There are now so many people using their bikes as transportation in Los Angeles that we actually have a parking problem. A number of businesses (notably independent cafes and restaurants) have installed bike parking in front of their doors. I suspect this has been invaluable in helping them survive the recession.
Anyway, I've been wondering whether the owners put up bike racks to attract more bike commuting customers, or whether they did it because many of their customers were bikers already.
Which came first? And could anybody build up their business by showing that they're edgy, forward-looking and ecologically aware by catering more to bike riders?
If you ever ride a bike in L.A., you probably feel the pain of living in the classic car-dominated culture. So this might surprise you. It certainly blew me away.
On his Human Transit blog, Jarret Walker listed the top 50 cities with the highest percentage of car-free households. East L.A. made the list, with 21% of households living without the automobile. Even Los Angeles itself was up there, albeit in 49th place, with a car-free density of 16.53%. We beat Seattle!
The reasons don't have much to do with ecological awareness. It's more a combination of poverty, age (Los Angeles was a big city before the riode pf the automobile), and urban density. Still, this just empasizes the opportunity here.
There's always been a weird misconception that the bicycle is a luxury toy for the well-to-do, or a vehicle for the suburbs and the country. But given that poverty and density are compelling obstacles to owning a car for many people, biking just makes more sense.
There could be a perfect storm brewing over this. Los Angeles has a strong bike culture already, and a bike plan (even if it has many shortcomings) is in place.
With our relatively flat streets and typically good weather (not counting this week), LA should be one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country. Now there's some political will to make it happen, and statistics to show that it can be done.
One of the best parts of biking in the rain is the looks you get, and the conversations it inspires. When you're biking in foul weather, especially in a place like LA where foul weather is rare, people take notice. It gives you a chance to change their minds.
While you're out there pedaling through Valhalla, breathing free air and attacking the most menacing hills, the mortal masses are growing dull and weak behind electronic screens. Entire generations are hyperinsulated from the real world, and we're paying the price:
Last year's economic meltdown was caused by a potent mix of greed and laziness, the mindset that easy money should be a given, the bovine mentality that comfort is the norm and serious effort is unnecessary.
The purely physical aspects of life have become so easy for most of us that it's easy to get lost in this mindset, easy to lose touch with reality, almost impossible to do anything as our resources and freedoms slip away.
At the same time, the few people who stay active and engaged with the world are beating the trend and thriving. The courageous heroes who squarely face the challenges that life throws at them, or who seek out challenges on their own, these are the people who continue to grow and succeed.
If you're a regular bike commuter, I suspect you have a distinct advantage in your social and economic life, in addition to better health. And whenever you ride, you're a beacon to all the wandering souls behind glass panes, a reminder of the independence, resourcefulness, and work ethic that made this country great.
When it's raining cats and dogs, especially in a place like Los Angeles where it rarely rains very hard for very long, the weather separates the heroes from the common folk. If you ride boldly and blatantly where others fear to tread, you're forcing the world to wake up and take notice.
You have a choice to make. We're on the cusp of human evolution, but it's different this time. We're not going to be naturally selected by a meteor or some other environmental catastrophe. We're going to choose our own fate.
So get on your bike, especially when the storms are raging all around you.
You don't realize it, but your bottom bracket holds the future of America, and maybe of all humanity.
I was doing some research on luxury brands for a client, and I stumbled upon an ad for "Cadillac Luxury bicycles."
I never thought I'd do this, but I have to give a thumbs up to this automobile company for diversifying and manufacturing a truly fuel-efficient vehicle.
I doubt this will have much of an impact on the company or the industry just yet, but it's a start. Someone at Cadillac can see the writing on the wall. They're focusing on high-end buyers, even implying on their website that true roadies are elite--which of course we are 🙂
There are still two overwhelming prejudices that keep most people from riding bikes. One is that you have to be some sort of super-athlete, and the other is that bikers are geeks, and definitely not in a cool way.
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But now your "bike" can be a Cadillac. This is very cool, it's probably creating new jobs somewhere, and it's dispelling these two dead myths.
I was biking downtown, and when I stopped at a red light someone rolled down their window and said, "I'll bet you're saving a lot of money riding that thing."
Indeed. Probably tens of thousands of dollars over the last 15 years. Before the motorist took of at the green light, he said he was planning to ride his bike to work soon, because of gas prices and the recession.
But this isn't at all about saving money. That's just icing on the cake. Which got me thinking...
There's a lot of talk in the media about an economic slowdown, recession, depression, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it. And there may be some truth in what you've been hearing, although the jury's still out on how bad it's going to get.
But spending less money doesn't have to mean lowering your quality of life. I put that in italics so you'll remember it, and burn it into your brain. Most bike commuters probably ride their bikes to work by choice, not necessity. And even if your credit card debt, your salary cut, rising costs or some other economic factor compelled you to ride your bike to work, you'd still get all the benefits that lead to this choice by people who have other options.
You'll pump oxygen into every cell in your body, burn fat and build lean, powerful muscle. You'll get to work relaxed and happy, looking and feeling a lot better than the stressed out commuters who had to hunt for parking. You'll see your town from a new perspective, and make discoveries that motorists miss. Every day is an adventure, because you're using your mind and body and wits to overcome new obstacles that wait for you just around the corner. It's fun!
Not to mention the self-righteous ego-boost you can indulge in, knowing that you're saving energy, reducing pollution, giving your fellow citizens more parking and road space, and generally making the world a little bit better.
And you'll save money. Maybe start getting ahead, paying off your debts and building up your net worth while people all around you are worried about defaults and bailouts and who knows what else. But that's not the point.
Riding a bike is just one example of how downsizing your life, spending less, can actually improve your standard of living. The new economy (and that's what's happening here--not a reduction of total wealth but simply a transfer of wealth) may look scary on the surface if you're stuck in old ways of thinking. But really it's an adventure of new opportunity. Embrace the adventure.
If you’re Canadian, British, Australian or from any English-speaking county other than the United States you can probably ignore this post.
But if you’re from the USA, and you want to tour Italy by bicycle, you may be worried about how much (or how little) your dollars will buy when you exchange them for euros.
Good news. When it comes to bike touring, you’re in a separate category of travel. Here’s why.
Bike touring is inherently cheaper than most other kinds of travel. You spend more time in small towns where things are less expensive, and you have more options because of your mobility (think of the typical backpacker who has to rely on bus and train schedules).
I would add that bike tours tend to involve more camping, but the truth is you really might want to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants. Good news here, too.
You see, in the late 1990s a lot of new tour operations opened up in Italy with the intention of serving middle class Americans made rich by the dotcom bubble. The dollar was strong, flights were cheap and convenient in the pre-9/11 era, and middle class tourists swarmed to Italy. (I was a tour manager in Rome, and it was possibly the best time ever to be an American living abroad.)
Now those hotels, restaurants, pensioni and other services are struggling for new and different clientele. When you show up there, you are a rare and welcome guest. You can’t expect the prices to be lower, but you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck.
Italians don’t treat you like a customer, but a guest. On recent bike tours in Italy I’ve been invited to dinner, taken on tours of small Italian villages, and offered lots of amenities for what was only a slightly pricey hotel room.
And this is part of the joy of bike riding on tour. You get all kinds of unexpected gifts and surprises from the locals.
Food also gives you a new level of class when you tour Italy by bicycle. You may not be able to eat in a Euro-grade restaurant on a dollar budget, but you can get fine bread and cheese from a deli, and then take it somewhere exotic with your bike.
Sit up on a wall or in the courtyard of a castle while you feast on wine, cold cuts, cheese and grilled eggplant doused in olive oil. Have a picnic in a green field dotted with wild flowers, as you lean against a crumbling aqueduct. I’ve done this, and I’ll do it again soon. No matter what the exchange rate happens to be.
If anything, this might be the best time for touring Italy by bicycle if you’re creative and adventurous. And you are, or you wouldn’t be thinking about this trip, would you?
A lot of people have been asking what it's going to cost to trek across the via Appia from Rome to Brindisi next spring.
I posted this on a separate page that I thought would just be for touring Italy by bicycle, but I'm still learning WordPress and the FAQs page is hard to find, even for me.
So I'll be putting up answers to the questions I get every couple of days. If you have another question, just leave a comment and I'll get back to you.
Anyway, the money thing. The good news is southern Italy is cheaper than the north.
When a mechanic in Capua charged me 5 euros to replace a bunch of broken spokes on my last trip (check out the picture!) I misunderstood and thought he said twenty-five. As I handed him a few bills, he shook his head and said, "No, non siamo a Roma." (We're not in Rome.)
I shopped the idea around at my High School reunion this past weekend, and was surprised at how many people were into the idea of [tag-tec]touring Italy by bicycle[/tag-tec]. (Thanks to all of you who trust me to guide you through a foreign land, when the last time you saw me I couldn't even get a license to drive my date to the prom.)
I've done this route before, as well as several other [tag-tec]bike trips[/tag-tec] all over [tag-tec]Italy[/tag-tec], and I speak Italian fluently, so there shouldn't be any serious logistical/navigational problems. My goal is to organize and write about these tours for a living within a few years, so I'm doing whatever it takes to make sure everyone is comfortable and happy.
That said, this is Italy, so you can expect a few mishaps and surprises, just enough to make a good story when you get back home.
There are more details posted on the FAQs page, or you can leave a comment if you have any questions.