive east to west for 8 hours and still be in my own state.
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Old 08-03-05, 06:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Ben Cousins
I don't buy any of these ‘cultural’ reasons. I think you are doing yourself a disservice by saying you are lazy consumerists etc.

As a Brit who's visited the US on many occasions, I put forward these reasons.

Population density, age of settlements.

Your cities are much more spread out than ours, partly because of the size of the country, and partly because a lot of your roads are planned around cars due to their comparative young age. This trickles down into cars being cheaper, gas being cheaper, driving age being younger, more car parking etc etc etc.

It's just not practical to get around on a bike in the US. In London, it's just not practical to get around in a car. Other European countries with similarly small pop. density to the US (Scandinavian) still have old cities designed around horses and carts - small roads and tightly packed city centres. No strip malls and smallish suburbs fairly close to the city. Cycling is practical in these types of settlements.

It's georgraphical/historical reasons rather than sociological.
I live in Norway now, but I studied for two years in Texas. I think Ben is right on the money when he says that it is probably due to the way cities are built. Even smaller towns have huge highways and main roads. It is quite practical, when driving a car, and you can cover great distances so much faster than most countries in Europe. I was so impressed the first time I went to a big sporting event, more than 80k spectators and hardly any traffic on the way out. Very impressive!

This way of building roads / towns tends to promote sports that are available indoors (I guess the 100+ degrees / 90% humidity in the Houston area helps as well...), or can be done in designated areas. Road cycling is something you would like to do on a twisty B-road with little traffic, not alongside trucks going 70 mph. I think there are just more of those places outside the US than there is inside (obviously not true for the country as a whole, I travelled around quite a bit and saw some awesome places, but if you live close to a city chances are you will have to put the bike on the car and drive a little before you get there).That said, I think you have the same problem in the larger European cities...
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