We’re two decades into the 21st century and flying cars are still grounded. Jetpacks are barely novelty items. Promising ideas from Uber and others to use drones as transport appear a ways off, and while there are plenty of new concepts out there, the real star of the decade could turn out to be a back-to-the-future retro legend reborn (yet again).
The humble bicycle is having another moment, with recent reports showing that in the United States, sales are at an all-time high. Experts are calling it America’s “third great bicycle revival.”
Europe has long ridden circles around America when it comes to using bicycles for more than just weekend leisure. In the bike-crazy Netherlands, over a quarter of all trips are made on a bicycle. Rain or shine, heat or sleet, the Dutch keep on pedaling. But even in that bike-saturated nation, on top of booming sales of “regular” cycles, industry experts are claiming 2020 will see a 53 percent rise in sales of “cargo bikes.” Such bicycles – often three or even four-wheeled – are used to haul anything from a coffee shop on wheels to a brood of children.
When times are rough, people turn to the familiar and there’s hardly anything more familiar than a bicycle. “It’s like riding a bicycle,” the adage goes, and so it is. Many vividly remember the first time they became confident enough to ride unassisted by parents or training wheels as a sort of rite-of-passage. Suddenly, you were free. You had wheels.
Quartz Magazine explains that the last bike boom was in the early 1970s when steal framed cycles became available at reasonable prices. The craze, however, was extremely short-lived. By 1975 bike sales in the US dropped by half.
“Manhood substitution” sports cars were the rage for a bit, but those got old fast, much like their now-Cialis-popping drivers. Then came a crime wave, real and or imagined. Terrifying stories filled the airwaves of the early 90s and by the middle of that decade, slews of helicopter parents imagined every van in the nation contained “want some candy?” perverts waiting to abduct their offspring. Kids were forced to ride in uninspiring driveways and the love of pedal-power petered out. If you had to pick a transport icon of the late 1990s, bicycles were close to dead.
The kids of the late 70s and 80s are the 40-plus-year-olds of today, and this demographic is contributing significantly to the bicycle boom. They’re not alone. Witness the 20-somethings cycling around US cities during recent Black Lives Matter protests. And of course, when the adults get their butt back in the saddle, little Johnny and Sally want to, too. The New York Times recently complained about long wait times – with models retailing at under US$1,000 virtually impossible to keep in stock.
Health is on the minds of many these days and indisputably, a bicycle provides at least some degree of exercise, which is by definition, healthy. But beyond that, people are rediscovering that childlike feeling of freedom; that joy of “I can go pretty much wherever I choose, whenever I choose.”
And, happily for cycle makers, a good portion of new enthusiasts aren’t electing to grab the cheapest offerings. Some prices for sexy, sleek, light, blended-material frame bicycles are downright shocking. Does US$10,000 seem high? Well, that’s one of the “cheap” options when you go high-end.
It’s clear that cycles are in vogue again; but which type and style fits you and your environment, and of course, your budget? Let’s go on a little “top ten-style” deep dive that might just help you chose the best cycle for you.
Not Recommended for Most Humans:
Penny-farthings and unicycles: We jest, but we’re also glad few appear to be pushing for a return to the penny-farthing – sure, it was the late 1800’s but still, how is it that no one realized sitting a few yards in the air on a monstrously-sized front wheel was a safety hazard? As for unicycles, if they’re your thing, you do your thing. But like the number of wheels on the bike, expect to stay single.
The Best Quality Choices for the Budget-Conscious:
Now’s when you’re going to need to decide between a road-bike, or something closer to a so-called mountain-bike. There are hybrids as well, but there is a definitive line between road cycles and “all-terrain” models. If you live in Washington D.C., with it’s pothole-friendly streets, a road bike might act more as a catapult than a bike, but should you reside in say, Boulder, Colorado – rated as the most-bikeable-city-in-the-US owning to some 300 miles of bike lanes, a road bike sounds like an awesome idea for whipping about at delicious speeds.
Biketestreviews.com, suggests road bike option for under US$1,000: The Giant Contend 1. Considering it’s the largest manufacturer in the world, you’d expect Giant to have a decent offering, and they do. Rated near the top of the pack by Bike Radar in 2018, the upgraded 2020 model remains a strong contender, and while there are other brands with slightly better reviews, not all are available for sale in the US. Con: A bit of a hard ride for those not accustomed to road bikes.
Suggested “All-terrain” model: Vitus Nucleus 29 VR. At just under US$600, you get a wickedly-strong machine with more features than the price should support. Con: You’ll need to get on their waiting list.
There are of course, plenty of other possible choices. “Fixies,” for example, are adored by purists who hate brakes. Most of us, though, will do fine with a decent “all terrain” or road bike. Finally, if you happen to be on Bernie Sanders and AOC’s “tax the rich” hit list, man, do you have some incredible options. Here’s a million-dollar gold-plated model than might even tempt Donald Trump. More serious high-priced, yet high-value options come from makers like Specialized. Willing to fork over US35k for an e-bike? Try the menacing-looking Hungarian M55. Cargo bike options can be found here and here, while many other health, wellness and fitness products are easy to search for on sites like www.top10.com.
Car ownership by millennials and under is falling fast, with trends toward healthy living and environmental-awareness rising steadily. These stats point to the “third great American bike boom” having a much longer staying power than previous bumps. Sure, you can buy something “okay” for much less than the models suggested above, but consider saving up for a “real” bike. As a certain president might say, “BELIEVE ME,” it’s worth it.