Monday, February 14, 2011

Rural Biking

Most bicycle promotion is geared towards people living in a dense urban environment. The pressures on urban living are urgent, and certainly urban cycling is a worthy cause. However, I believe rural places deserve a look as well. Cycling could offer those communities some of the same benefits cyclists promote in big cities.

By rural, I don't mean literally out in the country. I mean small towns like the one I grew up in. A town of 13,000 people, city limits perhaps 5 miles long by 3 miles wide. It takes about 15 minutes to drive from one end of town to another, so nothing is that far away.

Firstly, small towns are ideal for cycling. Quiet neighborhood streets would be safe and pleasant to cycle, and the main artery roads rarely see speeds more than sixty miles an hour. This is an environment novice cyclists like to start out in the first place.

Secondly, rural people stand to gain some of the same benefits urban people do. Cycling is great exercise. Diabetes and heart disease are big killers in my hometown. It saves money. With rising gas prices and historically lower incomes in rural areas, if promoted right cycling could become a preferred alternative to autos. Plus, you don't have to compete with public transportation at all.

Thirdly, even more so than in cities, getting around by bike in a small town could be just as quick as going by car. It might take some convincing, but the time myth could be overcome. The small downtown holds a grocery store and several boutiques. The movies are three blocks away. Everything could be within an easy ride.

Of course, bicycles have a unique set of cultural notions to work against in rural areas. Bicycles are seen as child playthings in rural areas, the only time you see an adult on a bike its usually someone in full cycle gear, and there is a great love of huge trucks. Young teens on bikes are troublemakers. (Really any teenager on a wheeled contraption is seen as a threat.)

Most damagingly, there is no incentive to take up a bicycle as a transportation option in many rural areas. Yet.  That could change as it petroleum prices rise. Economic circumstances could force many three car families to go down to two or one. Or, cities that promote cycling in a positive manner could start a cultural shift. That is probably the most unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

Certainly, for those of us who live in cities the priority is in our own backyards. However, it is worth considering that efforts for a better bicycle culture in the U.S. should spread beyond the city. The benefits of bicycles should not be left for urban folk.

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