A while back I got some flack for discussing older women as “design vehicles” and implying they are generally more timid riders (than younger men for instance). I suggested that if we planners and engineers build bicycle facilities for that “design vehicle” we will attract more riders who do not enjoy riding in regular bike lanes. This concept came from the idea of designing bicycle facilities attractive and safe for people from age 8 to 80. I accepted some of the criticism as valid, but I still believe the core idea has some merit.
As a concept, designing bicycle facilities for traffic intolerant people (such as children) remains valid, it is just not easy to pigeon-hole people by typical demographics into those vehicles. So we may find there are assertive older women who are unafraid of jousting with heavy traffic as there are fixie riding courier-wannabes.
Case in point, yesterday I spoke to a class of hipster artist kids at the Milwaukee School of Art and Design. If I had bet that most of these kids fit the fearless category of cyclist, I would have lost. About a third of the class implied they were not comfortable riding bicycles in urban traffic, even with a bike lane.
Then Sam tipped me to a post on the Team Estrogen blog about Susan Octonos’ experience riding a Gazelle Madelief. Apparently Susan is a pretty experienced vehicular cyclist, but normally rides a fast race bike for training, not a slow commuter bike for transportation. Her experience riding 8 mph on an Omafiet was completely different:“I realized that I’ve gotten out of touch with what it feels like to be a slower/less confident cyclist. I’ve become so confident in my abilities over the years, that I’ve forgotten how fast and scary suburban high-speed traffic must feel to the transportation cyclist who only rides to get from point A to point B, and oftentimes does so on a bike not capable of moving very quickly.”
In the video below, Lucette Gilbert provides a great example of someone not easy peg. I don’t know how to place her in the spectrum of traffic tolerance, but I have learned enough not to try. But if I can design bike facilities that get folks like Lucette out riding, I am doing something right. Anybody know a local Lucette? It would be great to do some profiles of people who defy the “typical cyclist” image.