Over the past year it’s been our goal over at UtilityCycling.org to catalog all of the means in which cyclists utilize bicycles for purposes beyond sport and recreation. Not surprisingly, all evidence points to bike commuting as the predominant form of utility cycling throughout the world. Digging up information (mainly scouring the Internet and talking to our friends in the bike biz) bike commuting is always on the front of the spectrum of all the ways that people do something useful with their bicycles. That said, when it comes to the variation in ways that cyclists have come up with for using their bikes, bike commuting just scratches the surface of the tip of the iceberg.
More so than any other common use of the bicycle, bike commuting has the magical effect of opening up the mind to the utility of the bicycle. While this mind opening experience certainly happens for some while training for a bike race or riding just for fun, the daily grind of making ones way back and forth to work contains some special inspiration which other forms of cycling may not conjure up.
Bike commuting is about getting something done. If you can accomplish the task of getting yourself where you need to be, why can’t you accomplish other tasks with your bicycle as well?
Bike commuting has many side benefits. You may have started bike commuting to save money, reduce your carbon footprint, to get exercise or just as a way to relax and have fun. Soon enough though, you likely start appreciating the other benefits of bike commuting. Appreciating these multiple benefits of the bicycle for bike commuting opens up the mind to appreciating the bicycle as a tool for many other purposes.
Bike commuting asks for some changes in lifestyle and planning. This shift can be blamed on the way that the automobile lifestyle and its inherent costs are ingrained in most of us. There are plenty of costs and difficulties built into the automobile lifestyle, but the predominance of the lifestyle make this just seem like life. On the surface, when shifting over to bike commuting, it first appears that you are adding to your load of costs and difficulties in transportation. It is difficult to appreciate that these challenges are leading down the path of partially or perhaps completely offsetting the costs of operating and maintaining an automobile. Part of embracing bicycle commuting involves the embrace of a gradual shift in resources towards a more efficient and beneficial mode of transportation. Embracing bike commuting with this mindset, is a fundamental step towards embracing the bicycle for a multitude of other purposes.
With a plenitude of inspiration, bike commuters have their mind pumps primed for investigating multiple different ways to use their bicycles. So what directions do bike commuters branch out into empowered by thier two wheeled utility machines? After bike commuting, I don’t think I would be to far off in guessing that bicycles used for general transportation and family cycling are the next most prevalent forms of utility cycling.
At UtilityCycling.org, we’ve looked at general bicycle transportation as all of those trips in between the gaps of bike commuting. Our “general” list includes getting around, groceries & errands, bicycling while traveling and long distance travel. Getting around along with taking care of groceries and errands with your bicycle are in many ways as significant uses of the bicycle for many people as is bike commuting. Traveling with a bicycle and long distance travel with a bicycle is a much smaller subset of Utility Cycling but a quite interesting one at that.
By family cycling, we mean all forms of utility cycling where the kids are coming along for the ride. This could be bike commuting or grocery shopping with the kids in a bike child trailer or going to the movies with kids and parents all riding their own bikes. Beyond utility family cycling, recreational family cycling is foundational in developing a culture that respects and utilizes bicycles. Families having fun with bicycles together is incredibly important to cycling advocacy as it teaches children the importance and fun of cycling and is encouraging and sometimes enticing for non-cycling enthusiasts to see. It also is a healthy, fun and economical alternative to many car-bound family recreational activities.
From the most obvious forms of utility cycling, inspiration flows for more creative and entrepreneurial purposes. Bicycle messengers are heart and soul when it comes to combining the entrepreneurial ethic with cycling. Small package delivery is a task that without a doubt can be performed better with a bicycle
In the age of the specialist, the bicycle has sometimes been turned to as the most efficient tool for achieving specific purposes. My favorite recent example of an adoption of the bicycle for a specialty task is the Google Mapping Bike. Other examples I’ve enjoyed learning about are a variety of emergency service bikes. We’ve written about Fire Service Bikes, EMS Bikes, Police Bikes and Search and Rescue Bikes.
While I’ve touted some of the interesting methods for using a bike that we’ve been investigating over at UtilityCycling.org, bike commuting is by far the most useful, influential and critical method for using a bicycle. Because of this, bike commuting is and should remain a primary focal point for cycling advocacy.
The myriad forms of utility cycling might be considered icing on the cake of utility cycling. Or they may be considered as a growing spectrum of gateways into cycling in all its forms, opening up new opportunities to people and their transportation. Bike commuting will likely always remain the most important form of utility cycling, though if the many other means of utility cycling are embraced, their overall importance could rival that of bike commuting. What is important is that bike commuting, utility cycling, riding your bike, and getting things done efficiently, continues to grow and thrive and that the tools and infrastructure that allow this to happen are fostered and grown.
Josh Lipton is the editor of UtilityCycling.org as well as founder and President of BikeShopHub.com a network of online specialty cycling shops.