Earlier this year while at a family gathering the topic of bicycling came up. One of the participants actually works at a university and gave me some insights that were unexpected. On her campus the majority of people (especially young males) who get around from class-to-class use longboards and scooters rather than bicycles. Why?
The Drawbacks of Bicycling
Drawback #1 – Bicycles Take Up ‘Too Much’ Room
I know you too have seen all the illustrations that show how many more people can be on the roadway on bikes versus cars. But when it comes to parking, bikes are as vulnerable as cars to the claim that they take up too much room. In fact it is probably more obvious that bikes are a nuisance because of where their carcasses are parked.
Unlike automobiles which get ‘hidden‘ in giant parking lots bikes are outside along sidewalks and in front of buildings and when their numbers are so great that a few simple inverted-U racks no longer suffice, the place gets truly littered.
But the final indignity of bicycle parking is that owners of bicycles tend to simply abandon their bikes. When that happens thousands of rusty frames with even rustier chains like locked to places that could be used by others but nobody has any idea when the owner is coming back to retrieve their bike (if at all).
In college situations it is far easier to simply abandon a bike than have to schlep it across country to your next home. Because they are often unregistered and unlicensed bikes are (unlike cars) easily abandoned without penalty by their owners.
Drawback #2 – Bicycles Get Stolen
Getting back to the previous argument, when a campus or city district gets inundated by bicycle traffic, people are forced to leave their bikes blocks away from their destinations. If that is a classroom it means that your bike is unattended while you are away from it.
Theft of bicycles is a common as breathing. If you are likely to have to stay all day in the lab on campus and then walk alone that half mile back to your bike in the middle of the dark it makes sense to want to have better conditions for parking. Conditions that put you closer to your bike while you leave it unattended.
For that reason skateboards win out. You pick up your skateboard and walk it into the lab with you and bring it back out on your way home. Theft is greatly minimized.
You can accomplish this same thing with a bicycle like the Brompton but they are expensive. So unless you can afford a Brompton your next best option is to have BikeShare handy. But even then you have to hope that the number and location of the stations is also handy. Otherwise if you have to walk a half mile to get to your lab or classes you might as well use a longboard.
Drawback #3 – Bikes Are Expensive
There are several places where the expense of bicycles become evident. The first of course is when you purchase it. But that is misleading. A Brompton is cheaper than buying one or two beater bikes to replace the ones that get stolen because a thief took it.
You could buy a single Brompton and dispense with fancy U-locks (and their replacements when you bike gets stolen and it gets destroyed). But bikes that are left outside all the time tend to get weather worn. So you save a bit of money if you can bring the bike inside all the time.
But students are not like homeowners. They are more nomadic and as a result they take far less care of their bikes than they should. Most students have absolutely no plans to take their bikes into the local shop for a tune-up once a year. Hah!
Tuneups are in and of themselves expensive, but then there is the added jolt to your wallet when you find out that the rims are breaking down and you need a new wheel. Or the brake pads have dried out and you need new brake parts. And don’t get me started on new tires and such.
And did I forget to mention fixing flats!
Drawback #4 – Bikes Are More Dangerous
Riding on the sidewalk is a piece of cake. But you are banned from that activity in most places after the age of twelve. So you need to learn to ride in the street in those ‘havens of safety‘ known as bike lanes.
But it does not take much sleuthing to learn that even bike lanes are a nightmare for many. Because we tend to shoehorn our lanes onto streets where the speed differential is greater than allowed by law in Amsterdam we find ourselves riding cheek-by-jowl with large vehicles all speeding along at a pace faster than most bicycle riders can sustain. This is a recipe for disaster!
Now couple this with icy bridges in winter and unplowed streets after a heavy snowfall and you have a tragedy in the making. That bus that just passed you looks more inviting now than it did before you left home.
And did I mention that once you leave the relative safety of the sidewalk or the cycle track you need to make yourself more visually significant. That means light and reflective gear (especially clothing) just to coexist on streets. It makes the prospect of staying on the sidewalk with your skateboard all the more inviting.
Drawback #5 – Dressing for Riding Is A Bummer
Finally there is the question of how to dress for a ride to the office or the lab. You need a helmet. Yeah, yeah I know that nutcase from Copenhagen says you don’t need one. But trust me when I tell you, you do!
But when the weather turns ugly you also need goggles, gloves, rain pants and jackets and much more. It makes hopping on the bus look like a cake walk by comparison. In fact when all is said and done the mass transit options on most campuses are a no-brainer unless you don’t have to ride very far on your bike.