Monthly Archives: August 2012

More and more bikes (3)

Here is a good example of the way in which bikes are becoming symbols of exclusivity instead of inclusivity. This is from an ad on Craigs List from ‘a dude in SAN LUIS OBISPO’ trying to sell a ‘fixie’ (The language itself is a sign of exclusion. What’s a ‘fixie’? A ‘fixie’ is a fixed wheel bike. That is, it cannot coast because the back wheel is fixed. As long as the bike is moving the pedals keep going round and round. It has only one gear and no brakes. You stop by pushing back on the pedals and skidding. Most bikes when I was skid were a type of ‘fixie’ but they had a coaster brake, that is a brake in the rear hub activated by pedaling backwards.)

Anyway, here is the ad:

I tried so hard. I dated a girl from Portland. I criticized cheese. I applied the term artisanal to every inanimate object that went in or on my body. I burned and singed my forearms just to make it look like I was going to culinary school. I grew Carol Brady hair. I got itchy from the finest flannel and I cut off circulation from the waist down with jeans that made my ass look like an elevator button.

… And I rode a fixie.

No more. It’s all gotta go. The hair, the macrame, the texting overages, the Netflix and Hulu Plus. The record collection (have you ever tried to box up and move an effin stack of LPs?!) … and the bike.

This guy seems to have had no interest at all in cycling. He only seems to have been interested in the ‘exclusivity’ it lent him and what it supposedly said about him – or should I say his ‘brand’.

But he’s changing, so I guess it’s back to basics for this ‘dude’ (does he need to meet Grant Petersen?). Or is it just brand repositioning?

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More and more bikes (2)

Another thing that is changing is our discourse on cycling. If you look at ads for bikes over the last century you will see a perceptible shift from a very inclusive discourse to an increasingly exclusive discourse, from a ‘bikes are for everybody, the prices are coming down, gain more access to your world’ discourse, to a discourse of specialized knowledge, high tech materials and clothing and skyrocketing prices.

1920s ad

modern ad

How much does the bike community’s own discourse on cycling negatively affect the number and type of people who are willing to give life on two wheels a try? How many people are put off by this discourse and avoid cycling because they feel excluded by esoteric vocabulary, physical requirements and price.  On the other hand how many people buy expensive bikes only because of the exclusivity they feel it gives them and actually have no interest in cycling.

Those of us who do cycle are all complicit in this discourse.

On the other hand, in reaction to this ‘exclusivity discourse’, there is a growing back to basics bicycle thing happening. There is even a Bicycling for Dummies book – a series of books usually reserved for explaining the complex and technical for the layperson.

Bicycle designers and builders are also speaking out. A guy by the name of Grant Petersen, a bicycle designer and the founder of Rivendell Bicycle Works,  has just published a book titled: Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Bikes, Equipment, Health, Safety, and Attitude. The PR for the book declares that ‘his wise words will muffle the noisy show-offs’.  He is not alone. The liner notes for another book I looked at recently said it was all about ‘deflating the smugness associated with bikes’. Wow!

So where is the discourse of the Tour d’Afrique?

Don’t forget to donate to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.

ChipIn: Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.

More and more bikes

According to one source, “there are more than a billion bicycles in the world, twice as many as automobiles. In recent years bike production has climbed to over 100 million per year (compared to 50 million cars).”

Go to  http://www.worldometers.info/bicycles/ to see up to date data on bicycle production.

One would like to think that this means that bikes are overtaking cars and that the real answer to climate change is the bicycle. Not really.

Unfortunately the usage trend may be going the other way. China is the biggest owner of bikes with over half a billion on the road. But if you have been to China lately you will have seen that roads that used to be rivers of bicycles twenty years ago are now clogged with cars.

The Japanese, Korean and Indian car manufacturers all see China as their major growth market, to say nothing of the emergence of new Chinese manufacturers.  Some facts published in the Daily Telegraph in Aug 2011:

  • In 2009, China surpassed the US as the largest auto manufacturing and consuming country in the world.
  • In 2010 China’s automobile output and sales volume both exceeded 18 million, setting a new world record.
  • Currently, there are more than 72 million private cars on the road in China, and a total of 217 million vehicles.
  • In 1999 the country had just under 4,000 miles of motorway, now it has more than 40,000 miles.
  • A total of 11 cities, including Beijing, Shenzen, Shanghai, Chengdu and Tianjin, have more than 1 million cars.
  • Beijing itself has more than 4.6 million cars, and recently introduced restrictions on the purchase and use of vehicles in an attempt to limit pollution and congestion.
  • There are now 60 private cars for every 100 families in the country.

This is happening in Africa as well. According to one estimate, there were 36,000 cars in all of Tanzania in 2001. There are now close to 30,000 cars arriving at the port of Dar Es Salaam every month and there are now 1 million registered cars in Dar Es Salaam for a population of 4 million.

Bikes never really took off in Africa the way they did in China – in spite of their popularity is some pockets. As an Economist article from 2008 said: “Africans tend to turn their back on bikes as soon as they can afford anything with an engine.”

And if you have a car you tend to use it. The widely accepted average for car use is 12,000 to 15,000 miles a year.  How many miles did you ride on your bike last year? Too many bikes sit in the garage or shed unused from one week or month to the next.

Bikes and cars also compete for the same road space. Who do you think will win? Research done in Australia shows that 87% of car/bike accidents are caused by cars.

In the UK in 2011, 107 cyclists died as a result of accidents involving motor vehicles and over 19,000 were injured. In the US in 2010, 618 died and 52,000 were injured. And these stats come from countries that take bicycle safety seriously and provide bikes lanes.  I don’t have stats for China or Africa. I don’t think I want to see them. But a month ago, here in Dar, a friend was knocked off her bike by a water truck. She is now ok. It could have been much worse. But it is symptomatic.

So what do manufacturing numbers really tell us? In general, bicycle riding is shifting from transport and work to leisure and sport. In developing countries those who can afford it leapfrog to anything with an engine as soon as they can. In emerging nations that once depended on the bike, cars are taking over. In developed nations lots of people have good intentions about getting fit. And there must be storage sheds full of bikes somewhere. What will the Martians think.

Don’t forget to donate to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.

ChipIn: Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.

Sorry to be late

Sorry I have been silent for so long. I have been away on holiday for almost a month and have just returned to Tanzania. But I am now back at work and the kids are back at school. Time to think about bikes again.

While I was away I visited a few bike shops on the off chance that something that hadn’t come up during my research would jump out and say ‘buy me’.  But it didn’t happen.  So, after looking at a dozen or more options and seriously considering three, I have decided to get the Genesis croix-de-fer https://alanknighttourdafrique.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=177&action=edit . It is the closest to what I have been thinking of and nobody has suggested it is a bad idea.

I have now been in touch with a bike shop in the UK that I have used often in the past and asked them to see what they can do for a full bike plus spares package. Hopefully it will all be set up and with me by the end of September so that I can put a few miles on it before the TdA starts.

All of a sudden January doesn’t seem that far away. I have now sent in almost all of my forms and other paperwork to the good folks in Toronto who run the TdA. I am sure they try to keep bureaucracy to a minimum but there is still a fare bit of bumph:1) RIDER CONTRACT; 2) RIDER RELEASE; 3) HEALTH AND FITNESS QUESTIONNAIRE; 4) RIDER INFORMATION; 5) NEXT OF KIN INFORMATION; 6) INSURANCE INFORMATION; 7) TOUR INFORMATION; 8) BICYCLE INFORMATION; 9) FUNDRAISING INFORMATION; 10) GETTING TO KNOW OUR CLIENTS FORM; 11) RIDER QUESTIONNAIRE; 12) PHOTO AND TEXT FOR THE TdA WEBSITE; 13) COPIES OF PASSPORTS.

It is now time to start compiling lists of all the other things I will need. I can’t wait. When will I have time to ride my bike?

Don’t forget to donate to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.

ChipIn: Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.