The growth of cycling in America has challenged retailers, manufacturers and transportation planners over the past 30 years. Urban bike commuting is at an all-time high, and the ranks of amateur racers continue to grow.
In big cities like New York and Chicago, urban cycling often involves fixed gear bikes of custom design with fluorescent chains and spokes. The fat tire cruisers of yesteryear have reappeared as hip, alternative modes of transportation. On the beaches of both coasts and up and down the Rockies, new fat bikes with super-wide tires are all the rage.
In almost every major city in the U.S., there are bike-share programs that place public rental kiosks at key locations. And in bike racing circles, cyclocross has emerged as the up-and-coming off-road, off-season sport for roadies looking for an edge. The ranks of the master's categories in road racing continue to swell, as newbies and old-timers often outnumber the youngsters of the sport.
So who are these careeners of cross, mashers of mountains, and fashionistas on fixies? Why are people starting to take a bike to work instead of their cars? By tapping a few readily available sources, we can begin to understand this growing culture.
One of the most cited resources for bicycle commuting data is the American Community Survey (ACS) from the U.S. Census Bureau. Once part of the 10-year census effort, the ACS is now an annual survey that tracks everything from education, occupation, income and commuting patterns.
Commuting by automobile accounted for more than 75 percent of all modes of transport nationwide last year, according to the ACS, which releases data every December. Users of public transit came in a distant second. Fortunately for us, buried in the data is information on commutes made to work by bicycle.
In 2012, bicyclists made up only 0.56 percent of all commuters nationwide. Although it's a tiny piece of the overall transportation pie, this equates to more than 785,000 bicyclists commuting to work across the U.S. everyday. And that number has grown by more than 98,000 riders in the last four years alone.
In response to this increase, cities like Portland, Oregon, and Boulder, Colorado, have devoted time and money to design and build more efficient bikeways and on-street bike lanes. The League of American Bicyclists annually ranks these and other cities across the country as being "bike friendly" based largely on the extent of this infrastructure.