Saturday, November 01, 2014

Sudden Realization, decades late

We could get some serious corporate clout behind improvements in cycling infrastructure and support if we could get management to realize that workers would live much more happily on a lot less money if they could get around without cars.

If American industry had not been dominated by the automobile industry for so long, some bright bean counter might have noticed already. And now that the American automotive industry is facing serious challenges they might figure out how to make the transition to a broader-based transportation system. They might even get into the bike business, where many of their great-great-grand daddies started, and show the current bike industry a thing or two about mass production and promotion. Can you imagine bike parts stores all over the place like NAPA and VIP and the other chains? Hell, bring on the disc brakes. I don't mind technology as long as you can get the parts.

Most of my objections to the bike industry's attention deficit disorder are based on the way they throw customers and their equipment aside, leaving all their older product, good or bad, to rot, rust or otherwise gather dust. Because bicycling remains a minority activity, even when parts are available you may have trouble getting them because they aren't available near you. Imagine going into any parts store and giving year, make and model, and having the guy go in the back and return with what you need.

Customers already come into the bike shop and give us year, make and model, as if there were comprehensive reference sources we could consult. The bike companies don't make copious amounts of technical information available for current product. You're mostly out of luck trying to find information on anything old. You can, and we do, but it's always a bit of a treasure hunt. We used to save old catalogs and tech manuals, but they started to take up most of the space in the shop.

On a bicycle we have the advantage because we can make a lot of substitutions. That can get expensive, depending on what you're trying to substitute. Downgrades are the cheapest, of course, but sometimes just trying to maintain your quality level can be prohibitively expensive.

People tend to trade in their cars more often than their bikes. How much of that is motivated by the fear of being stranded somewhere with some massive pile of useless automobile that has suddenly decided to quit on you? If the bike breaks you can probably hitch a lift or, at worst, wheel the machine along until you get to some kind of refuge. There are exceptions, of course, but for the run of the mill breakdown the consequences don't have to be as expensive and inconvenient as a lot of automobile scenarios.

We really need to promote the idea that cycling makes happier poor people if the people who run the economy insist on making so many of us. It will be so much cheaper in the long run than having big goon squads to slap us back into line, and bulging prisons overflowing with the uncooperative. Build us Biketopia and all that expensive repression becomes unnecessary.

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