Ride your way, promote like a professional

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A critique of how to promote cycling, not of how you choose to ride.

I captured this image on a bus on an Auckland suburban street. I didn’t like it. It got me thinking about why. Here are some thoughts as to why.

1. Promotion, marketing, and branding matter if you want to sell products, services, ideas. I will assume there is no argument with that statement.

​2. Is it also safe to assume that this promotion (refer image above) is intended to get people of Auckland switching car trips for bike trips?

3. The message conveyed in this promotion is “ride a bicycle to keep fit”. The imagery presented is one of speed and sports. Is there a consensus on this? Am I misreading the intent of the message, perhaps? Also, I wonder if this message is the one the creator wanted to convey?

4. Assuming that I have interpreted the purpose of the promotion (#2) and the message intended (#3) accurately, my next question is therefore, is this message (point #3) the best way of achieving the goal (point #2)? 

My take:

Conveying a message of sport and speed may possibly achieve the goal of getting people to switch car trips to bike trips but it won’t be of statistically significant numbers. (Although an effective campaign/promotion should be able to quantify the impact). That’s because sport and speed on a bike is of interest to a limited number of people. But as well as not having significant reach, a promotion like this won’t help move cycling beyond its current “special interest” status that it so desperately needs.

A version of cycling that looks like a normal, everyday activity needs to be presented to the widest possible audience. The “cycling as special interest group” vacuum needs to be filled with a new narrative. This new narrative would aim to present riding a bicycle as something that is easy to do and worth investing in, even if for others and not yourself. It would highlight the possibility of doing short trips by bicycle rather than by car.

Finally, I’d like to respond to the accusations that my critique of this way of promoting cycling (as outlined above) is exclusionary and divisive. I don’t buy that argument. Rather, I am proposing that it is the focus on sports and fitness in promoting cycling that is exclusionary. That is, by focussing on sports and recreation, a large group of society are being overlooked all together. I may be wrong. But I am trying to be pragmatic and rational about how to best go about achieving the goal of getting people to switch their car trips for bike trips, as often as possible, as soon as possible. About doing what works. As I have already said, an effective marketing campaign would be able to identify the impact it is having. I have so many questions that I would like to put to the people who are running these campaigns.

Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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10 comments

  1. totally agree. Most ‘get it out there fitness folk’ probably don’t need encouragement to ride. The unsure, passive, less-fit, casual rider is who we need to target. And the advert on that bus totally alienates that group

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    1. With a narrow focus on sports and recreation, cycling will retain its perception as a special interest activity and hence not worthy of investing in…”those cycle lanes (and the removal of on-road car parks) are just for those few cyclists”. I wonder whether Dutch transport bodies make similar promotions in The Netherlands? When I see videos of huge numbers of people using bikes for transport in Amsterdam, fitness is not the first thing that comes to mind. I suspect those people are riding because it is more convenient and cheaper to do so (because motoring has been made less convenient and more expensive). It’s the utilitarian reason. Fitness is a bi-product. Pleasure and enjoyment are not sales points like. (Although I suspect people feel the life-affirming benefits of cycling but it is an internalised experience rather than a cognitive one). Nor can I imagine those hordes of cyclists needing to have a shower when they reach their destination. I say, there is no place for avid-cycling in cycling promotion. If significant modal shift from cars is what you want to achieve.

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      1. You have narrow focus on heavy, inefficient Dutch upright bikes to the point of being a overly romanticized fetish. We get it: you absolutely, positively hate road bikes and mountain bikes with a burning passion. The problem with the Dutch-upright-bike-only fundamentalism that you’re promoting is that not every country is as tiny and flat as the Netherlands. Amsterdam, the largest city, in the Netherlands is only 85 square miles and is flat as a pancake, Auckland is 419. Therefore, non-upright lightweight bikes are more preferable.

        Try riding one of these 50-lb boat anchors that you (overly) romanticized and waxed poetically about 20-40 miles a day up a bunch of hills. I guarantee you will absolutely hate it. Let people ride what they want to ride not what you want them to ride so you can pretend you’re living in the Netherlands. Don’t be a Dutch-upright-bike-only Nazi.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I think you reveal your own blind spot when you refer to riding 50 km a day up a bunch of hills. That’s hardcore and of little appeal to 99% of the population. Although I note the increased presence of upright, comfortable ebikes in Auckland being used to eat up those long hauls that your refer to. But Auckland is also providing better PT. So, just imagine if decent bicycle park n ride facilities are offered along PT routes? Then the comfortable upright bicycle would make a fantastic addition to cycling stats. The humble bicycle would extend the range of people with access to PT. A 30 minute walk could be done in a slow comfortable bicycle ride…think about it. It would open up cycling to so many more people. And you could keep doing your 50 km bike ride! Win/win!!

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  2. You do know that upright e-bikes are designed for canal bridges, not hills. According to Shimano:

    “The E6100 e-bike drive unit guarantees a smooth riding over Amsterdam’s short but steep canal bridges.”(http://www.sobowo.com/2018/news_0917/256.html)

    This is a hill: https://www.alamy.com/looking-down-a-steep-hill-at-the-california-line-cable-car-with-the-san-francisco-bay-bridge-in-the-distance-image227372176.html

    This is what you call a hill: https://ipvdelft.com/projects/nigtevecht-bicycle-bridge/

    Besides, I wouldn’t ride something that can easily catch on fire. So much so, that fire safety engineers and battery safety experts strongly recommend that bike shops store their e-bike batteries in fireproof containers. In fact, Stella, a e-bike manufacturer in the Netherlands, had three e-bike battery fires in a period of seven months.
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/carltonreid/2019/01/23/dutch-e-bike-brand-stella-startled-after-hit-by-third-fire-in-seven-months/#143431776e98

    Upright bikes are comfortable… for the first 4-5 miles—afterwards they’re literally a pain in the butt. That’s because, instead of spreading your weight between your hands, butt and (most importantly) your feet, Dutch bikes put all of your weight on your butt. This also leads to greatly decrease pedalling efficiency(https://thomasthethinkengine.com/2014/07/24/why-beautiful-dutch-ladies-bikes-should-come-with-a-health-warning/). Road and mountain bikes are comfortable once you get a proper bike fit. Doing some core exercises that improves flexibility also helps.

    Aerodynamics is also atrocious on upright bikes. The geometry forces you to act like a sail, which further decreases efficiency. The upright geometry also doesn’t allow you to ride out of the saddle, which is important for riding up hills. And speaking of hills, a Dutch upright bike weighs 45-50 lb; a Dutch e-bike weighs 55-70(!). And all that weight makes going up hills unbearable. And didn’t I tell you that Dutch canal bridges are NOT hills? If you want to see real hills, go to San Francisco.
    https://en-us.topographic-map.com/maps/tlyk/Auckland/
    https://en-us.topographic-map.com/maps/6gn/San-Francisco/
    https://en-us.topographic-map.com/maps/6gu/Amsterdam/

    So instead of having a 15-mile ride take only 30-40 minutes on a road bike(or even a non upright hybrid), you wanted it to be an 1.5-2 hour crawl. And all because you believe you’re more civilized than anybody who dared to ride a road or mountain bike in any capacity. In your mind, road cyclists and mountain bikers should be marginalized and ostracized simply because they don’t fit in your romanticized view of the Netherlands.Heavy, inefficient upright bikes(electric or regular) are not a one-size-fits-all solution, no matter how you spin it and Auckland isn’t, in any way, shape or form, Amsterdam. And no, it still doesn’t change the fact that you are a Dutch-upright-bike-only Nazi.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I appreciate that you feel passionate about this topic but I just simply don’t agree with you. I am also finding the tone of your comments to be hostile. Please moderate or I will be forced to remove your right to comment on this site.

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      1. I hate to say this, but he does have a point. You are a bit of a fundamentalist when it comes to upright bikes. So much so, that you tell people they only ride upright bikes and that riding anything else—road bikes expecially—is uncivilized.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. “Ride your way, promote like a #wheeledpedestrian”, is my message. Why? Slow, short, utility type cycling is the growth area. Be deliberate in promoting that kind of cycling. Don’t rely on sports cycling being a selling point to get more people cycling.

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  3. They do have a valid point. You do believe that everybody lives in a 8km-radius bubble and that they should only ride upright bikes. Also, “ride your way”? More like “ride my (the blog author’s) way”.

    Liked by 1 person

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