Rock The Bike

Bike Culture and traditional advocacy — a powerful combo for growing and sustaining a movement to two wheels

Heading home last night I spotted a new blue print of a bicycle on the wall of one of the BART cars. I wheeled my Xtracycle into that car and parked it in the new stretched out ‘Bike Space’. It was as if it were made for my Xtracycle. On other BART cars, my rig sticks halfway into the doorway, which can slow other passengers down at stops. Usually I try to avoid commute hours and tuck the bike in as much as possible, but with the new layout, I won’t have to.

The new design removes one seat from the train, allowing full leg room for the passenger sitting by my front wheel and full access to passengers at the door. Commuting by BART had never been stressful with my Xtracycle — the other passengers were always cool — but the new design makes it easier for every one. I also have to give it up for the non-carpeted floors. They feel much more ‘subway’ and less ‘commuter rail’.

This cool improvement to BART’s design is probably the result of some hard-working bicycle advocate working within or with BART. And these types of practical improvements — bike lanes, parking, public transit access — are exactly what traditional bike advocates do best. But focusing on practical improvements is only half of what it takes to grow our bicycle movement. We also need passionate bike culture heads to do the work they do so well — outreach.

Working together, Bike Culture’s outreach and traditional bicycle advocacy’s hard-fought improvements are a powerful combination that can grow and sustain the bicycle movement.

Water bottle-based music systems help you hear (but maybe not feel) your music

A couple new products are helping bike people cruise with music this spring.

The Gadget Bottle is a functional water bottle that has no batteries or speakers, but its unique shape allows you to strap a cell phone with an internal speaker and listen to your MP3s as you ride. It fits inside a standard water bottle cage. At 2:35, inventor Steve Lach takes a phone call from his wife, holding the entire Gadget Bottle to his ear, with his flip phone securely rubber banded in place! No problem with one-handed use while cruising or training.


To up the volume a bit, the iHome2Go Cycler is a rechargeable black water-bottle shaped single-speaker music system that conceals an iPod and includes a handlebar mounted control.

Eugene, Oregon-based bicycle advocate and customer Shane Rhodes, a.k.a. The Bike Phantom, recommends it and says the volume is big enough for a small cluster of riders to hear the music. With a 3″ speaker, the Cycler isn’t going to deliver satisfying bass hits. It’s a basic law of speaker design that the smaller the speaker and its enclosure, the harder it is to get good bass response.

But how important is bass response on a bicycle? I think it’s essential, and Rock the Bike is obviously committed to the path of building bicycle music systems with cabinets large enough to deliver satisfying bass. With good bass, you and the people around you feel ‘in the music’. Without good bass, you can sing along with your friends to your favorite songs, which is a wonderful experience. But it’s a different experience than cruising in the music, which feels a bit like being in your own music video. Plenty of people disagree with me on the importance of bass response.

Others are more hardcore than I am:

Is there a pinch of martyrdom in your bike advocacy?

I had an interesting exchange with one of the volunteers at the SFBC’s fabulous Winterfest party last night. I said “Hi” to the volunteer as I approached one of the food tables. He was surgically picking the turkey out of his sandwich.

He said:

“Normally I would eat a vegetarian sandwich, but since I’m not a strict vegetarian anymore, I’m leaving it for someone else.”

At this point in the night, there were three platters full of turkey and beef sandwiches, and one vegetarian platter.

I said: “You’re taking the turkey out of a turkey sandwich. It’s just a bread and lettuce sandwich now. Why don’t you eat the one you want?”

“I remember how it was when I was a strict vegetarian. The vegetarian option always ran out first. I used to hate it when meat-eaters would eat the veggie option to feel like they were doing something healthy, leaving the vegetarians without food they can eat. So I’m just doing it out of consideration for them.”

I was sort of impressed at how principled he was, but at the same time, his action was a metaphor for the guilt trips and self-denial that bug me about bike advocacy in general. Too many ‘Should’ statements, like “You should ride a bike because of Global Warming,” or “You should ride a bike because of Traffic,” or “You should ride a bike because you need excercise.” But think about it. How did you react the last time someone told you you should do something? You probably said, “Thanks, Mom!” Why would it be any different when you tell someone about riding a bike?

Today’s bike advocates tend to be very effective at lobbying local governments for the things committed cyclists need, like bike lanes and public transit access, and less effective at increasing the overall numbers of cyclists on the road.

Since 2003, Rock the Bike has been exploring and innovating new ways bike people can pump up the volume on their outreach, without guilt tripping their friends and family. If there’s more than a pinch of martyrdom in your bike advocacy style, you might want to consider our approach.

The whole reason we’re involved in the Bike Music Scene is that the concerts and cruiser rides draw people in naturally, through the power of music. Once they show up, they start asking the more experienced bikers for help getting back on a bike after (a) their tires went flat two years ago or (b) their last bike got stolen. Our Down Low Glow bike lights (which we just sponsored for the fifth year at Winterfest) are probably the only bike lights on the market that can make SUV drivers want to give biking a chance.

I went back to the food table later in the night, after the Extra Action Marching Band shredded the venue as the featured performers. I didn’t see the volunteer around, but I did notice that there was still half a platter of veggie sandwiches, but no meat. The volunteer’s self-denial was for naught.

When you “Show, Don’t Tell” the benefits of biking, you’re tapping into a much more powerful way to get your message across to your friends, and, well, to make change in general. To begin, keep it positive. Focus on the things you love about biking, and do them — don’t talk about them, but do them — as much as possible. If you love them so much this should come naturally. But don’t stop there. Make it social. Host rides to concerts you and your friends are interested in seeing, have weekly repair sessions on your front stoop on Sunday mornings, clean your bike and trick it out with colorful parts and lights. Focus on doing the things that will activate the excitement of the people in your life. Leave the guilt trips to their moms!

Let’s Greenwash this city

Greenwashing is this guy.

Why, when suggesting that riding a bicycle is an important part of building a ‘greener’ city, does PG&E pick a recumbent bike with a big flag sticking out the back? Why not an everyman’s bike that readers will see and say to themselves, “Oh yeah, I could do that.”

Why is he all alone, trying to stay between the MUNI rails, with a car about to pass him on the right? Isn’t this the exact situation that my friends have in mind when they say “I don’t feel comfortable biking in the city”?

Why do they say “Green is this guy”? They might as well write “Green is that guy”. ‘This guy’ puts him at a distance from us, the mainstream reader.

What if, instead, PG&E chose a younger, sexier — no offense — model, maybe a woman, on a stylish city bike, in one of the bike lanes that SFBC has fought so hard for, with three other bikers flanking her in the background (as is often the case on Market St. in the morning hours)? Instead of saying “Green is this guy,” they could personalize it by saying “Green is Karen Jones”.

If you’ve seen “Who Killed the Electric Car?” you know that, just because a company advertises a product, doesn’t mean that they necessarily want people to buy the product. In the case of the electric car, there’s strong evidence that GM and Toyota wanted to kill their electric car programs and were only advertising them to fulfill the legal requirement in California.

In the case of PG&E’s Let’s Green This City campaign, they are advertising individual action such as bicycle riding, but obviously not doing it in the most persuasive way they could.

Counter PG&E’s PR

sakura saunders | Wed, 01/31/2007 – 8:47pm

Hey! I am part of a group of people that set up a website with a lot of facts that counter PG&E’s deceptive greenwashing campaign. It’s called, so I thought that you might enjoy it!

here’s a couple of facts from the site:

PG&E owns 0% solar and 2% wind facilities

PG&E’s ClimateSmart program is a bandage solution to climate change, it is a consumptive response to climate change (it has customers pay to plant trees to offset their emissions) and does nothing to address the root cause of global warming. Also, their stated goal for this program is a mere 5%!

go to to read more.