Buy-Cycle Back to Prosperity

Filmmaker and anti-helmet Fashionista extraordinaire, Mikael Colville-Andersen, dug up this Depression-era cartoon, encouraging people to buy, buy, buy, as a way of stimulating the American economy with more “circulating dollars.”

Buy-Cycle Back to Prosperity

That cartoon is truer now than it was when it was originally published.

The irony is that just before the Great Depression, only about half of American families owned automobiles. The New Deal, which helped to stimulate the economy into recovery, provided ten times more funding for roads than for public transit. Government policy helped to cement the psychological link between national prosperity and car ownership.

At the time, the real encouragement was to buy cars, among other consumer products. The bicycle in this cartoon was only a metaphor.

I don’t think it’s a metaphor anymore.

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10 thoughts on “Buy-Cycle Back to Prosperity”

  1. Karen says:

    When I think about buying a car, all I can think of are all the experiences I won’t be able to afford if I’m making car payments.

  2. Joel says:

    I am reading many articles on this website to help keep me motivated and focused on biking to the bus station. I guess you could call it the “Weight Watchers” of bicycle commuting. Only those who have experienced the benefits and discipline of trying to use bicycles for commuting can counsel and encourage the neophytes like myself who show up looking for “a sign.”

    I got my first “sign” of encouragement as I went to my doctor and lost five pounds in five weeks. I am cutting back a little on my caloric intake but I will give the old bike credit for a solid fifty to sixty minutes of moderate exercise each day of commuting. I have averaged about 3.5 days per 5 day week and slowly trying to improve it to 4 days per 5 day week.

    It is great. I can work this into my daily schedule as I save gas, lose weight, and generally go back to my childhood when I rode a bike for hours every day and never gave a thought to any other type of transportation.

    Back to the future, just like our “Recession” is looking very much like the past “Depression.” My bike might not save a lot of gas (six miles each way on my commute) but it just might improve my quality of health as well as extending my life. Feeling good and being in good health is priceless.

    Gentlemen (and Ladies), start your legs.

  3. BluesCat says:

    Right: “Help the economy, buy a CAR!” That statement was obviously created by the rich puds who are the true source of our current economic woes. You’re supposed to just IGNORE the HUGE NEGATIVE impact on your own PERSONAL ECONOMY!

    Putting that aside though, I can’t help but think about the differences between the simple act of buying a car versus buying a bike.

    You walk onto the car lot and the salesmen descend on you like vultures on fresh roadkill. The art of “qualifying the customer” seems to be totally lost on them as they try to steer you towards the jalopy with either the biggest markup or the “incentive of the day” from the lot owner. When you go to sign the contract, you discover enough extra costs in there to boost the total another 25%. (Does it REALLY cost $450 in “documentation fees” for them to make a photocopy of your driver’s license?)

    Walk into a bike shop, and the owner is probably that wrench turner at the work stand, the guy or gal who looks up, smiles, and says “Hi! Just let me know if you have any questions.” When you ask what they have in recreational rides, he or she walks towards you — wiping their hands on a rag so they can shake YOUR hand — and asks “Is that all you’re going to do, just ride it on weekends? Or are you thinking of commuting?” The rest of the transaction goes like that: with THEM asking YOU what you need. And when it’s all said and done, they probably will throw in a couple little extras like a free water bottle and a Velcro ankle strap.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      I want to go to that bike shop.

      All of my bike-buying experiences have been low-pressure, that’s true. But where car dealerships collude on prices (in addition to taking government handouts), bike shops are engaged in a race to the bottom — the bottom being price at which bikes are sold at Target and Wal-Mart.

      The people who are beginning or returning cyclists tend not to understand the value proposition of a good bike shop: expertise and service. They’re just selling bikes, this customer is thinking. How much of a difference can there be?

      So bike shops tend to sell two kinds of bikes: (1) High-end bikes for cyclists who value service, quality and/or snob appeal, and (2) low-end bikes for people who are probably heading to Wal-Mart if they don’t see something they like.

      There’s a third kind of customer: The customer who doesn’t buy a bike at all, but wants to test ride one that he will ultimately buy on Amazon.

      There are many reasons for the differing customer service experiences between a bike shop and an auto dealer. But the bike shop doesn’t have to make you get serious about buying a bike. When you walk in, you either are or you aren’t.

      This is fodder for a entire post, I think. But first I have to make sure I really know what I’m talking about — or pitch the idea to Stace Moses, who does know what she’s talking about.


  4. Chrehn says:

    Great cartoon. It’s a good reminder why I ride my bicycle and why I try to buy American Made when I can.

  5. I totally hear you Joel! Bike commuting has been terrific therapy for muddling through the Great Recession. The fact that it is something that I can take charge of and be successful at within my own personal economy (as Blues Cat says) boosts my morale tremendously, while also allowing my husband and I the cash to continue our cherished visits to the nearby sushi cafe.

  6. BluesCat says:

    Ted – The Bike Barn.

    A few weeks ago, I was helping a friend of mine get her Electra Hawaii back in running order. I had ordered a new set of Blossom Trail tires a few weeks before that, so I was in there, picking them up; and then a day later — just before I headed out to her house — I was in there for some more stuff.

    On each of those three visits, I was there along with some other customers who were being treated to the attention I noted in my first post. One time I overheard the salesman/wrench explaining the difference between 26″ and 700c wheels; another time I heard the salesman/wrench talking about drop handlebars versus riser handlebars; and on another one of those visits they were completing a bike sale and tossing a free bottle into the bag with some other stuff the customer bought.

    Small wonder they’ve been rated The Best Bike Shop in Phoenix several times, eh? I’m sure that they have their fair share of Internet Shoppers, but I’ve never seen them fail to treat a customer as king or queen for the day.

  7. Joel says:

    Dear Ted Johnson,

    I am somewhat guilty of going to Target about ten years ago for a cheap “beater” bike. I did not tease or tantalize the local bike shop owner though. I used to do Ironman competitions in the eighties when I was young and there was no money or fame in it at the time. I have had my fair share of upper end bikes and the bike shops did get all of my finances in return for superior support and service (I was single and could spend large sums of money on my hobbies).

    I am now commuting for savings and health. I cannot risk any bike worth more than $100 at the bus station without drawing too much attention on a daily basis. Even if my beater bike is over ten years old and cheap, it is extremely well tuned and maintained. The cheap steel rims are almost as true as any race bike I have rode. All of the bearings are clean and well greased and the frame has a coat of wax at all times. You will be hard pressed to find more than a superficial amount of grit and sand on my chain. As it is, just because it is clean and in good mechanical shape, it is a very prime target for thieves. I use a double locking system of a U-lock and a very high quality aircraft theft cable to make sure that I do not have to walk home at the end of my bus trip. The security devices easily cost as much if not more than the bike.

    Being an ex-Navy Engineman, First Class, there is no part on my bike that I could not create by machining or fabricate if necessary. I am certified in every welding technique known to man.

    All of that said, one of my main goals is to save additional money for use by my family. Buying a high end bike would be counterproductive as I could go through twelve beater bikes for the price of one medium to great bike. If one expensive bike gets stolen, it sets me back for years. I have kept a cheap twelve speed Magna Double Divide (the very scourge of the bottom-feeding bike underworld manufactured by Dynacorp) going for over ten years. You gotta cut me some slack for just being able to do that.

    Not all “commuter newbies” are “bicycle newbies.” We have been forced to go from purely recreational biking for fun to commuting biking for savings. It can be tough.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Great comment, Joel.

      For you with advanced mechanical skills, and to a lesser extent for someone like me with my mediocre mechanical skills, the value proposition of a bike shop vs. Target becomes blurred. This is especially true for someone who is not interested in a high-end bike. (I’ve never owned one, and you have. So there.) My comment was about how bike shops stay in business, and why the customer service experience is different at a bike shop than it is at an auto dealer.

      My comment was not an attempt to divide bike shop customers into aficionados on one hand, and Target schmucks on the other. My sense is that bike shops make half-hearted efforts to catch the Target-bound customer with low-end bikes — but they know that many of these customers are hardly worth the effort, because many of them do not value what a bike shop offers in terms of service and expertise.

      I too am the proud owner of a Magna. I’m still nursing it into usable condition. This bike has become a conversation piece for my bike-shop friends. They tell me that they won’t even work on a bike from Target or Wal-Mart, because simply owning one of those bikes is — in their minds — a proxy for someone who does not value service or quality. They say the owner of a $125 Target bike doesn’t understand why it will take another $125 in labor to make the bike function properly — and there’s no explaining it to them either.

      I own a Magna for similar reasons to yours. I’m just not as skilled as you at fixing it up. Want to come to Flagstaff and help me?

  8. Joel says:

    Dear Ted,

    I am sorry if I seemed defensive. I did take your post properly but I might not have conveyed my objectives well.

    Most people buying from Target or Walmart do not have the ability to correct poorly assembled bicycles or misadjusted bicycles. Their only option is to take them back for an exchange or find someone they know who can fix it.

    Time is money and expert service can take years to learn. This is a dilemma for commuters who are trying to keep costs down. The whole idea of commuting by bike loses its economic appeal when more money is going out to buy and maintain the bike than it saves.

    Thanks for the response. If I was any where near Flagstaff, I would be more than happy to help you. I did visit Flagstaff many moons ago in the Winter. The weather can go from hot to cold in less than a day but I enjoyed it.

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