There’s been increasing press lately about bicycling as transportation.
The difference between riding for recreation and transportation matters a great deal for the construction of the bikes, although few bikes focused directly on transportation are seen the US.
Here’s a quiz of sorts to show how recreation vs. transportation attitudes lead to different bike designs. Follow along and see which style of bike matches you!
At the end if the quiz, there are some photos and details highlighting some features available on transportation bikes.
For each of the following parts of a bicycle, see which attitude more closely matches your own. You’ll have to keep the tally of “A” vs. “B” in your head!
A: The bike is faster without the weight chain guard and I won’t be wearing important clothes often on the bike anyway. I can be sure to cinch my pant leg when I do.
B: A chain guard keeps the bike cleaner, reducing maintenance. I don’t want to have to worry about getting bike grease on my clothes.
A: Make them lightweight and fast.
B: Make them puncture resistant.
A: Give me a maximal amount of gears so I can ride how I like!
B: Give me a reliable system that needs little maintenance.
A: I’ll add a light if I need one. I don’t plan many rides at night.
B: I need to ride in the dark, especially in the seasons where it gets dark so early. I need reliable lights, and I don’t want to worry about changing batteries.
A: I want maximal stopping power.
B: I want brakes that are very low maintenance.
A: A bell is unnecessary weight. The bike is faster without one.
B: I often ride in traffic or on a cycle paths, and it is very useful to let others know I’m approaching.
A: Fenders add extra weight. The bike is faster without them.
B: It’s important that my clothes stay clean. I don’t want my skirt or long coat getting caught in the spokes, either.
A: I prefer not to carry a lock with me if I don’t have to. The bike is lighter and faster without one.
B: The lock should always be present and reliable. I never know when I might need it.
A: I rarely choose to ride in heavy traffic, and would rather avoid the weight of a mirror. I can look over my shoulder if I need to.
B: I often ride in traffic, and a mirror is helpful to check fast approaching cars behind me.
A: Sometimes I want to carry a few things on the trip.
B: I need to move things to place to place on the bicycle occasionally. This should be a convenient feature of the bicycle.
A: If there is a passenger, they better be pedaling!
B: I want to be able to carry one or more children with me, or an adult that just needs a ride.
If you hadn’t guessed it by the end, I think the “A” attitudes represent more of a “recreation” mindset while “B” is more of a “transportation” mindset for using a bicycle.
American bike shops up until recently have been weighted very heavily towards recreational bikes. I see primarily three kinds of bikes in ones I’ve visited: road racing bikes, mountain bikes and something in between that’s called a “hybrid” bike or “fitness” bikes. There may be also be some BMX bikes there. In any case, these are all recreation bikes.
Transportation Bike Photos
Here are transportation-oriented solutions to the categories above. You’ll see these elements in commuting (or “city”) bikes, touring bikes and cargo bikes.
A fully-enclosed chain guard provides maximum protection for the chain and your clothing.
Internal hub gears are not exposed to the weather and can need much less adjustment. While 3 and 8 gear hubs rae common, this Rohloff speed hub has a range that rivals a 27 speed bike.
A common European solution is have the bike generate electricity to power the lights, so that batteries running out is never a problem. The Schmidt dynamo hub goes in the front wheel and has creates so little additional resistence that it is difficult to perceive. Both front and rear lights can be powered this way. Modern systems can stay running for a few minutes at stop lights, and autodetect when they need to come on.
Fenders are a standard feature as well. Some bikes include an an additional “skirt guard” to keep long clothing out of the bike wheel. See it in the “Lock” photo below.
A lock and key system can be built into the bike so it disables the back wheel and is very difficult to defeat. While you may still want a second lock if the bike is left alone for extended periods of time, this often sufficient.
Mirrors are my number one recommended accessories for bike commuting. I prefer the Mirrycle mirror. In the Netherlands, mirrors are rare are commuting bikes because they have so many bike-specific facilities that there is rarely fast moving traffic (like cars) approaching in the same line from behind. That’s a nice vision to head towards!
Kids are the most likely type of non-pedaling passenger. The bakfiets is an innovative solution for this, which allows you to see up to three children you are carrying, since they are in front of you, and they can see you. Unlike a trailer, there are no extra wheels involved to add rolling resistence.
The model includes a bench seat and three-point harnesses for two kids, as well as the possibility to strap in a baby carrier to the bottom of the bucket, and clear rain and wind hood is available as well.
There are over 10,000 in Amsterdam, and you find one locally as well.
Finding a transportation bike, learning more
Even if your local bike shop doesn’t carry transportation-focused bikes, they should have some awareness they exist, and should be able to order them if they don’t stock them. Online there is Xtracycle.com, and Clever Cycles.