Making bicycling “normal”
During a recent visit to the Netherlands, we heard over and over the most interesting concept: even though the share of people who ride bikes is greater there than in any other country, hardly anyone calls themselves a “cyclist.” Dutch girls may ride an average of 7 kilometers per day, but they are just girls who bike, like they are girls who brush their teeth and girls who eat cereal for breakfast. Because bicycling is so prevalent, it is mindbogglingly normal.
Here in the U.S., lots of people see themselves as cyclists: in fact, I'm one of them. We believe we are members of a special sort of club. With our fluorescent jackets and rolled pant cuffs—or, in the more extreme cases, shaved legs and cultivated tan lines—we broadcast our membership, intentionally or not, in this exclusive group. The sense of community we feel belonging to this club is part of what keeps us riding, yet we know it can be counterproductive too (even had a driver yell something insulting at you?)
But what does the general public really think about people who bike in countries where bicycling is not the normal mode of transport? A new study from the UK asked nearly 4,000 people this question, and the results were surprising. Sixty-five percent considered bike riding “normal,” and only 7% thought people riding bikes were “strange.” Interestingly, the regular bike riders in the survey perceived themselves to be stranger than the normal public actually did: 24% of regular cyclists thought the public perceived them as being “a bit odd.”
This study makes it sound like we’re not as weird as we think we are--a very, very good thing if we want bicycling to be as normal here as it is in the Netherlands. Perhaps it’s due to the proliferation of utility bicycling in popular culture, or simply the recent increase in bicycling trips. Whatever the cause, this study gives us hope that one day bicycling in the states can be as normal as brushing your teeth.