In the 1890s the bicycle was a nationwide phenomenon. With an estimated 10 million cyclists riding, it was the most esteemed form of transportation in the United States. Yet, despite the fervor, by 1905, pedal power fell victim to the combustion engine and the automobile sparked America’s second transportation revolution (the first being locomotion). By 1908 Henry Ford and the Model T cast the automobile into the fabric of American life, bike production declined, and the masses relegated bikes to mostly a sport or leisure activity as they, unfortunately, remain today. This is about to change.
With the onset of autonomous vehicles, transportation is about to undergo a third revolution, one that is already happening today, and will take more apparent shape in the next 5–10 years. Transportation networks will change — drastically and, as a result, traditional vehicle manufacturers will give way to fleets of autonomous transportation methods, delivered to you like running water or electricity. This time, the automobile will lose its status as personal vehicle and, instead, be relegated to public utililty. Driving will become merely sport, an occasional leisure activity. Vintage gas-powered cars — collector’s items or investments.
The question then becomes whether the bike can boastfully persevere through all this as it has, quietly, in the background, for the past 100 years, since the last transportation revolution. Or will the bike fade away? The answer is no. In fact, while everyone is busy gawking at these autonomous driving machines, we will be riding past them on two wheels. The bike will thrive.
Right now. Yes. Today. There exists a monumental opportunity to start making the bike the primary form of transportation…again. This is the story of how we, at WhyABike, plan to make that happen.
Step 1: A Better Biking Future
Despite the common classification of biking as a sport or leisure activity, the fact remains that most Americans still want to bike more. Indeed, 60% of Americans classify themselves as “interested but concerned” when it comes to biking. That’s almost 170 million people screaming “I want to ride!” and yet are discouraged from doing so. We think that is a market worth paying attention to…
You might be thinking: “there’s no money to be made on bikes” because it is only a $6 billion per year industry, sales are stagnant, and the margins are small. Perhaps you think the number of bike shops closing year after year are a harbinger of death of the bike. Such a line of thinking might frighten you if you still believe the bike is just a sport or lesiure activity — a toy, or something you occassionally ride while on vacation, or in a park. But I don’t because that’s just not the case anymore. There’s a new generation of riders out there. One that views biking as an ideal form of transportation. A generation that is growing, powerful, diverse and independant. A generation of individuals that will be living and working in a world much different than you and I and moving around it in very different ways. Chief among them are the highly educated, highly mobile, highly work independant individuals with juggernaut appetites for information generally referred to as “the millennials.”
Millennials Hold the Future of Biking
At 74.5 million strong, millennials recently became the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. What’s more, they are increasingly living in cities and/or “urban burbs,” (suburbs with an urban feel and appeal to walkers and bikers). They are multi-modal movers (← remember this term) meaning they prefer biking, walking and taking public transportation over owning a car. They like information at their fingertips and love getting where they need to go — fast, hassle-free.
Millennials’ transportation preferences are also much different than prior generations. According to some studies, the number of people of licenseable age (16–18) has declined between 49 and 25 percent since 1983, and is consistently declining year by year. Yet, despite this, millenials still spend, on average, $9,000 per year on transportation. Couple these findings with other trends, like enduring urbanism (cities and even surburbs designed for bikes and pedestrians), the predicted 87% of the U.S. population living in cities by 2030, walking and biking trips forecasted to increase 150% by 2045, and you have a huge economic opportunity for a company looking to build a method of transportation that helps individuals get around cities efficiently. Hmmmm, what might that product look like?
We all know how well that panned out.
No, it will look like something like this:
my beautiful hand-built bike :)
Yes. Let’s not forget that a bike is the most efficient way for a human to get from point A to point B, and, therefore, one of the greatest transportation innovations in the history of humankind. Not only was it built to move around the city, it practically built the city. Before there were cars, there were bikes and, as a result, unprecedented social and economic growth in cities, and there can be again.
This is just part I of the story of how through WhyABike, my friend Tim and I hope to make that happen, for everyone…again. If you find yourself reading this and wanting to know more, drop us a line here. However, I promise, in parts II and III of this story, I’ll explain more with opportunities of how you can help and participate. In the meantime, find a bike, get on it, and never stop pedaling…