The Revolution in Commuter Bikes

There are road bikes and mountain bikes, and bikes for kids. Now bicycle manufacturers are catering to a burgeoning new market: bikes for commuters.

According to today’s Wall Street Journal, nearly every major bicycle manufacturer has rolled out a new or revised commuter model for 2007.

They may look like 1940s Schwinns, but materials like alumnium and carbon make the frames lighter, while technological advances mean better brakes, shock-absorbing seats, smoother shifters and even electric power. The models usually come with practical accessories, like racks for carrying briefcases, fenders for splash protection on wet roads, lights that turn on automatically at disk and big chain guards to keep legs and clothing away from chain grease.

Europeans, the Journal notes, have been riding commuter bikes for decades. In Holland, it’s a lifestyle: There are twice as many bikes as cars, and nearly as many bicycles as people. The U.S. bicycle industry is pitching commuter biking as an antidote to high gas prices and obesity. For lazy bikers (or those who perspire too much), there’s always the option of the electric bike, which can range in price from around $1,500 to $2,000.

New York City is planning to add 200 miles of new on-street bicycle lanes over the next three years. A new Florida law requires motorists to maintain a three-foot distance when passing bikers. Arizona, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Utah and Wisconsin have similar legislation.

Sales of commuter bikes have increased 15 percent over the past two years, according to the WSJ. However, commuters are still a niche market. Fewer than one half of one percent of Americans commute to work on bicycles. The number of commuters could double and not make a dent in traffic congestion.

There is no silver bullet to gridlock. There is only a multitude of solutions, each of which address a sliver of the problem. If we pursue enough of them, we can make a difference. It’s time for legislators to begin thinking how to make Virginia more bicycle friendly.

(Photo credit: The Electra Amsterdam Classic, posted on

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6 responses to “The Revolution in Commuter Bikes”

  1. MaxPower Avatar

    Bikes are so awesome. I commute to work almost everyday and it is very fulfilling. I’d say, and this is just me, get a road bike. A sturdy steel framed road bike will give you everything you need to get to work with all of your junk, and still be “sporty” enough for weekend rides around the city. A bike just for commuting seems overly specific, and honestly, a way to get people to spend more money than need be.

    Also, wearing a helmet can be a good idea ; )

  2. John Murden Avatar
    John Murden

    My wife just got a comfort bike for her commute to jward from Church Hill . It has gears (but an internal hub) and is not as aggressive as road bike. It has fenders and suspension, and she added a basket. It actually cost less than any compelling road bike and perfectly fits waht she asks for in a bike. Remember, some people just aren’t sporty. The important thing is to ride!

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I like bikes, and they are very common transportation on Martha’s Vineyard, at least in summer. In winter, pedaling against a 30 knot headwind in the 35 degree rain isn’t joyful very long.

    Where a workable pedestrian radius is a half mile a workable bike radius can easily be five miles, and you can actually carry stuff. It’s a huge improvement, so I think money spent on bike infrastructure is money better spent than on pedestran infrastructure.

    Now, if we only had something you could really carry stuff in, had a 300 mile radius, and you didn’t have to pedal it, then you’d really be on to something that we could afford major infrastructure for.

  4. David Weintraub Avatar
    David Weintraub

    Thank you!!!

    I moved to Loudoun from a much more bicycle-friendly place, and am appalled by the lack of infrastructure here – even outright scorn and hostility to the idea of commuting by bike on the part of our current BOS.

    Great idea, Ray! Tell me more.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I could see evidence of increasing bike traffic here back when I first moved here, and I suggested to my supervisor that we at least begin to plan for bike trails and bike lanes, before someone gets killed.

    He sniffed, and said, “Bikes don’t spend any money here.” Since then, several have been killed on our narrow roads. Now, fifteen years later, they are just beginning to think about a plan. Even on Martha’s Vineyard, I think that was about the timescale it took, along with a number of deaths.

    Scorn and hostility towards bikes are widespread. I once wathched a couple of yahoos in a pickup truck who though it was great fun to lean out the window for a little fanny swatting on the way by.

    I really don’t care if it is bikes or Metro or cars, or pedestrians, but we need to be realistic about where we spend our money and what it is really buying us. At the same time, we can’t let whether they spend money here blind us to what our obligations for safety are.

  6. Electric Bicycles and Electric Scooters

    Elmo The Electric Bike and Electric Scooter Guy

    This is an excellent blog for electric bicycles. There are not too many around like this. Thanks for making this such an interesting subject. Oh, by the way, Wired Magazine has a great article on hybrid cars this month. (Jan 2008 issue).

    God Bless,

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