When discussing strategies to increase bicycle usage, the focus (rightly) tends to be on structural aspects: infrastructure availability, bicycle costs, urban space accessibility, service availability, and so on. All of these are essential, but often a fundamental aspect is overlooked, one that the business world knows all too well. We’re talking about the perception and appeal of the bicycle. Largely absent from mass communication, the image of the bicycle is at most used in some regional tourism agency advertisements and otherwise relegated to the world of professional sports.

The Giro d’Italia, currently traversing the country, is once again captivating the public thanks to athletes capable of exceptional performances, most notably the pink jersey holder, Tadej Pogačar. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen adolescents and young people on the roadside wearing their champion’s jersey during cycling races. This is a positive signal that surely contributes to the broader appeal of the bicycle.

appeal of the bicycle

However, this type of cycling is far from what we need to truly impact our daily lives. Even for those who engage in two-wheeled sports, whether road cycling, MTB, or gravel, the connection isn’t immediate. Paradoxically, the sport cyclist, who finds time for a minimum 40/50 km ride, is often the same person who drives a car for a less than ten km commute to work. They see no contradiction in this because, for them, cycling is a sport, unrelated to their daily commuting routine.

Truth be told, people who bike to work today are mostly those living in city centers and working close to home, while those commuting from outside the city remain rare. Yes, there is a visible increase, but precisely when a drastic increase is needed, the issue of the appeal of the bicycle makes a difference. And this aspect is being neglected.

Unfortunately, we are a society accustomed to following what is highlighted by social media and the internet, which daily shapes our imagination based on so-called “trends.” Despite believing that change should occur based on different considerations, we know that the most valid social or environmental arguments often do not make a difference. More often, perception makes a difference, almost always based on visual perception and the most immediate external appearance.

An example of this comes from the gravel biking world. The gravel bike itself is not the result of any technological innovation. While it is a form of cycling dedicated to exploration, this aspect is not what has made it popular. The explosion of gravel biking owes much more to the image built around it, featuring postcard landscapes and a successful aesthetic. Long beards and mustaches, mullets and caps, attention to colors and details, and a narrative that highlights the epic and adventurous nature of biking outings. Dust and sweat, glamping gear, and minimal living, alternating with tech stops to edit and upload images and videos on social media.

The “problem” is that the growth of certain phenomena almost always has a commercial intent. If I need to sell a product (e.g., new bikes and accessories for gravel biking), I do everything necessary to make it appealing. Among those who want to see cities free of cars and people moving by bike, this logic is lacking and is often opposed as the source of many of our ills. Try watching peak-hour commercials on TV and estimate how much space is occupied by car advertisements. Cars have evolved over time to meet current needs or create new ones. Happy families, sporty youth, socialites, and fashionistas— the automotive world has used all types of people to reach as many people as possible. It’s natural that the idea of “advertising” bicycle use causes discomfort, given that the car-centric world we live in seems to be a product of advertising.

However, be careful not to fall into unnecessary snobbery, which can only do harm, as ultracyclist Omar Di Felice noted on his social media some time ago.

Sometimes, it’s the cyclists or bicycle supporters themselves who look down on those who have yet to embrace biking. Those who might start with an electric bike, or those who begin “for fashion” or curiosity without being part of the magical world of cycling initiates. The purist cyclist may want to continue feeling different and special, fearing the massification of something (the bicycle) they love precisely because it distinguishes them from the masses.

However, this perspective loses sight of the bigger picture. The bigger picture is that the bike should be as widespread as possible because only then can it generate real change. To paraphrase Kierkegaard, we need to transition from an aesthetic use of the bike to an ethical use. Making it a means not of separation and differentiation to feel unique and add something to our personality, but a tool of unity, reminding us of what we have in common with other human beings and what makes us human. The bike will then be a powerful antidote, if understood this way, to the rampant individualism segregating us from each other and causing more harm than any car or missing bike lane.

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