We’re still no bike-saturated Amsterdam, but the bicycle has become a much more prominent option for folks in the U.S.
More and more of you are riding to work. You’re locking your bikes in front of restaurants. You’re hopping from bar to bar on a beach cruiser.
In the past decade, a new and thriving bike culture has emerged, and plenty of creative folks are carving out ways to tap into it.
Amanda Carroll, 26, of Sacramento, Calif., began sewing her own clothes as a teenager and recently launched an alterations-and-design business aimed at cyclists.
She’s not making Lycra shorts or multihued racing jerseys. Carroll takes your old clothes and alters them into bicycle-friendly and stylish new threads.
The khakis or wool slacks that have been languishing in the back of your closet? Carroll can turn them into knickers that give cyclists a touch of urban bike style. She can transform button-down shirts into functional attire, complete with patch pockets on the back for stashing a spare tube, a lock or goods picked up while shopping.
“I’ve gotten really busy,” Carroll said. “The knickers are the easiest and most transformative. They’re something I’ve spent a lot of time engineering and have really dialed in.”
A cyclist herself, Carroll has seen a significant shift in the way Sacramentans relate to bikes. Bikes are no longer just for speed demons who got into the sport after the Lance Armstrong craze swept the country in the early 2000s.
“When I first started riding around town, I never rode in a dress or anything,” she said. “Now, it’s becoming easier and easier. It seems like there’s been a shift to making cycling accessible and maybe less athletic.”
People still are riding fast and working out on bikes, but many are riding to work, too, then stopping at the grocery store or heading out to the farmers market on their bikes.
Brian and Monica Laplander, a married couple in their early 40s, spotted the growth in nonsport riding and, in 2009, started making bike bags called panniers, which attach directly to the bike and can hold plenty of cargo. Their fledgling company is called Carsick Designs (carsickdesigns.com). Brian Laplander’s full-time job offers a touch of irony: he does collision repair at a Roseville auto body shop.
The eye-catching bags are made with a variety of materials, including waxed canvas and Cordura. Several bags are hand-sewn using recycled vinyl banners.
On the Carsick website, Laplander and his wife provide a passionate explanation of what they stand for: “We believe that a bike is more than just a toy, more than an exercise machine, and not to be looked down upon as a lesser form of transportation. We enjoy using our bikes for bike touring, bike camping, commuting, getting groceries, and just for the sheer joy of it. When on our bikes we are able to take time and notice our surroundings as we ride. We believe bikes have the power to change the world because they changed ours.”
Carsick bags have a wide price range. The recycled vinyl panniers are $140 for a set of two, while the waxed canvas are $285 a pair. Laplander says he’s working on a design for an economy pannier bag.
Jack Cauthen has worked in the bike business long enough to see all kinds of trends, from the rise and fall of mountain bikes to the uptick in road racing and the current shift toward urban riding, cruising and touring. A longtime employee at City Bicycle Works in Sacramento, he became concerned that the shop was throwing away used equipment that could probably be repurposed.
“It really started with recycling the tires. I’ve been in the bike industry for 20 years and I’ve seen the thousands of tires we’ve thrown away,” said Cauthen, 41.
He started turning old tires into belts, with sturdy buckles made of a bike chain. He also fashioned worn-out chains into bracelets in several styles, some held together with old brake cables.
Two years ago, he started his side business, Cycle Recycle (cyclerecycle.it).
The mild-mannered ringleader — and cheerleader — for these new bike-centric businesses has been John Boyer, a career waiter who started a small business called Edible Pedal to deliver food on bikes. Amid an array of bikes and bike equipment, his shop displays the wares of several local craftspeople.
Boyer says the economic downturn has played a role, too. Trying times are prompting creative people to look for new ways of doing things.
“I’m really excited about Carsick,” Boyer said. “It’s one of the best examples of entrepreneurship that is spreading all over the place in this economic crisis. It’s really a survival instinct to take things into your hands.”
An advocate for using the bike as mainstream transportation, Boyer says Sacramento has a long way to go before it catches up to cities like Portland, Ore., where bikes of all kinds flourish, including pricy Dutch cargo bikes that many use instead of cars for transporting everything from their groceries to their children.
“I think people are just tired of cars. They’re tired of road rage, and I think the car culture is on the decline,” Boyer said. “I’m seeing more and more bikes. It’s still not enough, but it’s on the upswing.”
Carroll, Laplander, Cauthen and others say they are banking on that upswing. They all hope to expand their businesses in the months ahead as they race to meet demand.