In Southwest Florida and all across the country, we’re seeing more and more utility cycling. Utility cycling encompasses any cycling done simply as a means of transport, rather than as a sport or leisure activity. It is the original reason to ride a bike, and the most common type of cycling in the world. Many of us use a bicycle for our daily errands, or for trips that don’t demand a large vehicle and the expense and hassle of moving same from home to the store, doctor, meetings and food runs.
Probably one of the country’s most experienced in utility cycling is the Netherlands. Utility cycling is so ingrained into day-to-day Dutch society that the reusable shopping bags sold at Albert Heijn, the country’s largest grocery chain, include a pair of plastic clips that snap to the rear rack of any bicycle—converting them into impromptu saddle bags. Hey Publix, Winn-Dixie, Whole Foods and Aldi, are you listening?
If some thought is directed toward utility cyclists, there are many businesses that could benefit by offering some accommodation to riders that would set them above their competitors. While visiting my doctor a few years ago, I mentioned that it would be nice if he had a bike rack along with the parking spaces for cars that I could tie up to, instead of locking up to the railing in front of the door. On my next visit, there was the bike rack just as suggested.
Utility cycling may also entail specific equipment to make the chore easier, faster or more convenient. Some of this equipment can be homemade. I see people riding toward the river or harbor with fishing rod holders, bait boxes and fish buckets attached to their bicycles by custom-built attachments. Sometimes it’s as simple as a piece of PVC tubing wire-tied to the frame of the bicycle.
In California, I saw a bicycle with metal brackets welded to it that held a surfboard. Here in Punta Gorda, I passed a bicyclist pulling a kayak on a little trailer out on Riverside Drive, on his way to the boat ramp. We’ve all seen the little trailer tent pull-alongs for kids, dogs or groceries. There are also the contraptions that fasten to the seat post and look like half a bike behind the actual bike so kids can ride and think they are actually pedaling.
In some of the more urbanized areas of the county— Punta Gorda, Englewood, eventually Murdock Village and even Babcock Ranch—we are bound to see pedicabs plying customers from one location to the next. Cargo bikes designed to carry lots of packages might actually make Amazon’s goal of 24-hour delivery a reality as they zip in and out of traffic jams. There might even be some money to be made as a delivery pedalist. Perhaps we’ll see an Uber-style bicycle delivery service in and around our urban areas.
This transportation transformation is going to come even faster with the advent of e-bikes, which feature electric motors to take over some (or all) of the propulsion duties. More utility for less effort is a winning combination.
Utility cycling is even an opportunity to rehabilitate that old mountain bike underneath the rusty ladders and paint cans in the garage. Pull it out, some new tires, front and rear panniers, a front basket, maybe a battery-operated cooler on the back (going high-tech) and some LED lights. It lives again!
Now for your first attempt at utility cycling: Open the refrigerator door, make a list of all the things you need to restock, grab that rejuvenated bike and head for the grocery store. Either you will be successful, or you will start shopping for one of those custom-designed cargo bikes. Either way, you’re now are a utility cyclist.
How do you know if you are a utility cyclist? Utility cycling is about using your bike in everyday life. It’s about wearing regular clothes. It’s about hauling lots of stuff. It’s about getting chores done, and it’s about problem-solving along the way.
Unless you can carry two kids, bags of groceries, and a 12-pack on your bike, you’re not a real cyclist. With that challenge on the table …
Did you ride your bike today?