Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Why won't we spend money on bicycles?

If I learned one thing in my year at Freecycles, the local community shop, it was that people are extremely reluctant to spend anything on their bicycle. There is a common (mis)perception that most transportation bicycle riders are extremely poor. In fact, it's a common misperception of Rachel and I since selling the car. It is--at best--a half truth. Bicycles are the mode of transport for the very poor in town, but I'd guess they make up less than half of the year round transport cyclers in town. Some of the folks that would come to the shop arrived in their car, but then had to be arm- twisted into a $1 cable. Many rode without locks and lights because of the expense.

This week, Missoula has been socked in a fog that just won't burn off. This has made it even more apparent how few riders have adequate lighting, which could be had for $20. Fortunately, they're no danger to me as I can hear the creaky chains and squawking hubs blocks away. As transportation costs go, bicycles are unmatched. Why, then, are people reluctant to pay the equivalent of 1 oil change for a set of lights? At the extreme, why would people be completely unwilling to pay the price of a beater car for a nice, new bicycle? No wonder bike shops struggle and stock so little practical gear. There's no market!

The "bikes are toys" argument works to explain why people don't view bicycles as legitimate transportation, but it doesn't work here. Most Americans happily spend whopping sums for "toys," including, ironically, bikes suited only for road racing and extreme downhill bicycle slaloming. While at the local bike shop, I've seen customers balk at $6 to change a flat, including a new tube! Solving this puzzle is a key, I think, to more effective promotion of practical bicycling.

I wonder how we would react to German-style requirements for, for instance, decent bicycle lighting systems on every bike. Would many just stop riding, or would they continue to pay just what they were required to?

What determines your bicycle budget? Ours is $100/month, for maintenance on 4 bikes and "essential" upgrades, including lighting. Adding in new bike purchases and related "nonessentials" probably doubles that.

Comments welcome.


Blogger Barry said...

I just spent 30.00 today for two new 27" tires and tubes - backroom special at LBS. They strip factory parts on some new bikes for more discerning buyers. These are for my winter beater bike so I don't care. I guess I average about 100.00 a month maintaining 4 bicycles. I wish I could spend more, lots more, but don't really NEED to - I only WANT to. I commute daily, averaging about 100 miles a week, but I'm not wearing things out that fast. They just keep going, and going, and going...

7:56 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

You're on to something here. You ignore a car for very long, and forget it. Ignore a bike, and it squeaks and complains but rarely just stops. Some of the bikes that used to come through the shop were a testament to the simple strength of the bicycle.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Keasty said...

Hey Joe, we're coming over to the States to get a Bike Friday and tour round a bit. If we get near Missoula we'll give you a yell. I'll have Fay as stoker (hopefully).

10:53 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

$200/month is a lot less than my car payment!

3:51 AM  
Blogger Hjalti said...

I know what you mean about people not being willing to spend what's needed. I'm willing to get what I need, often with a little upgrade (aimed at longevity/durability), but it is hard to convince the spouse of the necessity for a maintenance budget, even though she can see the need for other vehicles. Weird, Huh?

8:31 AM  
Blogger Tanya said...

No way I'd spend much money on a new bike for everyday transportation - bicycle theft is too high here. I don't understand people that think an entry-level bike is too expensive but wouldn't hesitate to spend twice that on a stationary bike they'll probably never use.

I think I hesitate spending $ because I see a bike as an essentially free way of getting around and like to keep it that way. I know I rode around at night for a long time didn't want to spend $ on lights - just I guess not realizing quite how much safer they made riding. Now if the batteries run out I'll stop at the closest convenience store on the ride and not hesitate to buy fresh ones.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Another good point, Tanya! When people start using a bike for transport, they seem to think it should be free. And, it is for quite a while. But using a bicycle regularly--just like anything else--requires additional maintenance spending and equipment. With a car, the costs are a bit more up front (licensing, registration, insurance, and even maintenance in inspection states).

11:19 AM  
Blogger the old bag said...

My bicycle spending has been more than usual in '05 -- I'm used to spending $$ on regular upkeep (chains, cassettes, cables, tires), but this fall I started using my bicycles more for everyday life: commuting, groceries, hardware store runs, etc. I've had to add to my warm clothing supply, and I've also bought a few things for an old bike to make it errand-worthy (tools, bag, wire baskets, etc.).

Bottom line though, my monthly bicycle(s) allowance averaged out over the past year has probably been less than $50/month, mostly for things I won't have to replace for years. Averaging that into the prior 12 months (can't remember spending on anything of significance in '04) cuts it by half.


7:12 PM  
Anonymous Michael Rasmussen said...

Joe says he spends $100 a month on bike maintenance. How many of you spend that much or more just for car insurance? That is a cost of having a car before you drive the first mile.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Cellarrat said...

I think people think they are toys and you don't have to do anything to them after they roll them out of the bike shop. Even the simple act of filling the tires with air.

Sometimes on the bike path I wish I had a water bottle full of lube. If you take care of your bicycle it will take care of you.

4:53 AM  

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