The bike week in review

Last week’s bike stories from Denver and beyond.

The Denver Bicycle Café is two years old! And they had a rocking party to celebrate last weekend!

SF Streetsblog has a good feature on the gentrification paradox, the phenomenon of residents opposing city improvement projects (like installing bike lanes, good sidewalks, and public transportation) out of fear that the rent in their neighborhoods will increase as a result. What do you think? Do Denver’s new bike lanes  pose a gentrification paradox?

Denver School of the Arts kids know that it’s important to keep your brain safe – they all wore helmets to school last week to support a classmate who suffered a head injury after a skateboard accident.

In Portland, every day is walk and bike to school day: Streetfilms reports that rates of kids walking to school in the Oregon city are up 25 percent since 2006.

Bike Rumor has an interview with a founder of the Fort Collins-based Boo Bikes, on his team’s approach to building bamboo bikes.

Tina Fey roasts angry NYC cyclists at the Natural History Museum gala:

Hey, bike people, what are you so angry about? Nobody made you ride a bike! Also, where are you going in such a hurry, that you’re going there on a bike? If you’re an emergency heart surgeon going to an emergency on your bike, don’t curse at me. Just yell, like, ‘Heart surgeon!’ and I’ll move.

The New York Times reports on the sixth cycling fatality in London in two weeks, and a proposal to ban large trucks during peak traffic times.


The Bike as a Symbol of Freedom – A short movie review


The Saudi based movie Wadjda stars a spirited young Saudi girl, Wadjda, whose dream is to one day own a bicycle. The only problem is that she lives in Saudi Arabia where women’s freedoms are severely limited. Frustrated by this and the lack of support from her female role models, she devises a plan to get the money to buy the bike.

This is the first movie both written and directed by a Saudi female and was the Saudis pick as their entry for the Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards even though it was not widely shown in Saudi Arabia. But it’s easy to see why; the story is simple but universal, has a terrific arc and the lead actress plays her part with confidence, humor, grace and stunning maturity. But all that aside, lets focus on the bike.

Almost all kids all over the world would love to own and ride a bike. This is particularly true for Wadjda because in her country culture dictates a woman’s ability to move around freely and, more matter-of-factly, to move herself long distances via bike or car is practically impossible. And so, for Wadjda, who sees herself in her society as more of an “equal” to men, the bicycle is a symbol of gaining that equality.

But, truly and simply, Wadjda wants a bike so she can race her best friend, a neighborhood boy. It looks fun to her. She wants to keep up with the boys. In a very telling scene, Wadjda, after having her best friend temporarily steal her shaw, watches as he joins a group of his bicycle riding male friends who pedal away to their next adventure. There is a longing in that look she gives and it’s an understanding that a bicycle not only can take you places but it can inspire you with an almost endless supply of choices, i.e. the medium is the message, the bicycle is freedom, the bicycle is how Wadjda can empower herself and gain control over her life.

Debate Time! Are electric bikes the solution to city commuting?

Response 1: Yes, they most certainly are!

Electric bikes are on the Internet’s Mind this week — everyone from tech bloggers to the Huffington Post is nerding out about a new-ish prototype from FlyKly, a company that launched a Kickstarter in October for an electric rear wheel which could make it easier and cheaper to Get Places Fast on your bicycle.

The best thing about this invention is that it could democratize cycling in cities like Denver, where commuters travel further distances to get to work than they might in tightly packed megalopoles  like New York and San Francisco.

If the Downtown Denver Partnership’s 2012 Commuter Report is to be trusted, most people living and working in Denver have a 14-mile commute one-way. 28 miles is a long way to bike every day, especially if you’re not a spritely young thing (the same Downtown Denver Partnership report says that people over 30 are significantly less likely to walk or bike to work than their younger counterparts).

Which brings us back to the democratizing idea behind electric bikes. Hopefully this fancy new tool will encourage those commuters who have longer rides to swap out their prohibitively expensive, dangerous, and decidedly silly car for a new-fashioned bicycle with an electric rear wheel.

In doing so, they’ll find that they can go further and be more comfortable on a bike than ever before. And we all love the idea of getting more people on bikes – healthier habits lead to healthier citizens lead to less anomie and more cooperation leads to safer roads lead to more fun for all!!

Response 2: No, they most certainly are not!

Fixing our commuting woes is not as easy as finding a well-marketed electric wheel, idiots. To solve this one, we need look no further than the history of trying to solve social problems through fancy weirdo and/or technocratic solutions that don’t really get to the bottom of the original contradiction at stake.

Like when Brazilian modernists decided to engineer a capital city – Brasilia – in the middle of nowhere – and then it didn’t really turn out how they had planned and also no one really wanted to live there because it was a boring shithole.

The point here, which I’m getting to, is that urban cycling and commuting are plagued by social problems that go beyond the fact that many of us are quite lazy people who don’t want to get all sweaty on our 5-10 mile commute.

Anecdotal testimony from friends and family and acquaintances plus articles I read on the internet demonstrate that a lot of people are actually pretty scared of cycling in American cities. And with good reason.

Writer Daniel Duane confesses in a recent NYTimes opinion article about cycling accidents that “Everybody who knows me knows that I love cycling and that I’m also completely freaked out by it.”

And early last month, Tim Blumenthal, president of PeopleForBikes, posted a somber piece after the death of cyclocross racer Amy Dombroski, who was killed in an Oct. 2013 collision with a truck.

Blumenthal’s analysis was pragmatic: everyone is at fault for the abysmal safety conditions on American roads. Motorists are often dismissive and aggressive toward cyclists, who in turn refuse to follow basic traffic rules designed with everyone’s safety in mind.

America’s problem with bike safety isn’t going to wither away if we get more people on bikes. In fact, since electric bikes can easily bring cyclists to speeds that are harder to achieve on an old-timey non-electric bike (up to 20 mph), they could end up causing more accidents if we don’t change the way we think about commuting.

As John Whitelegg has argued in The Guardian, “Bike use goes up as a result of efforts to make streets safe and connect origins and destinations, and this involves urban design, measures to reduce the speed and volume of traffic and measures to make public transport bike-friendly.”

Let’s take the time to make biking in Denver safe, cooperative, and realistic for the mainstream before we go electric.