Today in the Toronto Star, Catherine Porter writes about her unintentional conversion to a different kind of cyclist. Her conversion is from a “road warrior” to a “Mary Poppins” or as some would say, she’s become a convert to the Slow Bicycle Movement.
In North America the bicycle is a sporting tool. If you’re an adult, then the market sees you either as an aggressive trail shredder on super-suspension or as a spandex-clad Tour de France hopeful. Yet most North American cyclists are neither of these. $3,000 carbon fibre, full suspension rigs are used for leisurely rides along the lake shore and paper-light road bicycles become commuter rides with far more potential for speed than our roads can allow.
Currently, the type of bicycle pictured above and now owned by Catherine Porter, make up less than 10% of the annual bicycle sales in North America. Yet, these bicycles, with their upright positioning, room for baskets and limited gearing are possibly the best fit for the majority of people who use bicycles here.
Hidden within this small market is a growing movement, one that praises the ride over the destination, preaches respect on the roads and asks just one thing of all members; simply slow down. Slow bicycle movements are born of a particularly European kind of cycling. The kind of lazy Sunday morning cycling where no one is overly rushed, no one seems to be racing and everyone appears to be smiling. Only they ride like this every day.
For Catherine Porter, the gift of one of these city or urban or cruiser bicycles has changed how she rides. A less aggressive positioning helps one develop a less aggressive riding style. On my single-speed I am transformed into the racer I never was. Pedestrian crosswalk countdown timers give me reason to race through intersections and every car I pass is a notch on my belt, a step closer towards “winning” my commute. However, on my city bike, it’s about the journey. I’ll take a side street that I know will probably end or turn into a one way the wrong way, but that’s OK because I have my camera and will probably find some hidden part of the city.
If these bicycles are such a fit for many North Americans, then why do they make up such a small percentage of sales? Quite frankly, and as Catherine Porter also mentions, it’s that our infrastructure doesn’t promote this style of cycling:
The Highway Traffic Act is not written for bikes. The city’s roads were not made with them in mind. And the cycling equivalent — the bikeway network — remains a tattered quilt, leaving drivers irritated and cyclists unsafe.
Earlier this month, city hall decided to shelve a proposal to stitch up the network in the downtown core for yet “more study.” (The city’s bike plan is nearing 10 years old and still less than half done, despite a pro-cycling mayor.) Infuriating. Until things improve, even Mary Poppins will have to break the law from time to time.