How to Get Everyday People to Use a Bike


A little less than a day ago I tweeted asking a simple question : “How to get every day people to use a bike?. It seems basic, but it isn’t. It is something I deal with daily running a bike shop and trying to encourage people to ride their bikes for basic uses.. The society that surrounds cycling in Charlotte, NC and the suburbs is a hobby and sport, not for everyday use.

Some steps I would like to see going forward include:

Commuter Buddy Systems, we have one in Charlotte but it isn’t used often. A system that you could team up with a well experienced commuter, map out your ride and ride with someone on those daunting streets.

Incentive from the Government. get us out of our cars and into public transportation, our feet or bikes.. Instead of investing more and more money into the never ending circle that is public roads for cars, help us become less reliant on the toxic car use.

Higher Gas Prices : I’m going to get stoned for saying it. when we saw gas prices rising last fall we also saw people trying to learn how to use their bikes for the better.. Running to get milk. to their tennis practice and the gym.. Once gas prices went back down their old habits came back. If you compare our gas prices to Europe, you can see a direct transfer of bike use to gas prices.

Help me figure out this basic question, and we will be well ahead of where we are now.

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0 thoughts on “How to Get Everyday People to Use a Bike”

  1. Murali says:

    Secure bicycle parking. Both at the employer and in public (stores, etc.) in general.

  2. Alan says:

    I agree on gas prices. If our economy could withstand it, high gas prices as seen in other parts of the world would go a long way toward getting people thinking of alternatives to the personal automobile. Like you mentioned, when gas prices hit $4 per gallon a while back, transit and bicycle use soared, yet now that they’ve dropped, we’re right back where we started.

  3. Joel says:

    Rather than increasing government subsidies for cyclists, we should be pulling them from everywhere else. If we started trimming the tax breaks, etc that people get for driving to work it would drive more to use alternate transport. I am a big fan of removing things that keep costs artificially low and the re-evaluating, but I doubt it’s going to happen any time soon.

  4. Bicycle companies only seem to advertise to people who already have bicycles. Car ads are everywhere. One or two bike ads would help. Liz Hatch riding a bike in a commercial in the middle of a football game would get attention. Lobbying city governments to enact bicycle-friendly laws for parking requirements, bike lanes, and tax benefits or other perks to businesses that include bike lockers and commuter shower facilities could help. Encouraging kids to ride their bikes to school, and creating routes and ways for them to do so safely, would start them off early, and possibly counteract slightly the video game-induced physical and mental stupor. (is there such thing as physical stupor?)

  5. Jan says:

    @Joel Pulling government subsidies is a great idea. Unfortunately it’s tied to industry lobbing and vote buying.
    I see America’s car industry to be a mirror of the corn industry. To many tax dollars and jobs are now tied together. It’ll take a political genius (and a very courageous person) to break the cycle.

  6. Paul in Minneapolis says:

    As much as I dislike the car-culture, I have to ask… How much do the car companies spend to brainwash Americans? I think we have to start by getting people to stop watching TV… Although I would LOVE to see a $4+ a gallon gas tax, while not taxing food delivery… On my way to work every morning I speak to every person I can, making laugh when I can. Maybe one person will make the connection”. : )

  7. Andy says:

    I work for a carsharing organization and we loved $4 gas. It made people actually think about what they do and try new things instead of just grabbing their keys everyday.

    The smart people will realize that biking, walking, and taking transit works and saves money. The others can whine all day about their lame commutes, stuck in traffic, paying for gas.

  8. Chris says:

    I agree with the others in that $5 and above gas prices will cause changes in the way Americans behave. The primary driver of change will be financial.

    Government incentives, perhaps a “green commuter” deduction, would help. Policy changes, such as outlawing the insanely dangerous use of cell phones while driving, will help. Pro-greenway and pro-bike-lane policies will help, too.

    Meanwhile, until the above two are achieved, the bike riders need to choose wisely. Where they live, where they work, what bikes they buy – in order to make everyday bike use a possibility.

  9. Matt says:

    I’ve advocated points #2 and #3 for quite a while… especially #3.

  10. BikeBike says:

    High gas prices? Absolutely would help get people questioning their routines. Those prices we saw last year will be back, and probably even higher than we saw, once the economy starts to hum along again. For some reading on this, check this –

    More important though is “safe” places to cycle for new riders and education. The reality is that most non-cyclists think we are crazy to ride in traffic and most non-cyclists would never contemplate, let alone, ride in traffic. So, before cycling becomes more mainstream there will need to be some serious infrastructure improvements made in major NA cities and an education campaign to compliment it.

    What can you do to help? Get involved with your local bike advocacy group and start talking to local politicians about cycling issues in your communities.

  11. Todd says:

    Safety. I honesty think this is the major piece of the puzzle. When you see more and more parents riding with their children – that is the sign of a growing bicycle culture in your town. If you look around and all the other commuters are 20-something males, you might have a problem. As long as commuting is considered similar to bungie jumping you will not convince “everyday people” on their bikes. Telling a mom who wants to bike with her eight year old child to the store to just gird up and “claim her lane” isn’t that convincing of a argument. We need transportation planners and law enforcement to work more closely with us to slow down traffic, help make us more visible, make drivers aware of our rights, and yeah – give us separated infrastructure where we can stay away from those giant hunks of metal and still move efficiently around our cities.

  12. Alan says:

    I believe one of the biggest challenges we face has to do with how our cities are designed. The European cities where governments have been successful in increasing bike share are mostly very old and built on small, tight grids. Many also have high quantities of urban housing. Here in America, many of our cities are designed around freeways and urban/suburban separation which is not conducive to bicycle commuting. I often hear people say that more people should move into urban centers to solve the issue, but the reality is that sufficient housing for a mass urban exodus simply doesn’t exist in many cities.

    Considering that, I believe we need to improve our public transportation systems and make them more conducive to multi-modal commuting. We need more capacity, and we need cleaner, more efficient facilities that are attractive to the large quantity of middle-class commuters who are now commuting by automobile. And to encourage bike/transit multi-modal commuting for those who live in the suburbs and are too far away from their workplace to ride solely by bike, we need more bike lockers, more and better bike racks on trains and buses, and secure public bike parking in urban centers near workplaces.

    We also need bicycling facilities that are what David Hembrow calls “subjectively safe”. Numerous studies cite the fear of automobiles as one of the top reasons people don’t ride their bikes. We need systems of separated facilities (bike paths) that make complete routes from suburban areas to either transit centers or urban areas. It’s one thing to say we experienced riders should share the road and behave as if we’re vehicles, but if we hope to see large numbers of people using bikes for transportation, we need facilities that feel safe to people of any age, experience level or physical stature.


  13. ha1ku says:

    Not if they don’t stone me first LOL!

    It took $4+ a gallon to force me to think of cycling as more than a recreational activity. I’m convinced that we have not seen the worst of the economic downtown yet. When folks have to make a choice between filling up gas tanks and buying food, you’ll see fewer cars on the road.

  14. Bikerumor says:

    I wrote a bit on this a while back, too, spurred by comments from some friends indicating they think it’s crazy that I would ride my bike for such errands as picking up a pizza or some beer (or a lottery ticket). Actually, I run almost all errands under 5 miles on a bike unless they’re major grocery shopping trips.

    It probably rambles a bit, here’s the link:

    There’s also some very interesting (and encouraging) statistics from an Esquire article within the story that explain why it took almost a year from the time gas prices exploded until we saw more people on bicycles…just good fodder for conversations with others when the talk turns to using a bike for everyday trips.

  15. Jeff Moser says:

    Shoot, I have cycling friends that live within 2 miles of work that still drive! Here in Carson City, NV, it’s far too easy to jump in the car. Traffic is light, distances are short, and parking is free and plentiful. The only way I see major changes happening here are if gas prices rise to $5.00 per gallon, or if there are shortages in the fuel supply chain.

    Back when gas was at it’s highest price, I noticed the biggest change in people’s driving behavior. People didn’t accelerate as fast. You could almost feel people trying to conserve.

    We still pick up more and more riders each year with our advocacy efforts, but the system has to break before we’ll see masses of everyday people jumping on bikes.

  16. Tinker says:

    Parking is pretty basic. It needs to be secure, public, well lighted, and close to the actual destination.

    Here in town, they have NO BIKES signs posted at the public library! No parking there. So its no wonder that more kids do not go there.

  17. jon herrin says:

    Move my job closer to my house. A 35 mile on-way ride including crossing two major eastern Missouri rivers does not allow for much work time. And from November till April, that commute occurs in almost complete darkness! As a contractor, I don’t get to pick and choose jobs close to my house. In fact, the next one might be further away.

    That being said, as an IT contractor, if I could work from home full-time, I wouldn’t even need a bike. Or any clothes besides sweats and fuzzy slippers. Right now, I get to work from home 50% of the time and I can statistically prove that I am more productive at home than I am at work. A simple example: Much of my work interaction is with people in India. Well, if I don’t have to waste an hour and a half of my morning getting ready for work and commuting, I have that extra hour and a half to work with the guys in India before they leave for the day.

  18. jon herrin says:

    Also, How about subsidizing the knee and hip replacements I’ll need soon? Can’t pedal 70 miles every day without working legs…

  19. Steve Duncan says:

    This is a great question.

    During the summer of 2008, I rode my bike all over. I used it to get groceries, coffee, for fun, and felt bad if I drove anywhere I could have ridden.

    During the summer of 2009 I did manage to ride it once, but only once.

    What was the difference? Time. I was out of work during the first summer, and working (with a new baby in the house) during the second. Time was the biggest factor.

    It takes me 30 minutes to drive to work, 45 to ride. But if I ride I have to change clothes which adds both time to change and time to prepare. So it ads about an hour a day. With three kids, that’s a lot.

    Easier traffic, better bike lanes, more leniency on the dress code at work, would all help push me over the edge. But having the time is what will really do it.

  20. electric says:

    Don’t bother to proselytize about the virtues of cycling… you will only appear to your audience as “crazy commuter cyclist person.” Instead you should just enjoy cycling, if you are truly an everyday cyclist then you will be a fine role model. Remember not to overwhelm any interested parties with wads of information either.

  21. jon herrin says:

    And see? I do enjoy cycling. I ride on average 50 miles a week, averaging 15 to 17 MPH. I stay fit and have fun, but it’s hardly a practical way to commute in real life — in super suburbanized America at least. To change that, sadly, I think you’ll need a revolution and a large civil war. And that most likely won’t be happening.

  22. ed3 says:

    >ride your bike. be resourceful with your opportunities and prove what is possible. become known as ‘that bike guy/gal’. develop a leaderless resistance where you affect one other person in a positive commuter decision. try for one trip per week per year.

    >encourage the 2-8 mile trips and leave anything over that to autos. people with kids or large packages or time constraints will gravitate towards autos. let it be. winter weather is a tough one also.

    >don’t draw lines in the sand. don’t get caught up in argument or ‘one offs’. lead by action, not directives.

    >don’t encourage bicycle anarchy. be courteous and law abiding while setting an example. show others we are normal law respecting citizens also.
    drivers are watching for the ‘law breakers’ and the coincident road rage and ‘i told you so’ argument. theres no battle there. obey the law and work to modify it if it doesn’t make sense.

    >don’t wait for a a silver bullet. decouple fuel prices from reasons to commute by bicycle.
    $4/5 fuel, while a possibility, is too much of an economic indicator. reversion will quickly happen as the price is manipulated. and it is manipulated.

    >get involved at your local administrative level with transportation decision makers. they make the day to day decisions that effect a cyclists reality.
    ask for a bike lane to be re-painted for starters.(its the easiest trial balloon to float for success!) build on that relationship.
    understand that most administrators are under pressure to reduce costs, and reducing speed and car counts increases longevity of road beds. (less maintenance, longevity, less $ for remediation)
    be sure to follow up with thanks and appreciation.

    >cross political boundaries if necessary, and get on a first name basis with your local state senator. promote your position respectfully. find a way they can ‘get an easy win’. this means work on our part first.

    >look for opportunities to create local bonds that encourage a shift in modality. write a article for your neighborhood newsletter. start something grass roots that people other than cyclists can get involved. use the common sense lever to forward another commuter or cyclist.

    >open a local commercial street, one day a year to pedestrians and cyclists. make it a social event. return the street to the people.

    >encourage architects and builders to design in for cycling facilities.

    >teach your children well, feed them on your dreams.

  23. Shane says:

    Some of the above commenters nailed it (BikeBike, Todd, Alan…)- it’s the infrastructure!

    We need to build our cities so that an average mom feels comfortable riding with her 6 year old to school and then feels okay letting her 10 year old ride on his/her own. That should be the “indicator action”. Separated systems create that comfort. The old school “John” way of cycling isn’t going to work. Mr. Forester and Allen will not get more moms biking- more aggressive males maybe but not the general public.

    We need to switch the meaning of the FHWA from Federal Highway Administration to the Federal Healthy Ways Administration! We need a rebuild of our urban, suburban and even some rural infrastructure to focus on Active Transportation modes (walking, biking, scooting, skating, etc…). Revamping our transportation model will create jobs and stimulate our economy as we rebuild our cities. Instead of large bridge and dam projects we’ll have major bikeways, massive sidewalk infill projects, and urban development projects. Not flashy and photogenic like a freeway interchange but certainly more sustainable, healthy, and effective for changing mode choices.

    It’s not just the city planners and law enforcement but the engineers that need to change their mindset on what ‘transportation’ is. They are the one’s laying the paint, deciding where the concrete gets poured, setting the light cycles, and actually building our infrastructure.

  24. Kevin Love says:

    Good question!

    Where I live in The Riding of Toronto Centre, the commute mode share is:

    38% public transit
    34% walking and cycling
    26% motorist – drivers and passengers

    Data from the 2006 census. I suspect that the 26% is much less today.

    In my opinion, there are three major reasons as to how we got to where we are:

    *Land use planning

    An example of land use planning is the fact that there is zero car parking where I live and zero car parking where I work.

  25. Kevin Love says:

    Alan wrote:
    “The European cities where governments have been successful in increasing bike share are mostly very old…”

    Kevin’s comment:
    The European city with the highest cycle mode share is Groningen, at 59% cycle mode share.

    The pre-WWII part of Groningen is very small, and was fairly comprehensively destroyed when the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division defeated the German garrison in The Battle of Groningen in April 1945. Personal note: My grandfather fought in the Battle of Groningen as an infantryman in The Royal Regiment of Canada, the unit in which I myself later served On Her Majesty’s Service.

    Virtually all of Groningen today was built since 1945, with 38% of the current housing being built after 1970.

    In short, Groningen is much newer than most North American cities, but has a 59% cycle mode share. So it is not about old = bike-friendly.

  26. Alan says:

    “Mostly” was the operative word there. Certainly, many European cities are built on tighter grids than U.S. cities, whether old or new.


  27. Kevin Love says:


    I wonder if there is any form of study relating city grid pattern to bike use. I can certainly think of many U.S. cities with tight grid patterns, such as New York City and New Orleans. Neither one of which has a high cycle mode share.

  28. Thomas L. Bowden, Sr. says:

    Easy, steal their car.

  29. Paul Bunnell says:

    Another issue for (particularly work) commuters, is cleanup/change facilities. When I was in university I cycled most of the time and simply did what I’d be doing at home anyway, after my ride — most schools have ample gym/recreation facilities with shower/change rooms, often free for student/faculty use.

    In most downtown/commercial cores there are various fitness centres – employers would reap both goodwill AND productivity benefits by subsidizing (even to 100%!) costs for employees.

  30. Paul,

    Very good feedback. Staying “work worthy” is a big issue for commuters, especially beginners. I now have no issue wiping down with baby wipes or Action Wipes and changing. When I first started commuting I wouldn’t go without a shower!

  31. Dan says:

    Paul has it right, changing facilities make a world of difference. At my work, we have single bathrooms that are great for privacy reasons. When I used to ride to work I’d bring my change of clothes and a clean rag. After taking 15+ min’s to cool off, I’d go to the restroom and clean up and change. When getting ready to leave, I’d go in the restroom again to change into my riding clothes. If we had stalls instead of an actual restroom, it would’ve been a real pain to change in.

    I’m going to get back into riding again, but this time my brother is going to be my partner in training. He’s going to jog/run while I ride.

  32. ride to work I’d bring my change of clothes and a clean rag. After taking 15+ min’s to cool off, I’d go to the restroom and clean up and change. When getting ready to leave, I’d go in the restroom again to change into my riding clothes. If we had stalls instead of an actual restroom, it would’ve been a real pain to change in.

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