Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Biking as local commerce

Bicycle cardLeft: Paper goods from Craftgasm include these cards imprinted with images of bicycles.

In the previous entry on "Interesting developments in biking," I meant to discuss a recent entry in the Smart Growth Maryland blog, "Spoke Shops Signal Smart Growth: The Return of Neighborhood Bicycle Shops - A Sustainable Community Indicator."

The entry is a very deep and great discussion of how bike retail has changed over the years, from bikes being sold at hardware stores and department stores to dedicated bike shops in downtown and neighborhood commercial districts, to the overtaking of bike shops by stores like Sports Authority, and now that biking take up is increasing, the stage has been re-set for the rise of the community-based bike shop.

The post makes the argument that neighborhood bike shops are an indicator of sustainable community and healthy local economies.

... and it's a good time to mention the death of Al Fritz, a top official at the old Schwinn Bicycle Company who capitalized on the bike customizing trend with the creation of the banana seat-based Sting Ray bike.  See the obituary "Al Fritz, Who Put Youngsters on Stylish, Colorful Bikes, Dies at 88," from the New York Times.

Bicycle in the bike rack on the front of a busThe discussion focuses on Maryland, but it seems likely that this pattern is occurring similarly elsewhere in the country.

I know it is in DC, with the spread of bike shops outside of the city's most bike-able neighborhoods (Capitol Hill, Adams Morgan, and Georgetown) to downtown (BicycleSpace, which wins local and national awards as one of the best bike retailers, listing of Top 100 from Bicycle Retailer and Industry News), H Street NE (Daily Rider), 14th Street/Dupont Circle East (The Bike Rack), etc.  District Hardware was based on Dupont Circle for decades and located within the past few years to the West End.

The entry mentions Race Pace (also a Top 100 US bike shop), a small chain centered around Baltimore--when I ran the Western Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Plan, this group put notice of our planning meetings directly on their homepage,which was awesome.

And it should have mentioned some of the state's long time bike shops that have served their communities for decades like Mount Airy Bicycles and College Park Bicycles (which have the same ownership).

Family bicycling on 3rd Street NW, Washington, DCA couple things that Race Pace does at their Ellicott City store that stand out are (1) how they promote information sharing on biking in the region--they post the Maryland State Bike Map and provide bike maps for most of the cities and counties that publish them and (2) they have a dedicated shop within the shop for women called Bella Bikes--I think they were one the first bike shop in the US to do this.

I do have some thoughts about bike shops and marketing:

1.  I still think there is a need for bike transportation exclusive bike shops.  Biking as transportation needs its own focus, from utility biking to commuting to family biking.  The industry still has a hard time focusing on this, because it can be less profitable than selling racing bikes (for many thousands of dollars).  A lot of sub-demographics have complaints about their experiences going to their local bike shops.

2.  Somehow bike shops have to be converted to "biking as transportation showrooms," combining biking education with sales and service, put without the equivalent of the pushy auto salesman.  So I could see providing bike shops with for profit space at rec centers where the space is available for the training side of things.

Subsidized space or programming might have to be part of the equation.

Super large tricycle, Takoma Park, MarylandLeft: at the Grant Avenue Market in Takoma Park, Maryland.

3.  Maybe it means sub-shops for electric biking, women, families, and utility biking, like Bella Bikes or Workcycle's shop in Amsterdam.

4.  Electric bikes have a place in biking as transportation, not so much in the cores of cities, but instead for medium and long distance commuting and in places that have topographical issues, and for older people.  (I also think some municipal vehicle uses can be switched to e-bikes from cars.)

E-bikes tend to be sold in exclusive stores, partly because traditional bike shops are having a difficult time embracing the idea of power-assisted bicycles, but I think that e-bikes are mis-marketed.  Shops tend to be located in center cities, when I believe the market is out in the suburbs ("Electric bicycle gives commuter a boost on 22-mile way to work," Baltimore Sun).

5.  Front and back lights for night riding need to be installed on city bikes as standard equipment by the manufacturer.  (Although bike shops don't like this because they make the most profit from the sales of accessories.)

6.  I think that biking-related tourism support needs to be incorporated into bike stations and regionally-serving visitor centers.  Generally, people get bike touring in rural areas (see Adventure Cycling, Trail Towns, the masters thesis by Heidi Beierle, Bicycle Tourism as a Rural Economic Development Vehicle, programs in various counties around Maryland such as in Carroll, Talbot, Wicomico, and Caroline Counties, and the Great Delmarva Trail which links communities in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia).

But I don't think planners and tourism officials focus on it so much in cities as part of the experience of visiting, although most big cities do have bike rental operations, and bike sharing is a way to serve visitors as well (although this comes at the expense of shops doing bike rentals).

7.  Biking as economic development needs to be addressed more purposively in bicycle master planning.  I did address it a bit in the plan I did in Baltimore County, but not to the extent that it should have been covered.  Bike tourism, B&Bs (like the VeloTourism program in Quebec and the Pennsylvania Trail Towns program), bike events, etc.  I rarely see it covered in other plans.

Freewheel Bike Shop8.  To the extent possible, retail opportunities ought to be leveraged on trails.  Some establishments along the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail have a front and back entrance--the back entrance being on the Trail.  And here and there across the country, restaurants and such are opening up to urban trails.  But it's not happening enough.

Minneapolis's Freewheel Midtown Bike Center and Cafe (left: photo by Uncle Bicycle) on the city's main trail (the Midtown Greenway) is a good example of what more communities should be striving to attain.  It supports commuters, has a cafe, provides secure bike parking, offers bike rentals, provides repairs, etc.  And it's on the main trail.

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At 7:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

+1 for Race Pace. I recently bought a bike from them and it was worth the trip. DC area shops tended to not have what I was looking for, and at best they might have 1 bike that was on my list, but there was no way to comparison shop and test ride two bikes side by side. BicycleSpace is good (but pricey), as is Takoma. They had my #2 and #3 choices and they were helpful.

There are transportation bikes out there, one just needs to have a conversation at the stores and explain your needs. It also helps to make direct inquiries of stores a little farther afield and tell them what you are looking for. This is how I was led to Race Pace, they were completely attentive and helpful all the way. Answered emails, had bikes on hand to ride, very nice well-stocked store (Fed Hill). I ultimately decided to order a bike similar to one that I had test rode, and the order and delivery were all handled well. Highly recommend.

At 7:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

problem with Race Pace is that you have to have a car to get there from DC on the weekends because MARC doesnt yet run on weekends- my take on bike shops is the same as in other businesses- if you cannot get there via walking, cycling or metro it is not worth the trouble.

At 11:20 AM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

I haven't been to the store in Federal Hill yet. It opened after I stopped working in Baltimore County.

I am curious if the store is more "urbanized" compared to the Ellicott City store.

(Joe's Bike is also a Top 100 store. They have locations in Mount Washington and Fells Point. The Fells Point location was the first place I'd seen a chain drive city bike.)

At 12:14 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

In terms of promoting bikes and flexibility, I don't see why someone doesn't pull a food truck up near a trail, set up a tent, and serve 1L beers.

At 12:39 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

Great idea... or you could park this there during the day and run it in the city at night...

At 1:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Race Pace in Balt had a good selection of transportation bikes, in addition to the usual road bike and mountain bike fare of most shops. Its a very large space. They were well stocked with Linus bikes, some Electras, and the hybrid/comfort bikes models of other mgfrs. Good accessory selection too, lights, locks, bags/pannier, etc.

At 12:27 AM, Anonymous thm said...

BicycleSpace does fit in somewhat with your thought #1. It certainly breaks the mountain bike/racing bike duopoly that's the default for most other bike stores, and there isn't much Lycra around, either for sale or being worn by folks hanging around the store. Not quite as expansive as Portland's clever cycles, but getting there.

At 9:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

10 years ago I treid to get a sit up bicycle and got routinely laughed at by the lycra jerks who ran most of the bike stores in the DC area- finally I found a store [ now gone] out on Lee Highway that had a guy there who understood ergonomic concerns [ I have a bad lower back and cannot tolerate push forward racing posture] he was very helpful and this saved me from abandoning bicycling. Now days the bike stores are mostly a lot better at realizing not everyone wants to be a racer- and there are certainly more bikes to be had- yes- I agree- Bikespace is really good and helpful. They understand euro style ergonomic bikes and hub gears [ most bike shops do not know how to repair hub gears or do a bad job at it]

At 4:30 PM, Anonymous David Whitaker, AICP said...

Very good analysis - Thanks Richard. I concur with each of your seven thoughts. I hope that you expand on each of these in future articles. There is a lot of change underway and you should know that the owners of the recently opened HUB/C'Ville Bikes in Catonsville cite the public meeting that you organized at the Catonsville Library as one of the reasons that they decided to invest in a bicycle shop. They saw the overflow crowd and realized that there was a very large pentup demand for bicycling that was not being met in the community. That prompted their investment and the community is very grateful to have a bicycle shop on Frederick Road.

At 6:19 AM, Blogger bikingamerica said...

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