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10 Pressing Questions About Bicycle Use and Ownership From 1869

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Google Books

The Velocipede, Its Past, Its Present & Its Future is a rollicking 1869 book about bicycles written by Joseph Firth Bottomley. These inventions were so popular, enthusiasts in the U.S. declared, "Walking is now on its last legs." Bottomley, a staid Brit, scoffed at this proclamation, but ventured to explain his own optimistic predictions about the machine's future. “The progress of the Bicycle seems steady and sure," he writes. "But until velocipedestrination becomes very common there will be many situations in which the rider may be placed, in which he will be in considerable doubt what to do."

He follows by listing a series of bicycle-related concerns that were raised by an American writer in a Western journal. As a modern "velocigymnast," I can confirm that many of these questions have gone 145 years without answers.

1. "If a fellow goes with his velocipede to call upon a lady, whose house has no front yard, and no back yard, and there are a lot of boys in front of it ready to pounce upon his machine, and the lady is smiling through the window, what is he to do with it?"

2. "If a fellow riding his velocipede, meets a lady on a particularly rough bit of road, where it requires both hands to steer, is he positively required to let go with one hand to lift his hat; and, if so, what will he do with his machine?"

3. "If a fellow, riding his velocipede, overtakes a lady carrying two bundles and a parcel, what should he do with it?"

4. "If a fellow, riding his machine, meets three ladies walking abreast, opposite a particularly tall curb stone, what ought he to do with it?"

5. "If a lady meets a fellow riding his machine, and asks him to go shopping with her, what can he do with it?"

6. "If the hind wheel of a fellow’s machine flings mud just above the saddle, ought he to call on people who do not keep a duplex mirror and a clothes-brush in the front hall?"

7. "If a fellow, riding his velocipede, encounters his expected father-in-law, bothering painfully over a bit of slippery side-walk, what shall he do with it?"

8. "If people, coming suddenly around corners, will run against a fellow’s machine, is he bound to stop and apologize, or are they?"

9. "If a fellow is invited to attend a funeral procession, ought he to ride his machine?"

10. "Is it proper to ride a velocipede to church; and, if so, what will he do with it when he gets there?”

[All images from 'The Velocipede, Its Past, Its Present & Its Future' via Google Books]

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Health
To Get Women to Bike More, Build Better Bike Lanes
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Mario Tama/Getty Images

Biking is a great way to stay healthy and get around town without paying for gas, but not everyone bikes in equal numbers. There’s a gender gap in bike commuting, one that’s easily illustrated by bike-share numbers. Several years after its launch, the membership of New York’s Citi Bike program was less than a third female, and it isn’t a problem that’s unique to New York or bike-sharing in general.

A good way to get more women cycling, though, is to install more bike lanes, as researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of Colorado concluded in a recent study in the Journal of Transport and Land Use. It sounds intuitive and, indeed, studies have shown that adding bike infrastructure leads to more people biking in general.

But it’s particularly important to talk about how to get women on bikes because the gender gap in cycling is so large in the U.S., even though the approximately equal shares of women and men biking in Europe tell us that riding a bike isn’t a uniquely male activity.

The latest study examined cycling demographics by neighborhood in Montreal and Vancouver, two cities that both have a diverse selection of bike infrastructure ranging from painted lanes to cycleways separated from the street. The researchers found that if a neighborhood had access to some kind of bike infrastructure within about half a mile (1 kilometer), that area saw four times as many people cycling as neighborhoods without bike lanes. But the difference between cycling on the road with cars and cycling in a dedicated lane of some sort had an even more significant impact for women specifically.

Though women make up half the commuters in Montreal and Vancouver, they were much less likely than men to ride bikes to and from work if there wasn’t any bike infrastructure. In some neighborhoods without infrastructure, only a tenth of the cycling commuters were women, while in one with better access to bike lanes, women made up almost half of the cyclists. When more bike commuters were hitting the road in a neighborhood, the percentage of men and women was about equal, perhaps because of the “safety in numbers” phenomenon.

Shaded maps of Montreal and Vancouver show the percentages of commuters bike.
The percentage of commuters in each neighborhood who get to work by bicycle, with darker colors indicating a greater share.
Teschke et al., Journal of Transport and Land Use, 2017

“To give women an equal opportunity to bike to work, municipalities need to build a great quality cycling network,” Kay Teschke, a professor of public health at the University of British Columbia and the study’s lead author, said in a Q&A with UBC’s news team.

The new study data, taken from 2011 Census results, may paint a slightly different picture than you might find in those cities now, six years later, when there might be new bike lanes or more bike commuters. Not to mention the fact that bike lanes aren’t necessarily spread evenly throughout a city, so other factors may be influencing this data, as the researchers admit. For instance, wealthier neighborhoods tend to have better bike infrastructure, which is why bike lanes have become a symbol of gentrification. But the results do track with previous research on the subject. A study in 2013 found that women cared more about cycling near bike paths or trails than men did, and several studies have found that women are more concerned about the safety issues associated with riding a bike than male riders.

Whether for men or women, though, the study makes it clear that cities could do a lot more to encourage cycling. People were more likely to bike if their neighborhood had an interconnected web of bike lanes, not just a few scattered paths. “The pattern of results suggested that the network formed by other bikeway types may have been more important than the specific bikeway characteristics,” the researchers write.

“Even though biking is faster and easier, more people walked to work than biked to work in both cities,” Teschke noted in her Q&A. She suggests that one reason could be that sidewalks are ubiquitous, but bicycle lanes are not—and whether men or women, people are apt to choose a mode of transport that makes them feel safe over one that’s a little more convenient but makes them think they’re about to get run over at any minute.

And while it might not seem that important to get women on bikes, cycling has major benefits that, ideally, the whole population should enjoy. Surveys find that people who cycle to work are happier than other types of commuters, and a 2016 study found that cyclists in the Netherlands outlive non-cyclists.

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Design
This Elevator Alternative Would Let You Bike Up Skyscrapers
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A vertical transportation concept from Elena Larriba gives the phrase "biking to work" a new meaning. As Dezeen reports, the project from the Royal College of Art graduate, dubbed Vycle, reimagines the elevator as a compact, ascending bicycle powered by a single rider.

When Larriba looked at high-rise buildings, she saw two means for navigating them: stairs and elevators. Stairwells take up valuable real estate, while elevators eat energy to move what’s often a small load. She designed Vycle as an efficient alternative.

Vycle looks like a scaled-down version of a traditional bicycle complete with pedals, a seat, and handlebars. Passengers start pedaling to ascend the vertical rail connected to the back of the bike. They can take a quick or leisurely ride based on how hard they push themselves.

It’s hard to imagine the concept replacing elevators in multi-story office buildings, but one area where it might be practical is construction. The rig is cheap and adaptable, which means it could be a temporary installation on the outside of cranes and scaffolding. Biking up multiple stories would also be easier on older workers than climbing a ladder the same distance.

As cities become more dense, designers are coming up with creative ways to make the most of tight spaces, from pop-out windows to foldable sports facilities. You can see Larriba’s invention in action below.

vycle - urban vertical movement from Elena Larriba on Vimeo.

[h/t Dezeen]

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