Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mayor Dave takes on the Lycra dress code

Trying to Keep Up with our Biking Mayor in My Car
Mayor Dave found a different approach to bicycling on his tour of European cities that are great for bike commuting.
A lot more people would bike to work if it weren't for the dress code. One thing that became immediately obvious in our tour of European cities that are great for bike commuters is that biking isn't an event here; it's a way of life.

Men in business suites, women dressed to the nines, elderly couples, little kids - virtually everybody rides a bike. You see no Lycra shorts, racing jerseys, clip on peddles or helmets. And, except for the helmets, which is another discussion, that's a good thing. More people will ride if they can just hop on and go, not spend a half hour packing up their work clothes while they dress for the ride to the office as if it's the Tour de France.
This was Mayor Dave practicing what he preaches at last year's Bike to Work Week. As someone who loves to bike and has never worn Lycra in his life and is not about to begin, I think he has a good point.


Tom Bozzo said...

I think Mayor Dave's bottom line of "we're going to have to make [riding to work] comfortable, safe and fun" is unassailable. The focus on the dress code, not so much.

My admittedly casual survey of the SW path, Isthmus, and campus-area routes suggests that the actual Madison dress code mix is easily 3:1 or 4:1 in favor of civvies, and most riders are using flat-bar bikes with some comfort leaning or other. (For that matter, within the core the cycling and transit modal shares must be far higher than the city and/or metro averages.)

That's not to say that there aren't commuters on road bikes, and plenty of the lycra-clad (guilty as charged) -- it's just that isn't so much the norm as is suggested.

I'm sensitive to the possible perception that there's a dress code, but it seems like the first-order factors are the relative costs of motoring and the availability of bike accommodations outside of the near-west to near-east core. The '08 fuel price spike, for one thing, really seemed to drive up bike traffic on the major bike commuter routes.

While Madison's bike accommodations are pretty good by U.S. standards, that doesn't mean that it's really good. There are lots of gaps in the route/path network (e.g. the Whitney Way end of the Beltline path ends on the wrong side of a very congested intersection from another bike route), larger distances and heavy traffic in the suburban-sprawl parts of town, bike routes without real bike accommodations (N. Sherman is by far the worst in that regard), bike routes over bone-jarringly/wheel-bendingly bad pavement, etc.

Madison Guy said...

Tom, all good points. Agree about the actual mix -- and a lot of the people wearing biking gear are probably training, not commuting. And like you say, the underlying factors discouraging bike commuting have nothing to do with clothing -- and will have to be addressed if we're going to make a change in behavior.

What I do like about the Lycra statement is its metaphorical resonance. The problem is that as a society we're so car-centric in our thinking -- cars=transportation; bikes=recreation. That has to change. We need to start seeing bikes as a practical, natural form of transportation if we're ever going to build political support for creating a more bike-friendly city -- and society.

Cybergabi said...

As someone who bikes to work practically every day, no matter what the weather or the season, I never saw any necessity for Lycra wear. I don't have to wear a business suit though - clean jeans and sweatshirt will do. In my last job in Germany I had to - and a bike commute would have taken me through a forest with muddy paths. That did keep me from biking in the rain and in winter, because I spent more time cleaning my shoes and the lower half of my pants from the splashes than the entire bike ride took.

It probably depends on the distance and the personal circumstances (like route, dress code etc). If it was for me, get rid of business suits in general :-)

Citizen Reader said...

I would guess at least part of the discrepancy is how much Americans just simply love to BUY THINGS--even when being "green."