• The Boom in Bikes​—What’s Behind It?

    BIKE riders​—rarely seen in many American cities a few years ago—​are now a common sight. Bike routes have been established in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, and many other major cities.

    Last summer some 6,000 persons regularly rode bikes to work in Washington, D.C. Many do the same in New York city. The bike has become so popular that on weekends and holidays automobiles are banned in New York’s famed Central Park during daylight hours, and droves of cyclists take over the roads.

    Demand Outpacing the Supply

    In 1960, 3.7 million bikes were sold in the United States. By 1971 sales had more than doubled, zooming to 8.9 million, with a value of $500 million.

    If the estimated sales for 1972 of 11.5 million bikes proved correct, bikes outsold automobiles in the United States for the first time since 1897! And regarding the present year, Jerry Sircus, president of a major bike manufacturing company, predicts: “Things are going to boom even bigger in ’73.” The situation is similar in Japan. This year’s bike output is expected to hit 8 million, up from 5 million in 1970.

    It has been a real problem to meet the United States public’s demand for bikes. During 1971, dealers had to import nearly two million bikes in an effort to meet demands. A Washington, D.C., bike retailer exclaimed late in 1971: “The market has literally gone wild. By June of this year, we had sold the same number of bikes that we had sold by December of last year. We have 50 customers for every one bike available.”

    What is behind the phenomenal boom in bikes? Will it last?

    Important Mode of


    Many would like to see it last. Bicycles, they feel, are a valuable mode of

    transportation . United States Secretary of

    Transportation John Volpe, for example, said: “I don’t consider bicycles a gimmick or a fad. As far as I am concerned, . . . bicycles have equal rights with automobiles on our city streets.”

    Actually, bicycles have long been an important means of transportation in many places. In Peking, China, for instance, there are reportedly 1.5 million bikes! In Ireland bicycles are so common that it is not unusual to see the husband riding a bicycle with his wife on the handlebars!

    In many European cities bikes vie with automobiles during rush hours. But rather than a boom in bikes, in certain places in Europe fewer people seem to use them than did so a few years ago. Many persons now drive automobiles instead.

    In the United States, however, where

    the automobile has for decades ruled as king, the bike is staging a comeback. Americans reportedly own more than 50 million bikes, and the number of bike riders is said to have doubled to 80 million in the last decade. The situation is similar in Canada. Why this bike revival?

    Speed a Factor

    One reason is that the bike is often a faster means of transportation in today’s traffic-clogged cities. A bike-riding New York theatrical producer says that he regularly makes better time than the bus from his Greenwich Village home to his midtown office. In Washington, D.C., a bicyclist easily covered a four-and-a-half-mile route used by commuters faster than either a bus or a car.

    With little effort a normal person can move along at ten to twelve miles an hour on a bike. Good riders can travel much faster. There has been some confusion, however, as to how fast the bike really is. For example, the New York Times,

    reporting on a 200-mile bicycle marathon in Central Park, observed:

    “The starters included 6-year-old Pamela Singer . . . and Alfred (Red Devil) LeTourneur, the great six-day bike racer of the nineteen-twenties and nineteen-thirties. He set a world speed record in 1941, at Bakersfield, Calif., by pedaling 108.92 miles an hour.”

    However, that fantastic record was broken in 1951 by José Miefret of France. He traveled the fastest mile on a bicycle, going 109.12 miles an hour. That would mean he covered the mile in 33 seconds! Does that seem unbelievable to you?

    It may, particularly if you have read in a reputable source that the bicycle record for one mile from a standing start is two minutes and six tenths of a second. And that is traveling, on the average, only about thirty miles an hour. Why the discrepancy?

    It is because bike riders that travel up to a hundred miles an hour and faster have assistance. They ride close behind an automobile or motorcycle. In such a position, there is a partial vacuum that enables the cyclist to achieve these speeds.

    Yet, relying entirely on their own pedal power, persons on bicycle trips can cover sixty to a hundred miles a day without difficulty. And they enjoy the fresh air and see so much more scenery.

    However, it is the speed with which short distances can be covered that has particularly influenced the bike’s revived use. A four- or five-mile trip to work, school or shopping may normally take only twenty to thirty minutes by bike, and there is not the problem of parking a car!

    Improved Bikes

    A closely related factor in the bike boom is the development of new light-weight, multigeared bikes. These commonly have ten gears; others have as many as fifteen, but some have as few as five. They weigh only about twenty to thirty pounds, and cost from $85 up to $400 and more​—the more expensive ones being the lightest. These bikes make the steepest grades easy to climb.

    Before 1969 about 85 percent of the bikes sold were traditional children’s bikes. However, by 1971 some 25 percent of the sales were adult lightweights, and last year these represented half of all bikes sold.

    A service and promotion manager for a leading bike manufacturer said late in 1971: “I think what surprised us was the large percentage of 10-speed adult bikes we’ve been called upon to make this year, and the swiftness with which the demand for them arose. At this time last year, no one could have imagined the demand for them.”

    Health and the Environment

    Another factor in the bike’s renewed popularity is the awakened interest in physical fitness. Western countries are experiencing an epidemic in heart and blood vessel diseases, and bicycling is recognized as one of the best exercises for the heart. Thus some doctors recommend bike riding.

    The noted cardiologist Dr. Paul Dudley White observed: “As bipeds we need something to help us keep the blood circulating up from the lower part of the body. The leg muscles used in bicycling are very important. When they contract, they squeeze the veins and actually pump blood toward the heart.”

    Concern for the environment is yet another factor in the bike boom. Unlike automobiles, bikes emit no fumes, nor do they blacken roads with gas or oil leakage. Thus certain schoolyards are noted to be packed with bicycles, since youths especially are pollution conscious.

    A Related Boom

    The boom in bikes has, unfortunately, touched off another boom​—in bike thefts. “It’s a problem that’s been growing at a tremendous rate and there’s no end in sight,” observed Tom B. Golithan, a Concord, California, police sergeant. “In 1970, we had 92,000 stolen bicycles [in the state] with a value of $5.5 million. In 1971, there were 500,000 stolen, and the value was close to $30 million.”

    The problem, however, is not confined to California. It is nation wide and is growing. A survey of a dozen major cities by the New York Times revealed that for about the first half of 1972 thefts were up, on an average, more than 35 percent!

    The greater value of new bikes has resulted in a monstrous business, as Sergeant Golithan explains: “You have organized groups that sweep through a city, fill a truck full of stolen bikes, and take them to a factory where they sandblast them, take off the paint and serial numbers, repaint them, and send them out as new bikes. There was one group here in the City of Concord that took between 400 and 500 10-speeds in one year.”

    So, if you own a bike, exercise care. Do not just park it where it is difficult for a thief to take it without being seen; be wise and chain and lock your bike to some immovable object when you leave it.

    Need for Caution

    Associated, too, with the boom in bikes has been an increase in bike accidents. In 1971 there were 850 bike deaths and 40,000 injuries in the United States. Significantly, more than 60 percent of those killed and 75 percent of the injured were children five to fourteen years of age. Thus a recent study of the National

    Transportation Safety Board concluded that most children “are not receiving sufficient instruction to insure that they can operate their bicycles for their own safety.”

    Parents should not conclude that simply instructing their children to ride a bike well is sufficient. More is involved, as an Ohio police lieutenant said: “If we could get across to the children and parents that they must obey traffic laws when they’re on their bicycles, we could cut injuries in half.” So obey traffic laws and, if you have children, teach them to do the same.

    Enjoy the benefits of bicycling, and avoid the dangers. Watch for car doors opening ahead. Dodge storm drains and sewer gratings that could trap your front wheel and throw you. Ride with the traffic, never against it. Equip your bike with reflectors for night riding. Be alert. Be courteous. When caution is exercised, bicycling can be such a pleasure, such a fine way to get to places. No wonder there has been a boom in bikes.


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