Do you bike to shop? Let business owners know!


Via Third Wave Cycling Blog:

Bike Helmets on Customers Exposes Unnoticed Business For Retailers

January 11, 2010 by Jack Becker

We received an email earlier last week from the local ratepayers’ group:

There has been a request from VANOC and the Olympic committee asking Citygate and False Creek residents to keep their festive lights up and on throughout the Olympics so the world can see us.

Presumably this request can even include the festive Christmas lights that some boat owners festoon their masts along the waterfront.

What would be an equivalent, visibility tactic for the cycling community to announce the significance of cyclists?

It could be as simple as keeping your helmet on your head when you are shopping.  This action would go a long way towards changing the perception of local business retailers that their customer base and retail sales comes from car drivers.  It may start stopping retailers’ complaints any time that a new bike lane at their store entrance takes away more street car parking.  It may start retailer action to call for more storefront bike parking racks.  It may change perception that cyclists in a store does not contribute to the bottom line of retailer sales and profitability.  A “helmet-on-campaign-while shopping” would remind retailers that cyclists do comprise more of their customer base than retailers might realize.

Cyclists do shop, contribute to local businesses and the economy. Like everyone else, they still consume products and services.  In fact, cyclists, without the burden of paying for car maintenance, may have more money available for shopping.

In downtown Toronto, there has been an ongoing debate on implementation of a bike lane on the busy Bloor Street west of Spadina  Rd., an area  known  as the “Annex”.  For many decades and still now, the Annex is a gentrified neighbourhood with busy cafes, restaurants, independent shops, community centre and services that draw patrons and convivial street life.

A recent study of 61 local merchants, 531 patrons, and parking space use, revealed only 10% of patrons drive to the Bloor-Annex area. Pedestrians and cyclists were spending more money than the drivers.  This is not surprising since the area is served by 3 different subway station exits, feeder bus lines and an established bike lane grid in this Bloor St neighbourhood.

Meanwhile in Vancouver, the Canada Line opened in late August 2009.  Now changes in customer levels have been noted to be modest for businesses along the Canada Line on Cambie St.   Businesses closer to stations have seen an increase in foot traffic.  The full effect of a switch from car-based shopping to people-based shopping takes time.  It takes more than a full year business cycle for commuters to establish changes in their transportation choice, travel and shopping patterns.

Since no one is constantly monitoring where bikes are locked up outside  shops, then the bike helmet is the beacon to signal retailers that another customer that just arrived –in a different way.

Since cycling is on the rise in Toronto, it’s time to make yourself visible to shop owners who apparently don’t believe that cyclists and pedestrians are good for business. Carry your bike helmet, keep your pant leg reflector on and make sure to mention how much you appreciate the bike parking or bike lane you found nearby.

Photo via Flickr user Life in a Lens


  1. Great post… and I’m a big believer in this fact:

    “Cyclists do shop, contribute to local businesses and the economy. Like everyone else, they still consume products and services. In fact, cyclists, without the burden of paying for car maintenance, may have more money available for shopping.”

    It’s true… not owning a car frees up a lot of money for spending on other stuff… and if you’re like me, you like supporting local businesses near where you live… businesses you can walk or bike to! :)

  2. I’m somewhat ambivalent about this. I generally oppose the use of bicycle helmets when cycling, as it sends an untrue message that cycling is unsafe.

    My normal tactic is to complain to the store manager about inadequate parking. “I couldn’t find a bike stand until (insert distance I had to walk here)”

    Managers generally figure that for every customer that complains there are about 12 who don’t, so these complaints carry a lot of weight.

  3. Kevin: Complaints can also help bring attention to lack of bicycle parking and infrastructure. But, I believe it is important to also remind retailers that you’re choosing to visit them by bicycle even if you showed up on a bike lane and parked right next to their front door. Helmets, leg reflectors or simply mentioning at the till that you biked to make your purchase all work together to get this message across.

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