The Bike as a Vehicle for Social Change

Women make up half of our population, yet they represent only one in four bicyclists in the United States. African Americans are 11% of the population but only five percent of cyclists and 14% of Americans are Hispanic but they represent just six percent of bike riders.

And while low-income Americans do tend to bike a little more than their middle class neighbors, they still only do so at a rate that is far lower than it could be given the economic benefits of biking. The average bicyclist spends $308 a year on her bike while the care and feeding of the average car costs a whopping $8,220.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, during the first bicycling craze the bike was seen by some as a powerful means of social as well as literal mobility. In fact, a century ago Susan B. Anthony said that the bike, “has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”

It’s true that you can spend thousands of dollars on a road bike and that the bicycle can be another expression of the highest level of competition among the world’s most elite athletes. The just completed Tour de France is testament to all that and it’s great.

But what’s really wonderful about bicycles is that they can be tools for the expression of the highest and most graceful forms of human athletic ability and they can also be the cheapest possible way to get the groceries home.

What we strive to do every day here at the Bike Fed is to represent everyone who rides a bike whether that’s a serious racer, an intrepid mountain biker, a fat bike aficionado, a bike commuter or someone who could benefit from a bike but doesn’t even own one yet.

A few weeks ago I was asked to speak on this topic at a local version of TED Talks, the fifteen-minute informal speeches that were started in the Silicon Valley. Chapters of Ted Talks have popped up around the country. They use the same formula as the national events. My talk is below.


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About Dave Cieslewicz, Director Emeritus

Dave Cieslewicz served two terms as mayor of Madison where he set the city on a path for Platinum status as one of the best biking cities in North America. Before that he started his own nonprofit, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on land use and transportation policy. He has been an adjunct professor at the UW Madison's Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he teaches a class called Bikes, Pedestrians and Cities. He pronounces his name chess LEV ich, but nobody else does.

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