Will the high price of oil help make 2008 the Year of the Bicycle?


Bicycling’s best year since the start of the auto age? That’s the argument likely to be made this week as hundreds of cyclists from across the nation gather in Washington for the National Bike Summit sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists.

A crescendo of trends and developments makes the case.

First the trends: Oil costs are surpassing $100 a barrel, global warming alarm calls are mounting, polluting autos and trucks increasingly clog city streets, and health concerns about a sedentary and fattening society are mounting.

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0 thoughts on “Will the high price of oil help make 2008 the Year of the Bicycle?”

  1. Hal says:

    You would think so, but it’s not likely to be the case. I hear the presidential candidates talking about the high price of oil like it’s something they can bring down, not like its an indicator for the need for societal change. I think that attitude will prevail.

  2. doug says:

    i think that people will keep driving their cars, waiting for the new miracle fuel to come along and bring prices down. to fund this people will sell their televisions and other luxury goods, because a car is not luxury good, but a non-negotiable, 100% necessary facet of modern life.

  3. Fritz says:

    In California, gas purchases are down 4% over the previous year. That *never* happens. Of course, economic recession also drives down the number of miles driven, as people without jobs don’t drive to work.

  4. r. says:

    I just did some figures and it turns out I saved $125 a month if I don’t drive (this was when gas was $2.68). I believe it’ll double or even triple if gas keeps going up. I’m so glad I own 4 bikes.

  5. Brent Shultz says:

    Around here (NW Montana) folks are still buying those giant one-ton Dodge pickups and driving everywhere all by their lonesome. I imagine it’ll take a real price shock gas-wise to change that.

    And damn me for buying a fuel efficient car–it seems that commuting to work by bicycle only saves me ~$200/year. Heh.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Reading this article gives me the impression that cyclists will become more and more welcomed in US cities. Is it only a “green” fad or will it last? I also read Houston is looking into Paris Veli’b type of offering. Surprising, i just spent a week in Houston, I don’t remember seeing a bike. This city is built for cars; humans are only accessories created to attend the needs of cars: drive them, fuel them, fix them, wash them, build road for them, buy parking space for them. People believe they need a car to go to work but never realize that what really happens is that they need to work mostly to pay for that car.

    In regards to the rising price of oil, one day car drivers will have to learn to do the maths. Gas is only part of the equation. It is true that things like monthly payments, licence plates and insurance are usually fixed costs, same whether they drive the car or let it sit in the driveway. But every mile they drive costs them depreciation, oil changes, tires and scheduled maintenance. The more they drive, the poorer they get…

  7. JiMCi says:

    I wrote the above and only after I clicked “submit” that I realized I didn’t fill in my name. So please replace “anonymous” with “JiMCi” 😉

    I stand behind what I write…

  8. Svenny says:

    I don’t think the high price of gas will create an immediate effect. It’s going to take time for US and Canada to change their lifestyle enough to fully embrace biking. You just can’t carry a starbucks latte on the bike carrier very well. It’s also our culture to buy gas guzzling vehicles that have engines with displacments bigger than Nel Carter settling into a bubble bath. What’s the first stats an American looks at when buying a car? HorsePower and Torque. What does a European look at when buying a car? MPG and carbon emissions. Europe has given their people more options to be able to embrace green-ness.
    You can get a Ford Focus or a Honda Civic with about 5 different engine choices…all in the 1.x Litre range, to keep with the gas mizerlyness. You have access to a public transit system that is on time and has multiple busses running the same route. (our local bus system where I live is KERrap. By the time I wait for a bus I could have walked….hey maybe that’s their plan! This year our provincial government dropped the tax you have to pay on a bicycle to encourage people to go out and ride. We’ll see what happens.

  9. bikesgonewild says:

    …tim, to answer your question, no, unless it’s applied by cyclists as a wishful self fulfilling prophesy …

    …would that it could be so…but while gas prices affect some of us more than others, cars are a bigger intrinsic part of canadian & american culture than any other society (look out, here comes china, for sheer numbers) on the planet…part of it literally has to do w/ the vast open spaces our countries are composed of, but the developed mindset of comfort & convenience will always be hard to overcome, costly or not…

    …my concern is the attitude that goes w/ higher gas prices…people will always pay it but then they’re driving around pissed off & paying even less attention than they already do…

    …i don’t wish to bemoan all the valuable efforts that have been made through cycling advocacy over the years, but at times progress doesn’t seem to be doing much more than “keeping pace” w/ growing numbers of vehicles & incidents…

    …i hope i’m proved wrong…

  10. Brad Curtis says:

    Higher gas prices will be the most effective cause of forcing people to seek alternative methods of transportation. However, it will take a collective mindset shift to cause us to choose the bicycle more often than we do today. The real challenge is getting non-riders to accept that is not crazy to ride your bike on the road. Too many of our fellow citizens perceive bicycles as a mild annoyance on their daily commute to/from work instead of a transportation choice that should be respected and promoted. What is needed is indeed a cultural change – and they don’t happen in a year’s time.

  11. rick says:

    Getting more people out of their cars would be great but it’s wishful thinking I believe. It’s about priorities. Being fit and heathly and environmentally conscious is not at the top of most peoples priority list. How do I know this? I just have to look around, the evidence is all around me.

    Fast food is being served in our schools, SUV’s are the best selling vehicles in the market, heart disease is our number 1 killer. Do I need to continue?

    I don’t see people protesting and getting angry about being gouged at the gas pump, I don’t hear about people being upset that the dairy and cattle industry is slowly killing our population.

    I visited a bike forum earlier this morning and there was a thread devoted to violent motorist experiences. People actually attempt to run us off the road for fun. My wife and I rode our bikes to my local organic grocers the other day. A woman pulled up in a BMW SUV. She had long blonde hair and was wearing a cell phone around her ear. She actually had to have a specific type of hair style to accomodate that freakin silly phone. This is what we are up against. Self centered people that only think of them selves. I don’t see much evidence that people are starting to take a more global view of the world.

    I think it will take much more than high oil prices, we need a complete culture shift. I would really love to be proven wrong and to be shown as nothing more than a grumpy old cynic.

  12. Jeremy says:

    Other than the cultural love of vehicles we have here in america, the simple logistics of transit don’t accomodate most people riding bikes. In most major cities (especially here in Houston) people live up to 35 miles away in the suburbs, and work in the city. Even for the most hardcore cyclist that actually could ride 35 miles in the morning and again in the afternoon, the only path they have is the actual freeway, or maybe the small shoulder. I know several of my coworkers have mentioned that they would love to ride to work, but they live in the suburbs and could never make it.

    And coupled with that, apparently no one can afford any housing that is in town, except for the very wealthy. That is slowly changing, however, and it seems more and more affordable housing is being built in town, as people are getting tired of spending hundreds of dollars a month on gas.

  13. dan says:

    one of my sales guy came into the shop and told me 1 in 3 people are coming in to look at practical, commuter style bicycles that work well going to the coffee shop and grocery.

    (thought I would throw a little positive out there)

  14. Mark V says:

    I’m not so sure we can’t make relatively fast changes in this country, look haw fast computors and cell phones caught on. More importantly look what we did during WW2 when there was an incredible push (by the Govt.) to recycle. If the right cause is there, and the Govt. has the will, we can make some pretty radical changes in the U.S.

    Ithink I can, I think I can!!!!

  15. bikesgonewild says:

    …you know, mark v, you do make a good positive point…i don’t wish to be a naysayer (as my posts may occasionally sound) but having been around a lot of these concepts for long time, i admit to being somewhat jaded…always a believer but definitely jaded…

    …i think i can…the little bicycle that could…thanks for reminding me of the right direction…

  16. Robert says:

    The good thing is more people are talking about alternative ways to travel. My wife used to drive 20 miles one way by herself to work. Then a co-worker decided to ride share and now they are up to five people. I commute by bike to work even in the winter. People thought I was a little nutty, but now people are asking me about types of commuting bikes. I think slowly but surely things will change for the better. Maybe the most important thing is to show our kids the importance of traveling by bike. When my daughter pulls up in a Burley at preschool she receives good, positve and funny feedback from her classmates. On nonwintery days (just around the corner) she rides her own bike to school with me riding behind her. As commuters we can be positive and informative and in the long run it may payoff in changing your local atttitude.

    Have a great commuting day.

  17. Higher gas prices won’t much change single-occupant motor vehicle use.

    Liquid fuel shortages will.

  18. r. says:

    I hear the americans will never change b/c they’re addicted to the box (i.e. car) argument again.
    I’m also hearing the argument that cycling is a green fad thing. well, i would encourage those of you who believe this to check out NPR. i don’t know where i heard the story (it might have been a local show called smart city), but it said that major societal changes start with the 1 percent of people who dedicate themselves to a certain lifestyle.

    I’m the one percent: a vegetarian, environmentalist, and cyclist. i’ve never judged those who drive everywhere i try to accept them and make them feel like they are good people. you know something i’ve made two of them avid cyclists and three or four committed vegans.

    If you wish others well, look like you enjoy what your doing (even if your really not at times), and have a positive outlook you’ll affect a whole group. It may not look like your moving a mountain but you really are.

    Like I tell my riding buddy who thinks she can’t get up the hill: “Don’t stop! Just pedal!”

  19. Jett says:

    It’s easy to find the negative because it doesn’t require thinking for yourself, courage to be outside the norm, or even swimming upstream. Because no creative energy is released, nothing new is created.

    On the other hand, once you’ve taken up cycling, you’re engaging all sorts of positive energy: exercise of mind and body, efficient use of resources such as fuel, energy and land, better relationships face-to-face instead of isolated in your glass and steel cage. And don’t underestimate how good it makes you feel. Good cycling karma radiates.

    I think tapping into the positive energy is ultimately more self-sustaining than an avoidance of costs.

    But let’s look at some costs. High fuel prices are part of it, but so is the stress of traffic, the unpredictable commute time, and the sedentary and wasteful use of your time.

    And there’s other unpleasant costs we gloss over. We tend to ignore how likely we are to get killed or seriously injured in a motor vehicle and fail to recognize how dangerous it is to drive while using a cell phone. These costs in human life should be a bigger part of the equation as well.

  20. lalahsghost says:

    I have very little hope for this. I lived all up and down the east coast, 17 out of my 22 years of life in VaBch. I now live in North-Central WV. Here in WV, I’ve been spit at by young children in the back of big trucks for riding my road bike to get a few groceries at dusk. Not only are rural areas not the best places for commuting, but even if you’re riding a $1000 bike, people treat you like you are poor for getting around to places w/o a car. I’m already a misanthrope, and nothing will change my mind about humanity’s fate.

  21. Jett says:

    LalahsGhost, do you base your assessment of humanity’s fate on young children in the back of a truck whose best shot is spitting?

    How were things in Virginia Beach?

  22. JJ says:

    To reply to the previous posting about not being able to manage a Starbucks latte on a bike carrier, it actually fits quite well in a bike’s cup holder, as long as you use your own cup! Cup discount applies.

  23. lalahsghost says:

    @ Jett:

    Of course I overly emphasized that statement by not elaborating on my misanthropic view on life, and that the culmination of things going on worldwide do not pan out (for me) to look like there is any hope in just about anything. (Yet I live my life honorably everyday.)

    Virginia Beach, I lived about 1/4 mile away from the bay bridge and rode everywhere during high school, and a few years after graduation. It was a viable option of transportation, but the road conditions and driver acceptance was well within tolerable limits from what I can recall from four or five years ago.

    It just really bugs me that people living on welfare and driving vehicles that I have no clue how they can afford (I have a car too, but use it only when the weather changes my mind) can look at someone who is minding their own business and abiding by all laws, and still being a passive rider gets treated as a second class person and scoffed at. I know it is a cultural thing, and I have not acclimated to this rural/poverty stricken area… but there have been many… and when I say many, I mean at least once a week where I get a comment that can typically be summed up as “Git outta here” when riding on the road, or the more profane “Get the fuck off the road”. I’ve heard people giggle at me in VaBch for walking a bike with a flat home, but never did anyone throw their fast food trash at me or yell things you wouldn’t want virgin ears to hear. I always laugh and say that I wanna go to Mich State, just so I can see what its like in Ann Arbor or other ‘trendy’/accepting towns now that I ride for more than just the enjoyment of it.

    Oh? The gas hike? I may fill up with $20 once a month or so in my ’92 Dodge Caravan. Is that a fine example on non-car reliance? 🙂

    Sorry for getting off topic, and ranting but I really wanted to explain what the cycling environment is, here in the 26201.

  24. Mike Myers says:

    As others have said, America is a car culture. Most of our cities got big after the invention of the automobile, so they were designed around it. Read James Howard Kunstler’s book, “”The Geography of Nowhere” if you want an insight into the history of modern American cities and the growth of the suburbs. He does not paint a pretty picture. Try to imagine sustaining the suburbs when energy prices skyrocket. Another poster mentioned Houston as an example. He’s right. What will people who live 35 miles away do when their gasoline costs triple? Can the average suburban household survive a tripling of gas expenditure, plus increases in all other purchase prices? What do you do when the house in the suburbs is unsustainable? To whom do you sell it? And to bring it back to a cycling viewpoint—-how many people are going to ride 70 mile round trips? When I do my commute it’s a 40 mile round trip, and 20 miles before work is quite a workout—-and I don’t have hills to worry about.

    Alternative fuels? Not likely. The midwestern states are pushing corn ethanol—-but then corn which is used for feed or foodstuffs will be more expensive due to increased demand. Hydrogen? Ha. They currently make it from natural gas—and that’s not cheap.

    Oil from shale or sands? If it takes two barrels worth of oil energy to produce one barrel of oil from shale or sands, nobody’s going to do it.

    I’m quite certain if America approached TOTALLY redesigning our country’s infrastructure and mindset to one which was divorced from individual motorized transport, we could do it. We did put a man on the moon, after all. But I don’t see the average fatassed American riding 10 or more miles to work.

  25. Rick S. says:

    Wedge shaped autos with small 3 cyl. low sulfur diesel engines ( that’ll run on anything bio, like vegetable oil.) Wedge shaped for aerodynamics and with a little ‘lip’forward and downward will cause the other wedge shaped car , in an impact, to slide up and over.. easily no human injury, decent “roll cage’ desogn within, replaceable ‘designer fenders.’

    All urban outside lanes specifically reserved for bicycles, split in two with second, “passing’ type lane for small 49 cc scooters. Cars can make right turns only within 100 feet of intersection. Auto Gas sold based on sliding scale based on auto weight.

    Interstates open to < 5 BHP, typically big shoulders anyhow.. bicycles and small scooters allowed, maybe hike/bike camping allowed along the, already, huge easement.

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