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The Five B’s

November 15, 2010

How can you tell if your city is moving in a direction that’s safe for regular bike commuting?  Bike lanes?  Check.  Secure bike parking?  Yep.  But it’s not only about infrastructure, since cycling is truly a matter of form following function.  Take a look at the people on bikes riding to work on any weekday.  Who is riding?  What are they wearing?  What are they riding?

Here’s a list of things that encourage me about the direction of city cycling.  Tiny barometers that I’ll call the Five B’s of Better City Biking.

  1. Boots on bikes. And not just boots. Dress shoes, high heels, casual sneakers…the more people can wear the same shoes to ride in that they wear to work or to walk around the block the more biking becomes just another way of getting around.  No one wears special driving shoes or subway shoes, so why should biking be any different?
  2. Bells on bikes.  Bells are required by law in New York, but that doesn’t mean they’re used all that frequently or even effective in getting a car driver’s attention.  However, safer streets mean that the only warnings you may have to give are to other riders you pass or pedestrians who cross against a light.   In New York, sometimes there’s no avoiding yelling at a pedestrian, even nicely; it’s the only way to get someone’s attention over the din of traffic and honking.  But the more yelling gives way to a gentle bell, the more that means that streets are safer and quieter.  If Amsterdam can be said to have an official city sound, it’s the bicycle bell.  Bells also mean people feel secure leaving some gear on their bikes when they are parked.
  3. Bags and baskets on bikes. I see more panniers, Basil Bags, and baskets on bikes every day.  Road warriors keep their gear in messenger bags or Army-grade backpacks.  Commuters put their stuff in baskets and racks.
  4. Babes on bikes. Sorry for the sexism in the service of alliteration, but more women on bikes is a fantastic sign that we’re moving from macho street warriors to people who like easy, efficient ways of moving around.  Plus, science backs this theory up. Yes, science!
  5. Babies on bikes.  There is no shortage of babies and toddlers in Park Slope, where I live, but up until recently, spotting one on a child seat was about as rare as finding someone chowing on a Big Mac at the Food Coop.  Recently, however, I’ve spotted more people riding bikes with their kids on the back, dropping them off at nursery school or running errands with them.  When people feel comfortable loading their bikes with truly their most precious cargo, that’s one of the best signs of safe biking one can hope for.

I’m sure there are other clear signs of a changing bike culture and any one of the above clearly has exceptions.  None is hard and fast and none has any meaning by itself.  But taken as a whole, the list points to a city moving in the right direction.  What are your barometers?  And, no, yours don’t have to start with the letter B.

One Comment
  1. summer permalink
    November 21, 2010 7:54 pm

    Amen to #3. Putting a front basket (and later a Pletscher rack) on my bike was the single best I could have done to make my bike practical for commuting. I never have to worry about changing bags or arriving at work with a sweaty back; I just throw my purse in the basket and cover it with a cargo net. Recently I bought customized panniers (for grocery shopping) from the Dutch company Clarijs. I’m hoping they’ll catch on here; they’re so well-made and attractive.

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