Bike slowly

By Felix Salmon
July 28, 2011

One of the things I like about urban biking in the summer is that people go slower: no one wants to arrive at their destination a sweaty and disheveled mess. When bikes go slower, that’s safer for everybody, especially pedestrians. And it’s much more pleasant for the bicyclist, too. If you take your time, and you’re not always in a rush, stopping at red lights is no longer an annoyance: it’s an opportunity to cool down a little look around, learn about your city. I like the fact that my bike is faster than a car for most New York journeys. But that doesn’t mean I’m in a race.

Unsurprisingly, then, I love Celeste LeCompte’s article about the Slow Bike Movement in the SF Chronicle. And she makes an important, oft-overlooked point:

Seeing slow-riding folks like Logan and Stockmann out on the road can be a refreshing encouragement to hop on two wheels for a daily commute or a quick trip to the farmers’ market.

As a general rule, the propensity of non-bicyclists to give biking a try is inversely proportional to the average velocity of the bikers they see on the street. If you live in a city where women in wedge heels are steering their old steel bikes around their daily errand route, there’s really nothing intimidating or scary about the prospect of getting on a bike yourself. If it’s all hipsters on fixies, by contrast, that just makes biking feel all the more alien and stupid.

So, next time you get on a bike, give yourself an extra five or ten minutes, and take your time. You’ll be much happier for doing so. And your happiness is likely to prove contagious.


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Do you think that as more non-bicyclists give bicycling a try that the average velocity goes down?

Posted by invisiblehand | Report as abusive

It’s one more dichotomy of my old home (NYC) and my new home (Santa Monica). My current land of gorgeous women on beach-cruisers headed up and down main streets at 5MPH sure are less aggravating than dodging cyclists going 35MPH as I try to cross 6th Ave. Then again, New Yorkers love aggravation, thrive on it really. So perhaps you’re off base.

Posted by BRM_3 | Report as abusive

Well if you can make up rules to suit yourself, so can I:

“As a general rule, the propensity of non-bicyclists to give biking a try is inversely proportional to the number of idiot journalists telling them how fast they should ride.”

Fixed that for ya. And here’s another one:

“As a general rule, the slower the rider, the more likely to blow a red light.”

It is the strong rider to whom the cost of stopping or climbing a hill seems negligible. And, news flash: 10 to 1 that guy who passes you while you are cruising around in heels and a dress is not spending any more effort than you are … because he is stronger than you.

Posted by Greycap | Report as abusive

This post is so proposterous I don’t even know where to begin. People bike less in winter period. People bike more in summer. Have you ever seen how slowly die hard ride in snow? Yet, typical non-bikers don’t take to the bikes because average speed goes down.

Also, if people were intimidated by urban hipsters biking then the city of Portland should not have such a high rate of bicycle commuters.

I would also add that adding marginal bike users is what slows speeds. I live in DC and this is so true. DC recently launched bike share and its acceptance has been phenomenal. It also means there are more marginal users and typically these people bike slower than someone, say, that rides their own bike. (These people are also less likely to wear a helmet, but that is another story).

Posted by chappy8 | Report as abusive

The bike renaissance in SF is great, but people, please wear a helmet and use a light at night. I swear at least 1/2 of the riders I see violate one of these safety measures, including but not limited to the the 2 people pictured in the Chronicle article. -salty old crank

Posted by planetjoe | Report as abusive

I would, but I’ve only got one gear! :)

Posted by AngryInCali | Report as abusive

I think the point of the slow bike movement is not really about a specific velocity. The point is that to ride a bike you actually don’t have to be “strong” or highly skilled, or fearless or have lots of special equipment and clothing. Riding can really be a lot like walking. You get dressed, go out the door, pedal where you want to go, etc. There isn’t some need for massive pre and post ride planning.

It isn’t the lower speed of “slow riders” per se that will help attract new riders. It is seeing people of all ages riding in normal clothes, without huge effort, moving around in apparent safety and comfort. It’s about making cycling appear to be as easy, simple, safe, and fun as cyclists already know it is, but many others do not.

Posted by MaxUtil | Report as abusive

MaxUtil is right – when biking is seen as a means of transportation (which you can hop on with only a little more preparation than hopping in your car), rather than a means of working out, is when more people will use bikes as a means of transportation.

Posted by Ragweed | Report as abusive

But biking slowly leads to more red lights which cost a significant loss of energy due to having to stop and get out of cycling position. That doesn’t make me happy. And maybe I’m intimidating the noncyclists out there for going 30 MPH constantly, but I generally stay out of the ‘bike lanes’ anyways for that very purpose. I ride more like a motorcycle hugging the side of the lane that can break the rules, and I don’t impede traffic that way or scare many casual commuting cyclists.

Posted by doctorrobert | Report as abusive

Bravo, Felix, esp’ly for your postulate, “the propensity of non-bicyclists to give biking a try is inversely proportional to the average velocity of the bikers they see on the street.” I’ve spent much of the past quarter-century pondering what it takes to get more New Yorkers to ride — and activating to help the process along — and I can’t readily recall an observation as potentially profound as this. Definitely worth considering.

Posted by Komanoff | Report as abusive

Good point! I commute by bike every day and often get asked, “is that safe?” And the answer is that biking is as safe as you want it to be.

If you are speeding past red lights and weaving between cars, it’s dangerous. If you are using the bike lanes and riding predictably and obeying traffic signals, it’s pretty safe.

The more people see that biking is safe and fun, the more likely they will be to try it out.

(also, fwiw I ride a fixed gear and I take my time … )

Posted by indar20 | Report as abusive

Yeah! Bike slow! No sweat, safer, and it’ll just take you twice the amount of time to get to your destination! I’ll bike slow when I’m an old man. It’s hard not to go fast on this thing ite-bike.html

Posted by DerrickGuy | Report as abusive

Here is another bike that goes really fast but should be very careful. Please bike safely using these type of bikes ie-Bike-by-Micargi-RD-248-_p_87.html

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