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December 25, 2006

Raising A Cyclist In 21st Century America

Last month I received an e-mail from a man with a company that makes a very unusual bicycle.

He submitted an e-mail ( And several follow-ups. ) that served several purposes, and he hoped I would share it ( them ) with readers of this blog:

Promote a Conference he would be attending in 2007.

Promote presentations he would be making there.

Promote the unique product of his company.

Discuss the issues of how best to get pre-schoolers into the swing of bicycling.

Share some interesting thoughts, and statistics, related to cycling in America, and other countries around the world.

I read the e-mail, and checked out the company website, and we had some e-mail back, and forth.

Lets begin with the initial e-mail from Randy Eady,of MPS-Ready Solutions:

Hi, Dude!

I was trolling for data to prepare two presentations for a EuroBike Conference next year and came across this on a fella named Gary Green's bicycle and beach.com site and he linked me into your site...

U.S. Bikers Less Safe Than European Counterparts:

In the United States, cyclists are 12 times more likely than people in cars to die en route to their destinations. On a per-kilometer and per-trip basis, U.S. cyclists are twice as likely to die on the road as German cyclists, and more than three times as likely as Dutch cyclists. While cycling fatalities in all of these countries have fallen in the last 25 years, U.S. cycling deaths have declined largely because of a drop in cycling, while in the Netherlands and Germany investments in infrastructure that make cycling safer account for much of the decline...

Given your international interest in cycling you may want to know about the Velo-city 2007 Conference, in Munich Germany, and my particular presentations:

PAPER #1

The Challenge of Raising A Cyclist In 21st Century America:

In Europe the laufrad has "revolutionized" the way 2-5 year olds learn how to ride a bike ( "Running Bike"  ( lauf = run, rad = bike wheel )  For your benefit:  Fahrrad is "bicycle" and Rad is "bike" in German. ) without the dependency created by stutzrader ( "support wheels".  Outside stabilizers as they are called in most English speaking places.  In the US, a brilliant marketing campaign came up with the clever misnomer:  Training Wheels, some 50 years ago.. It has helped thousands of children get on the path to an active lifestyle and garnered numerous toy design and educational awards. ).

Yet in North America there is a reluctance to embrace the laufrad, an inexplicable resistance to comprehending the benefits of the "laufrad phenomena" in Europe and denial of the increasing emergence of "training wheel dependency" in American society.

Even with an overall flat-to-declining US bike riding population, surging levels of childhood obesity and more children abandoning bike riding because they become dependent on outside stabilizers (known as "training wheels" in North America), the self-proclaimed world's leading bike magazine, Bicycling ( July 06 issue:"How to Raise a Cyclist". It was an extensive several page spread, but is not on the website.  ) stated: "the best way to teach 2-4 year olds how to ride is to put them on a training wheel equipped bike."

Many American's blithely say "we just take training wheels off, while Europeans add pedals." Actual rider-ship belies that statement. More European children are learning to ride untethered at an earlier age. More American children are carrying extra body surface area and are learning to balance a bike at a later age, if at all.

This presentation features North American's largest and most experienced direct distributor of laufrauder. The Glider Rider Division of MPS-Ready Solutions has been selling the "running bike" in the United States for over two years. We have used various educational approaches/demonstrations to prove the merits of the concept and have begun to open windows of perception in product use by suggesting its application in America as a therapeutic tool for special needs and developmentally challenged children. We will also discuss how the culture of obesity and the "anti-integrative" exercise philosophy in the US influences comprehension of the laufrad.

Why at Velo-city 2007?

To underscore the urgency of creating engaging and playful vehicle choices that promote physical wellness habits early in life and counter the ever-increasing influence of a sedentary lifestyle and a culture of obesity.

PAPER # 2

Title: Human Powered Vehicles (HPV); the ANTI-Segway. (Exploring a Cultural Paradox; Back to the Future of Individual Traffic)

Introduction:

Human behavior is hard to change. And behavior, with respect to human powered vehicle conveyance in the middle of Europe is very different from practices in "middle" America. We will examine cultural/behavioral differences manifest in the European and American approach to mobility, systemic wellness problems related to automobile-reliant urban transportation and the challenge of incorporating eco-sustainable lifestyle choices like "Call-a-Bike" programs in America. Suggested solutions may lie not with technology or sophisticated urban planning but a basic mentoring process.

Discussion:

Responding to the "oil crisis" of his day--as the literal price of horse power (oats) soared in the early 1800s--German inventor Karl Drais not only designed the first foot-propelled, human-powered, wheeled vehicle, he also ushered in the concept of individual traffic. This milestone set a prerequisite to ensure European pedestrian travel moved beyond a transportation issue and into the realm of infrastructure planning. In a sense, Drais reminded the populace that future personal trips would not only involve a walking component, but integrate with public thoroughfares. From the simple velocipede, profound implications can be drawn comparing contemporary Euro--American transportation and mobility behavior.

One paradoxical example: the manner in which Segway Human Transporters are permitted where most HPVs are prohibited. Lobbying campaigns touted technology, ignored health concerns and cleared the path for permissive regulation so US cities could put Segways on sidewalks. Not as a mobility-assist device; merely for convenience. This same anti-walking logic now applies in places like malls/amusement parks. By focusing on the legislated sidewalk acceptance of the Segway (in every major city EXCEPT San Francisco) and the exemplar success of Toronto's BikeShare program, this presentation will suggest only progressive municipalities understand that a city's walk and "bikeability" are some of the most important measures of the quality of its social health and vitality. Conclusions will revolve around the use of a civic planning tool called the Green Transportation Hierarchy. (A graphically depiction of the priority of consideration in governmental planning for various mo des of transportation, walking first as the most green form, followed by cycling, transit, delivery vehicles, taxis, and finally SOV (single-occupant automobile).

Why Velo-city 2007

Because we want to expand the discussion about the underlying cultural, behavioral and ethical differences that manifest in the European and North American approach to mobility and some of the systemic wellness problems related to automobile-reliant urban transportation.

My correspondence with Randy produced more interesting information.

He had written a Letter to the Editor, of Bicycling, that he's not sure was ever published:

(I opened the letter like this because they subtitle their magazine "The World's Leading Bike Magazine"):

Dear WORLD's Leading Bike Magazine,

As you are the globe's preeminent authority on all things two wheeled, I was caught by surprise when your How to Raise a Cyclist article recommended starting 2-4 year olds on "a training wheel equipped bike." Perhaps a broader glance around the world may have better grounded your essay writer's instruction.

European cycle enthusiasts have recently recognized so-called, yet mis-labeled "training wheels" were the construct of clever marketing nearly a half century ago. (They offer little benefit in the way of balance training and generally instill fear/doubt in a rider's natural balance capability.)

By using a new form of pedal-free bike for the past three years on the continent, the application of outside stabilizers has become the exception and the average age of newly self-supported bike riders is now about four and a half.

Though this may seem a minor point, when the underlying issue for "raising a cyclist in the U.S." is actually countering the influence of a sedentary lifestyle and a culture of obesity. Shockingly, health organizations like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), American Heart Association and American Medical Association report balance ability now peaks at about the age of 10, that 18% of adults (18-55 years of age) report being non-bike balance capable and that childhood obesity is expected to reach the 25% level in the U.S. population by 2010. It's no wonder the NIH predicts one out of three (one out of two hispanic) children born after 2000 will contract diabetes. It's also no wonder the bike industry will be facing lower and lower rider-ship levels if more and more children get stuck on training wheels and aren't weaned off before they're drawn to the virtual fascination of a screen-based substitute.

Randy Eady

Intergenerational Balance and Movement Instructor, Boca Raton, FL.

I asked him if his company was US, or German:

We're an American-German company ;-)

Here's why:  We see our product "cycling" between the US & Europe, i.e., children's version started in Germany and migrated to the USA.  The adult version will start in the USA and migrate to Europe in 2009-10.

He shared with me excerpts from the soon to be updated ( Early 2007 ) FAQ page from the Glider Rider Site that is very interesting, and informative, and worth checking back with the site next year.

He also shared with me an article he has just finished writing, and hopes to get published, about how innovative Bike Designs are good Start-up Business Ventures.

As he wrote to me:

Why?

The bicycle is the world's best selling form of transport with 100 million sold each year - twice the number of cars sold - so a lucrative niche market exists for the more creative among us.  Four illustrations from around the Globe that expose these opportunities are the Sideway bike (UK), the StreetSurfer (AUS), the StairCycle (US) and, the soon to be announced, Glider Rider-Adult Version (GE/US).

The article is an informative essay that discusses the balance principles, attributes, and benefits, of these four new bike concepts.

I'll add an update here when I get word of the publication of the article. (Follow-up: Nov. 2007)

Finally, here are some interesting statistics he dug up as he is preparing for the Conference:

Snapshot: Deutschland/USA Bike Riding Comparison...

Germany:

Overall Population: 82,431,390.

66 Million bike riders in Germany.

City and Urban Bikes: 27% Trekking Bikes: 28%.

MTB/All-terrain Bikes: 15% Cruiser: 8% Other: 12%.

40% of Bikes in Germany are sourced from Asia (74% in US come from Asia).

USA:

Overall Population:300,000,000.

82 million bike riders (25 Mil MTB, 27 Mil Road Bikes, 18 Mil Hybrids).

(As of 10/06) Less than 25% of the US population rides bikes.

3000 people per day in the US lose bike riding ability due to non-injury related demographic factors such as aging, obesity and sedentary lifestyle.

Largest growth sector: Hybrids (55% growth rate in last five years)
28,128 hybrids were sold in May 2005, rising by 70 per cent in May 2006 to 47,870, worth $10.4m, about 17 per cent of the US bike market.

Sources: National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA), US Bicycle Product Suppliers' Association (BPSA), and USDOT/FHWA.

Dutch ride twice as often.

The German Government is moving forward with a national bicycle traffic plan to promote cycling throughout the country. The goal is to increase bicycle use to 30 per cent by 2012. Holland serves as a role model: Dutch citizens use their bikes for 27 per cent of all daily travel needs. In Germany, the current figure is around 12 per cent.

According to the National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA), almost $5.2 bil/yr is spent on bicycles, parts and accessories, with 10 mil bicycles sold each year. Of the 80 mil bicyclists in the US, 55% are adults and there are 25 mil mountain bikers. Some 1.7 mil bicyclists also participated in 4,900 cycling events in 1998, during which time 175 hours of sports TV coverage was dedicated to bicycling. Of all bicycle sales, discount stores, toy stores and department stores account for 62%. (Direct)

Unlike most countries, cycling in the US has long been regarded as primarily an activity of childhood, to be left behind once one became old enough to acquire a driver's license and access to an automobile. Back in 1975 over 2/3 of all bicycle traffic fatalities were juveniles while mature adults were just 1/8 of the total. Over the past several decades however, the number of children encouraged to take up cycling has fallen dramatically, while the number of mature adult cyclists has grown at a somewhat slower rate to partially offset what would otherwise be an enormous decline in bicycle fatalities. As of 1998, just 30% of all bicycle fatalities were still juveniles, while mature adults now make up 50% of the total. USDOT/FHWA.

Somewhat Dated Statistics:

60 million Americans bicycle at least once per year [ Bikes Belong ].

25% of the U.S. population bicycles [Omnibus Transportation Survey by Bureau of Transportation Statistics, July 2001].

While in Japan 15% of commuters bicycle to work, in the Netherlands 50% of commuters bicycle and in China 77% commute by bike; only 1.6% of U.S. commuters bicycle to work [Washington State Energy Office Extension Services].

Eye opening. ;-D

December 25, 2006 in Voices From The Open Road | Permalink

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