Today I finally wrote up something that I’ve been stewing over for a long time, about the economics of cycling culture and the way it’s become vogue recently to ignore the tidal pull that class and wealth are exerting on the cycling movement with less and less resistance. The following paragraph, about similar issues in the 1890s, is an outtake—it didn’t really fit in with the post but it’s fascinating nonetheless.
The most upsetting thing is that this has all happened before. Daniel London writes, in a fascinating article at Narratively, how the golden age of the bicycle ended not because of the advent of the automobile—there was in fact a gap—but because affordable bikes flooded the market and suddenly anyone could buy and ride one. Lower class “scorchers” were taking to the streets in unfashionable garb and the elites, with their social cycling clubs, daring costumes, and effective Good Roads Movement, lost all interest and dusted off the old horse carriages. London suggests that the same thing is happening now—he traces it to bicycle transportation being coterminous in the popular imagination with mustaches and Brooklyn—and much as I want to disagree, I can’t. We are seeing an unprecedented amount of growth in bicycle infrastructure around the US—but not so much in the neighborhoods that don’t have a third wave coffeehouse. I’m regularly asked to give talks about how bicycling is good for business, particularly, it is either hinted or stated outright, for attractive upscale businesses and their creative class customers. It is good for that, if that’s your goal, but that’s not what Bikenomics is about, not remotely.