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Why isn't road biking more popular?(17 posts)

Why isn't road biking more popular?tarwheel
Feb 14, 2002 1:12 PM
I think cycling is the perfect aerobic sport, particular for those of us whose bodies couldn't take the wear and tear from running. So why isn't it more popular? There must be 6 different mtn biking magazines sold at the news stands, but Bicycling is the only US mag that deals with road biking (OK, you can count Velonews, but that just racing).

Here are my theories on why cycling isn't more popular:
1. Traffic. The number of cars on the roads has increased incredibly over the 30 years I've been cycling. It's harder and harder to find decent roads without traffic unless you head to the countryside. There are more and more large vehicles like SUVs, trucks and vans that take up much of the road. The heavier traffic also seems to have made drivers more aggressive and rude.
2. Comfort. I think a lot of people try cycling for a while, thinking it looks like fun, and then quit because their saddles hurt like hell, their hands get numb because of too-low handlebars, etc. For some reason, most cycles (even expensive ones) come with hard-as-a-rock saddles that are not ideal for beginners. Many shops also seem to be setting up their bikes with aggressive saddle to handlebar differentials that may be more aerobic but are more uncomfortable for many people -- and the newer threadless stems make it much more difficult to adjust handlebar height.
3. Expense. Road biking is a very expensive sport. With running, you can buy the best shoes on the market and your total outlay is perhaps several hundred dollars for shoes, shorts and other clothes. With cycling, even a low-end bike with aluminum frame can easily cost $1,000. A decent road bike with mid-level equipment (Ultegra or 105) starts at $1,200-1,500. After that, you can easily spend another $500 on clothes -- several pairs of shorts and jerseys, cycling shoes and clipless pedals, helmet, etc.
4. Perceived Danger. This relates back to the traffic. When I talk to non-bikers about cycling, one of their main concerns is about the danger of getting run over, wrecking, etc. I think the perception is worse than the reality, but there are definite risks involved.
5. Difficulty getting started. Cycling can be a hard sport to get started in. In addition to the high costs of bike and equipment, it can be hard finding other people of comparable fitness and abilities to ride with. We've got two bike clubs in the area I live, yet it's often hard to find group rides at my pace. In one club, all of the rides seem to be beginner level. In the other, most of their rides seem like races where they're trying to drop each other. I rode primarily solo for over a year before I found a group of guys who ride about my pace.
Good answers...ashleyrenfroe
Feb 14, 2002 1:26 PM
I think you have touched on basically every reason road biking is not more popular. I guess, to me, it seems popular. Everyone seems like they ride. But that is just the people I hang with on weekends. I believe that Mountain biking has taken off because you can get away from the traffic and people trying to run over you.

But road biking calls on you to be at your physical best. I could not attain this physical state with all my years of mountain biking. I just could not get there. I feel more fit than ever. And it is a lot more convenient to me than mountain biking.

But guess what? I'm not letting my mountain bike go for anything. I love that sport too, because a different part of you is called on when competing in Mountain biking. A part of you that has no fear, and you are challenged by more than just yourself or other riders. The earth itself becomes an adversary. And that makes it awesome.

Back to the original point though. Road biking may not be as popular because of similar reasons that soccer is not quite as popular here as in Europe. It is not quite as spectator friendly to Americans, though Euros have no problem going to a bike race or going to a soccer match. Here, in the US, we have to have our winners come fast and furious. Those sports require the endurance to play, and the patience to realize that a blowout may not read "65-10". It may look more like "52min, 16sec". Or "1-0". Totally different cultures.
re: Why isn't road biking more popular?RayBan
Feb 14, 2002 1:36 PM
The Road bike is probably not as popular as the MTB because on an MTB new cyclists can ride pretty much anywhere in their area (a majority of MTBs sold don't see dirt!) They are also a bit more upright and comfortable for new cyclists and the suspension fork and big tires add to the comfort of riding down those bumpy roads LOL! I think once somebody spends a while on their MTB and ride it more and more they will eventualy want to go faster and farther so they THEN start looking at road bikes. If you look at the industry trends it seems like the MTB exploded onto the scene and now the road bike sales are improving and MTB sales are leveling off.
MTB convertsTig
Feb 14, 2002 3:52 PM
We see it over and over in here. A person who has ridden MTB for years is now looking into getting a road bike. I'm glad to see it. Being able to ride both road and MTB is the best of all worlds. Too windy during winter or too much traffic during the afternoon? Then go ride singletrack in the trees or blast some hills. Nothing is more enjoyable than a ride through the trees on a beautiful day. Too muddy to ride the local trail responsibly? Take to the road for speed and distance, or maybe a social group ride. Then MTB riders can discover for themselves that roadies are not all uptight and snooty after all!
re: Why isn't road biking more popular?raboboy
Feb 14, 2002 1:45 PM
do you always answer your own questions? :)

I completely agree with you on all points.

I think it is also culture. We are not brought up with cycling as a sport. Yeah, every child owns a bike, but it is usually for recreation, for fun, etc. School sports do not include cycling, either. Every school has a track team, baseball, football, etc, but no cycling.
Cycling in general not popularcyclopathic
Feb 14, 2002 2:15 PM
maybe with exception of Davis, CA

a few remarks:

the reason more MTB stuff being sold because stuff wears and brakes off-road more. Number of mags reflects the amount of $$$$ in industry IMHO.

in your MTB vs road comparo road riding if not more dangerous is more deadly. Even if you have lower accident rate they tend to be deadlier (unless you get into whole freeride/DH thing)

there more places to ride on road then off, roads are everywhere, singletrack isn't

what you call a mnt bike is indeed modern form of cruiser. It may look like MTB but it functions as a cruiser. This may be partially because mnt bikes are direct descendents of beach cruisers, they are more comfortable to ride etc

mountain bikes give you a chance to get to Great Outdoors, and this is a ticket for many outdoor type, not the fitness.

road bikes are cheap comparing to what you spend on MTB (plus that stuff breaks all the time!)


PS If you worry about cycling popularity, why don't you go to boy/girl scouts and help them started? I have a friend who works with girlscouts and I help her sometimes
crowded cities are the reasonTZ
Feb 14, 2002 2:25 PM
A lot of apartments in the big cities are so small, that people won't sacrifice precious space for a pair of road bikes (if you live alone - it is a different story).
And, of course, rudeness of the cagers [in Brooklyn, they simply don't obey traffic rules] can frustrate some people and discourage them from road riding. Heavy traffic wouldn't be such a problem if everyone checked their mirrors, signalled their turns and DID NOT DOUBLE PARK.
Once I saw a funny scene: because of weekly street sweeping there were no cars parked on my block, except for one. And guess what? There was an old "Town Car" parked right alongside with it! That tells quite a lot about Brooklyn's car service drivers...
I guess, that the only way to attract city dwellers to road cycling is by personal example - make them envy your fitness and cheerful spirit. :)
Cars: recreation versus transportation...PdxMark
Feb 14, 2002 2:38 PM
There seem to be 2 types of road riding, which many of us reflect by having a commuter bike and a "road" bike. The commuter bike gives us transportation, while the road bike is for recreation. (Of course these lines blur...)

Culturally, in the US, bikes are generally frowned upon as a regular mode of transportation. The mainstream thinking is that adults drive cars. While OK for kids & college students (and certain missionaries), bikes get parked as transportation once you reach adulthood. Some of us get to live places where cycling is treated as a real transportation mode, but for most of the US, bikes as transportation are treated as a lunatic fringe eco-statement.

It seems that the general anti-transportation bias against bikes works against their popularity in road riding. It connects to your comments about safety and even access. The line between road riding for transportation and road riding for recreation likely doesn't exist for most floks (or maybe even any others on this board). So unpopular road riding for transportation translates to unpopular road riding for recreation.

Mtbing, on the other hand, avoids the road safety/conflict issues and ties into the young/active/extreme demographic of other outdoor activities.

I realize this is all kinda garbled.... but it seems there's something here...
road biker attitudesnonsnob
Feb 14, 2002 7:42 PM
I think things are getting better, but there has been a fair bit of snobbery and elitism in road biking circles. You see plenty of it on this board with comments about "Freds" riding trek oclvs or lightspeeds (both of which are fantastic bikes when looking at the big picture). Some of the disdain is for people who don't have nice equipment, or the "wrong" equipment, and some is for those who don't know all the terms and habits of road biking. There are plenty of road bike shops filled with those kind of employees and those kind of customers.

Mtn biking on the other hand is newer and I think more open and friendly to newcomers.
#6 Attitudegrzy
Feb 14, 2002 7:29 PM
Lots of roadies aren't the most friendly people. Most people getting started would rather hang with a firendly and helpful crowd.
re: Yes and Nocyclopathic
Feb 14, 2002 8:12 PM
roadie is too general of the statement like MTBer
what is MTBer? a Downhiller? freerider? XCer? enduro? weekend worrier? there're a lot of snobs on DH and freeride scene, stuck up XC racers etc etc etc Think what would be your reaction to someone riding Huffy on your favorite trail?

same goes about roadies. It is hard to compare say randonneur PBP veteran or FC508 racer to Crit rider, trackie or Tri-geek to road racer. Or how about touring guys, their bikes look kinda road.. or tandems??

Point is there're some stereo types and there're A-holes and it is easy to make a mistake when you start to generalize.
Roadie "attitude" exageratedEric16
Feb 15, 2002 4:29 PM
Although I will definitly agree that many of the people who regularly post comments on this site are rude/snobby people I don't think that really means most (or even a lot) of people who ride road are snobby. Road is, by its very nature, a social activity. You can go farther and faster with other people sharing the workload and it's more fun to ride with people anyway. Group rides are a group of people riding together, while in mtn biking you may have come with other people, but the riding is still an individual thing; you vs. the trail.
I think the perception of roadies as snobby can be traced to the dangers of riding in a pack. In mtn biking, if you have a friend riding with you who is really sketchy and may crash, this is only threatening to him...not you. As long as you keep a nice buffer zone between you and him, you have no need to worry about him taking you down (just the trail kickin' your butt!)
In road however, a sketchy rider with bad pack skills can cause many people to be injured. If you race, and have been putting in a ton of training miles to get ready for the season, you don't want some squirrly newbie to take you down, possibly injure you, and screw up your training schedule (possibly even make you miss a race). Therefore, you may act a little removed around him and keep your distance until you know he has enough skill to be trusted. Once they see you're trustworthy most roadies will be quite friendly, helpful, and grateful to have another person to ride with. Sure, there are also some competitive, macho, boneheads out there who are just going to be jerks, but mtn biking has the same kind of idiots as well.
In short, roadies are very friendly to the people they regularly ride with and are welcoming of newcomers to the group, so long as they're not complete sketch-balls and a danger to themselves and others. Futhermore, I think some of the best conversations are had out on the road on a good ride with some good company. Road is better in a group...doesn't seem like snobbiness should factor into that does it?
So why aren't roadies more friendly?guido
Feb 15, 2002 12:15 AM

Put a guy on a light, fast bike, and the cheap thrills of speed are so much fun, he'll train up to a certain level, where he can keep up with other riders who have done the same thing, and there's a male bonding thing, the pack mentality, like the club ride mentioned above where everybody's trying to drop each other. There's nothing wrong with that. All the participants are out "getting their ride in," exercising and maintaining their fitness, enjoying their equipment, learning techniques, conquering terrain, becoming masters of the art of cycling.

But sooner or later, you have to ask, why does every group encounter have to be a test of individual stamina, a Darwinian selection of the fittest? That's where elitism comes in, including equipment selection.

When I first started riding, going furthur and furthur away from my house was the thrill, as a kid, down to the local comic book store, and eventually to the next suburb, and as an adult, out to the country roads around the city, roads neglected in the rush to the interstates. There was always a sense of adventure and discovery, of going places off the beaten track, exploring the variety and richness of the world unseen from the interstates.

I'd go out with a few fellow adventurers. We'd pick a destination an agreed upon distance away, check out a route on a county map, and go like a band of explorers trekking across unknown territory. It became addictive, finding new places to check out, much like the family Sunday drive in the early days of automobiles. This is what I have always believed was a true "tour" in bicycling language. You can race it, sure, and get your workout, but the pleasure is what you go through and what you see along the way, only enhanced by the endorphins.

It seems these club rides I go on now, the route is always the same. It isn't any kind of tour, just a workout, a routine, a competition of egos. Maybe the reason is fear of cars, getting lost, or breaking down, but there's an obsession to stick to the familiar with most of the roadies I know. Everything's faster now, cars, bikes, lifestyles. Nobody seems to enjoy just riding along, getting their heart rates up on the hills, and then making moderate efforts the rest of the time, and talking about stuff other than their bikes and exploits in organized events.

To a certain extent, I've lost my nerve for road riding, and need a group for security. Off road mountain biking for a time restored that sense of going into the unknown, adventure, for many. But it quickly developed into tests of negotiating skills on "technical" courses, and maybe that's carried over into road biking.

In most parts of the nation, roads are still the only way to go anywhere and see anything. This Spring, I'm going to take a ride someplace different every weekend. If anyone else wants to come with me, fine. But I'm not going to buy into the idea that riding is just a fight to be better, more accomplished, fitter. Nobody really needs that to be healthy. The unique advantage of road riding is to go places you wouldn't have any reason to go to in a car, enjoy the scenery and culture along the way, negotiate the varied terrain, and get a good aerobic workout. If more roadies felt this way, I think more riders would get out there, and it would become more attractive and popular.
that sounds so familiarTig
Feb 15, 2002 8:17 AM
The tendency for groups and clubs to ride the same rides over and over is something I'm seeing as well. The club I ride with used to use a much wider variety of routes than I'm seeing now. One route in particular has almost become a robotic workout instead of a "ride". I plan on taking the family camping more this spring, so I'll take advantage of the quiet country rides.

Fortunately, most of the riders in this club are more than friendly, so there's plenty of socializing available if so desired. Call it Southern Hospitality I guess.
Got 'em allTypeOne
Feb 15, 2002 12:53 PM
I think that "difficulty getting started" is explained by the other reasons you list. People are certainly motivated to get fit, but it may be cheaper, more convenient and more social to join a fitness center. Besides, where else can you work cardio machines and watch tv? :)

I ride my bike on small errands in town, and I think that unless I get decked out in full road gear, etc., I feel like a loser. An adult on a bicycle looks wrong to most people. Either he can't afford a car, has had his license revoked, or is a religous missionary. Driving is a rite of passage into adulthood in America. Only the dropouts (puposely or not) ride bikes, right?
Herd mentality.guido
Feb 15, 2002 11:15 PM
There's a certain herd mentality that attracts people to fitness centers, football games, and SUVs, not necessarily in that order. I can't imagine anyone, once they get on a nice road bike and launch into the great outdoors, actually enjoying themselves sitting in a sweaty gym, pedaling a heavy freewheel like mad on a stationary bicycle, and watching Judge Judy or Dateline! How can you have any meaningful social interaction with the person huffing and puffing next to you when you're like two squirrels in a cage?

To overcome feeling like a loser, I wear cycling-specific clothing when I'm commuting or shopping, lycra tights or shorts, a loose t-shirt, cycling shoes, and carry sandals in a backpack that I change into if I have to walk. I pedal fast and smooth, like a winner, like the messengers I used to study back in DC, motioning my moves, nodding in recognition of other people's moves, making eye contact, acting polite and civilized, but slightly aggressive, not timid. That's how I get respect, how I try to "look right." I keep my bike clean and bright. Nobody can confuse me with a homeless person, Mexican migrant worker (I admire these men!), or Mormon missionary. I want people to have no doubt that I'm riding by rational choice. But then again, I'm no kid anymore, and it doesn't bother me what some insecure schmuck thinks.

So I don't see any reason why a well groomed person going to the shopping mall on a clean and well maintained bike is any different than the same person driving there by car.

The only way to overcome prejudice and ignorance is to get out there and show how cool cycling is.
Toys R Us has them nowmhinman
Feb 15, 2002 6:27 PM
I was at Toys R Us a couple of months ago, and in there bike section I saw a road bike. I didn't get a good look at it, but it was in the $200-300 range. If Toys R Us has road bikes, it must be getting more popular.