An introduction to how bicycling can support confidence in the individual and communities
By Kevin Rorick
Issue 4 Summer 2010
Riding a bike is a very freeing experience. But it also contributes greatly to wellbeing of individuals, communities and the earth. For the individual it provides exercise, autonomy and a sense of connection with the outdoors and the community. For communities it brings people together, improves health, and helps transform modes of transportation. For the earth it reduces the amount of fuel-powered vehicles and promotes a more sustainable way of life at low cost to the planet. In this article CATALYST Managing Editor Kevin Rorick relates his experience with biking, how it has grown in popularity, how to create a biking system for communities, the impact it has on these communities and the environment through examples in New York city, Chicago and Portland, how to create bikes in a sustainable way using bamboo and initiating recycling programs and how it contributes to wellbeing for all.
Bikes and wellbeing.
When discussing riding a bike, there are two distinct moments that I can recall with complete clarity from my youth. The first is getting on a bicycle with training-wheels and the frustration that coursed through my five year-old frame as the bike teetered side to side, never truly balanced, never totally in control. True, I was “riding a bike,” but riding with the support of training wheels. There had to be more. I could not keep up with the other kids in my neighborhood, I did not possess the balance that they all had as they zoomed up and down the street playing and laughing. Dejected, I swore off the bike for several weeks.
The second moment came shortly after. The same neighborhood kids, the same bikes, the same playing, the same laughter, only this time my older brother had left his bike unattended, with no training wheels, leaning up against a mailbox. I hopped into action, filled with confidence knowing that “today was the day.” And it was. Up the street, back down, circling around back, my brother now noticing his bike missing, chasing me. The chase only added to the excitement of that afternoon. The giant smile that crossed my face, the adrenalin, the fresh air and the confidence boost, I had done it, I was riding a bike!
Wellbeing as defined by Princeton.edu is: “a contented state of being happy and healthy and prosperous.” Wellbeing for me is riding my bike. How the bike has contributed to my wellbeing in the ensuing years is immeasurable. My world and my understanding of it expanded. First, my bike took me to the local corner market just a couple of streets over, I was independent. Then, my bike took me to my friend’s house across town. I rode my bike to work. I rode my bike for work; it became my source of income.
Growth of biking.
The global recession has been felt across many industries over the last year and a half. While the biking industry was affected by the economic downturn, 2009 saw upwards of 2.6 million bicycle purchases, versus less than 2.5 million automobile purchases during the same period in the U.S.2 Coupled with the fluctuating prices of oil that left a U.S. national average at $4.12 per gallon of gas in 2008,3 it is not surprising to see more of the population turn to biking as an alternative means of transportation.
In the U.S. there are ambitious programs that span urban, suburban and rural biking routes. July 2009 saw New York City complete 200 miles of bike lanes, bringing the amount of bike lanes in the city’s five boroughs to 420 miles. Over the course of three years, as the last 200 miles were being installed, commuting by bike in New York City increased 45%. 1,000 guide signs and the installation of 6,100 new bike racks support the bike lanes across the city. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said of the completion, “Leave the combustible engine at home. Come out. Get a bike. Borrow a bike if you don’t have one.”4
Designing a product to support a system.
Bike-sharing has been promoted by many over the recent years as an alternative to the automobile with the goal of reducing one’s carbon footprint and increasing one’s wellness through exercise and activity. As cities such as Portland, Chicago and New York begin work on creating safe havens for bikes to travel in urban areas, cities in Europe are expanding the scope of biking and public spaces. The City of Copenhagen Technical and Environmental Administration Department of Traffic recently hosted an international bike-share design competition.
The goal of the competition was to design a bike-share system that supported Copenhagen in becoming a sustainable and dynamic city. The city, already supported by a robust biking community, was now seeking to develop an infrastructure and become a concept leader in how a population can travel by bike and interact with their environment. Criteria for the competition ranged from creating strong brand identity, emphasis on effective and environmental forms of transportation and, most importantly, design of the entire system which would be required to compliment the city and the people who would be using it.5 The winning solution, as described by the Copenhagen Bike Share jury, was “a floating bike share system wherein the bicycle is virtually a system unto itself and the technology is integrated into the bicycle. OPENbike opens up for an exciting perspective relative to how a modern bike share system can allow itself to be swallowed up by the city’s spaces and become an integral part of everyday mobility in a larger city.”
The solution, designed and developed by LOTS, a Swedish design agency, Koucky & Partners and Green Idea Factory, is “a user-friendly, lightweight bicycle and effective technologies used in telecommunications, public-transport, positioning, and logistics.” The framework of the OPENbike is built using existing industry standard design and infrastructure. Technologically, it is outfitted with an RFID chip for identifying location, and GSM/GPRS unit. This allows a biker to use a mobile phone to communicate their identification and payment purposes. All information is tracked and stored back to the OPENbike central.6 LOTS said of the entry, “The solution grew from a dialogue with a common goal to create a system based on user need that is realistic, and to profile Copenhagen as the bicycle capital of the world.”7
Building Support for a Biking Community.
Stepping out of my apartment, my roommate and I, bikes in tow, both looked towards the sky: “We can make it.” My roommate, more of a meteorologist than I am, looked at the Cumulonimbus clouds and said, “no way.” “Come on, we will just have to ride fast today.” We made it two miles from the apartment when the sky opened up. Soaked to the bone, we continued our ride to the office. On our lunch hour I bought dry socks, t-shirts and jeans and offered up a hearty apology. Our bikes stayed locked up, outside in the rain, and we changed in the bathroom.
Though this was the extreme version of a commute for cyclists, changing in the office bathroom is generally an everyday occurrence. Whether changing out of a sweat-soaked shirt or attempting to iron out the wrinkles in suit pants, the bathrooms are the only area of respite for many. Changing in a bathroom is relatively minor in terms of challenges that cyclists who chose to commute face. Lack of showers, adequate changing and storage areas and secure bike parking all add to a bike commuter’s list of challenges to be resolved before sitting down at their office desk. With commuting in urban and suburban areas in the U.S. a growing trend, the more that builders adopt Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification the more amenities and facilities will become available for bike commuters.
According to Transportation Alternatives, a New York City-based bicycling, walking and public transportation advocacy group, “lack of secure bike parking is the number one reason that seasoned cyclists don’t bike to work.”8 Including secure and designated areas into a building will lead towards one point of LEED certification. Architects and designers who include bicycling accommodations are most likely to be including other environmentally forward design as well. Allowing for bicycles in the design of buildings presents the greatest cost-benefit ration of any zero emissions urban transportation or green building retrofitting initiative.9 Those who do adopt LEED standards into their buildings design will prove themselves as leaders in a rapidly changing industry showing a commitment to environmental, social and financial wellbeing as well as communicating differentiation in the market place.
The City of Chicago went beyond LEED to build an entire hub for local cyclists. In its quest to become a “greener” city, Chicago built a freestanding indoor bike station. Located in the center of Chicago’s business district, the center contains, showers, lockers, a small café, a bike repair station, bike rental hub and 300 bicycle parking spaces. The bike station has been heralded internationally by environmentalists, health advocates, urban planners and cycling enthusiasts. Interestingly enough, the bike station, now sponsored by McDonald’s, shows a commitment from the international fast food retailer to bolster their efforts to help their customers become more healthy by encouraging “balanced, active lifestyles.”11
Including accommodations and encouraging cycling through architecture is good for a community and one’s wellbeing in both the short and long term. One example is The Rose Garden, a LEED Gold certified building, and home to the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team, considered transportation when retro-fitting their new stadium. “More than 30 percent of Rose Garden attendees use public or alternative transportation, such as bicycle commuting. The team subsidizes transit passes for staff and uses bikes and electric vehicles for on-site operations.”12 With the race for many cities in the U.S. to earn the title “greenest city,” the President of the Portland Trail Blazers said that the new stadium “is a result of the local expertise and innovation helping Portland foster a stronger, more sustainable economy.” The Rose Garden is currently the only sports arena in the U.S. to have LEED certification.
Attracting a New Generation
Design thinking is an agent of education and change. Is the bike ready for reinvention? What if we stripped it down to the core, what needs do bikes fulfill? The bike fundamentally provides an aerobic workout recognized by leading health authorities as integral in keeping the human body healthy. In 2009 across the U.S., obesity rates among adults increased in 23 states with no decrease in other states. Obesity in children is, “at or above 30 percent in 30 states.”13 A report released in July of 2009 titled: F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America 2009, outlined the growing trend of obesity in the U.S. and made key recommendations for health reform and called for a National Strategy to Combat Obesity. Their goal is to unite all levels of government and encourage collaboration between public and private sectors.
The bike can assist in meeting the goal of “increasing the frequency, intensity, and duration of physical activity at schools and improving access to safe and healthy places to live, work, learn and play.” Concerned about health issues facing children in the Bronx, The 62, a Brooklyn-based art collective, took the fundamentals of the bike and applied them to a project titled “Re-Bicycling.” The group thinks of their workspace as “a laboratory where we tinker, romanticize, cook and converse about notions of self-sufficiency, sustainability, beauty, building communities and the possibilities of using art to make that happen.” The 62, working with discarded bike parts donated by a local bike shop, work-shopped with ten high school teens at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. The program ran over the course of ten weekends and culminated with a “critical-mass” bike ride through the Bronx with the teens riding the bikes that they had built. During the program members of The 62, while addressing the basics of how to design and build a bike properly, also discussed pertinent health issues, such as obesity, asthma and diabetes, all of which exist at high rates in the neighborhoods in which the teens reside. The bike, as presented to the teen participants, is now more than an alternative to taking the subway, bus or a taxi. It has become a means by which they can affect healthy change, both internally and externally.Upon the completion of the project, the workshop component was picked up by Recycle A Bicycle, an “innovative, fun, youth training and environmental education initiative”14 non-profit, that is dedicated to the health and wellbeing of New York City youth. Besides this project, Recycle A Bicycle works in the New York City public schools and conducts after-school workshops. Their programs include, Earn-A-Bike, Ride Club, Cycle Craft and a Summer Youth Employment Program. In 2009, they “worked with more than 1,000 young people and collectively pedaled more than 10,000 miles. On average, Recycle A Bicycle salvages 1,200 bicycles each year from the waste stream, diverting a total of 36,000 pounds of waste from NYC’s landfills.”15
Confidence and Empowerment: from a Backyard in Brooklyn to Africa
Using the same philosophy employed by The 62 and Recycle A Bicycle, the Bamboo Bike Studio has taken the sentiment and extends it. They address the importance of confidence, empowerment and wellbeing from local to global and directly couple self-health with environmental-health. The Bamboo Bike Studio’s mission is to “provide every cyclist the experience of building his or her dream bike from scratch, while advancing sustainable entrepreneurship and development through financing bamboo bike factories in Africa and South America.”16 Working with partners at Columbia University’s Bamboo Bike Project and the Millennium Cities Initiative for development, the weekend long course provides product testing and prototype construction for scaleable implementation.
The process starts in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn at the Bamboo Bike Studio. Students enter the studio on Saturday and pedal out with their own custom-built bamboo bikes on Sunday. Over the course of the weekend, the students will learn how to build a bike using sustainable materials and sustainable practices. Prior to arriving students are encouraged to, “bring your own iPod, bring your dreams of a perfect ride, bring expectations of tackling new skills; leave any anxieties about pretentious cycling culture behind— for the next two days, this is your workshop.”
The tuition cost per individual goes directly to seed funding for the development and growth of bamboo bike factories in Africa and South America.
For those who live in developed countries or cities where there are miles of concrete and developed infrastructure, the idea of “how do I get to work?” is never really an issue. But, in places such as Ghana or Kenya, reliable and affordable transportation “can dramatically improve access to jobs, commerce, education, basic food and water resources and health care.”
By providing local factories in these areas, utilizing sustainable and renewable resources, such as bamboo, the positive effect on these communities wellbeing can be dramatically increased.
The tuition paid to Bamboo Bike Studio directly seeds the development of factories and supports two international development goals: Improved Access to Transportation and Sustainable Light-Industrial Development. Bamboo bicycle factories in developing areas of the world that are “locally owned and operated will tap a growth-positive bicycle market, stimulate self-sustaining local business, and sow the seeds for further light-industry growth and entrepreneurship.”
Why bamboo? Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world, and grows in both cold and tropical environments. The first bamboo bicycle was showcased in 1864. “Features designed in mind when this bike was made were vibration damping, crash tolerance, and the natural look of the bike.”17 Today, bamboo has garnered the attention of many focused on sustainable design, as “it is a hardy, durable product from a renewable resource.”18 For the Bamboo Bike Studio the use of bamboo is directly related to its, “build-ability.” Traditional bike frames are constructed of steel and aluminum and require a vast understanding of welding in order to complete a frame. “Bamboo requires no refineries, mines, smelting or long-distance freighting— the result is quality bicycles, grown in our backyard.”17
The exhilaration experienced on Sunday as participants pedal out of the Bamboo Bike Studio after a two-day workshop on their new bike is unique, as it is not only felt in Brooklyn, New York, but rather shared with an entire village thousands of miles away.
As defined earlier, wellbeing is “a contented state of being happy and healthy and prosperous.” Additionally, wellbeing can be defined as responsibly adhering to the Triple Bottom Line of people, planet and profit. The Bamboo Bike Studio provides economic value while enhancing the lives of people and conserving our planet. It promotes the wellbeing of the individual and our world by promoting the use of sustainable resources and helping to build a productive and scaleable bike industry.
Get on a bike and ride!
So, get on your friend’s or a stranger’s bike and ride! The invention of the bike, dates back to the 19th century and has undoubtedly been a catalyst for change in the ensuing years, intended or not. The empowerment of the individual, of a group, of a city, can be traced back to the simple act of balancing on two wheels with the intent of getting from point A to point B. It can be the simple act of riding a bike that can contribute to the wellbeing of oneself as well as the wellbeing of our entire planet.
“The bike…is now more than an alternative to taking the subway, bus or a taxi. It has become a means by which we can affect healthy change, both internally and externally.”
STRATEGIES IN ACTION:
Designing community and health through physical activity
Consider the whole community when designing
Don’t underestimate designing with emotion
Get on a bike and ride
About the Author:
Kevin Rorick is a marketing and advertising design professional. He finds inspiration in well crafted, multi-channeled marketing campaigns, loud, fast music and those that employ a “do-it-yourself” work ethic.
LEED-ND and Healthy Neighborhoods
An Expert Panel Review: Center for Disease Control
Bicycle Diaries; by David Byrne
2. (2010) www.fuelgaugereport.com/
11. (2009) www.healthyamericans.org/reports/obesity2009
12. (2010) www.recycleabicycle.org/about
13. (2010) www.recycleabicycle.org/
14. (2010) www.bamboobikestudio.com/go/home
15. (2010) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo_bicycle
17. (2010) bamboobikestudio.com/go/the-bamboo