I have a confession to make. "It's not about the stuff" is not my own quote. I stole it from Tim Parr, the founder of Swobo, whom I heard interviewed on cycling.tv at Interbike. In general, I found cycling.tv to be a bit of an annoyance at the show, as its monitors, distributed throughout the convention hall, seemed to be speaking to no one. Yet, somehow, I found one speaking directly to me.
"It's not about the stuff" is a philosophy to which I have always adhered. As bicycle shop owners, we are necessarily in the business of STUFF (as is Tim: he does own a bicycle STUFF company, which has been getting some publicity for their pared down line of urban bikes). We know on which side our bread is buttered, and that without the stuff, well, you know, we wouldn't be here.
Yet, it is not the stuff that gets people on bikes. We've had great bike stuff for years, and only recently have we experienced an appreciable surge in people actually using bikes to get from one place to another in this country.
People will not ride bikes more, because there are more bikes to ride (except in the developing world). People will not commute more, because manufacturers are making more "commuter bikes" (what is a commuter bike, anyway?). People will ride more if we can create a bike culture.
How is bike culture created? Well, products, fashions and trends are definitely a part of it. But just as bicycle messengers existed long before bike messenger bags, let alone messenger fashions, came into vogue, so have bike commuters. Companies like Tim's (and there are scores of others) have been preaching bike commuting for years. Advocacy groups and volunteers have logged in thousands of hours of often under-appreciated work to create facilities, pass laws, and change public outlook on bicycling. Activists and Critical Massers have created happenings and increased the visibility and profile of urban cyclists, and raised their standing in the world of fashion. And forward thinking bike shops, like our own Rapid Transit here in Wicker park, have done the nuts-and-bolts work of turning people into cyclists every day of the year, by offering encouragement, advice, and - yes - a little bit of stuff to enhance your commute.
But it is never about the stuff. To my way of looking, you, the bike commuter are just as much, if not more, a legitimate cyclist as an "elite racer", even if you get around on an old three-speed. It is people: people riding bikes everyday, in everyday clothes, doing everyday things as part of their everyday lives that create bike culture. Not the stuff.