What’s preventing more people from biking?

CBS Detroit recently reported on entrepreneurs developing a bike that automatically shifts.

The company’s idea and business plans won first-place honors on Friday, Feb. 10, in the Intercollegiate Business Plan Competition hosted by Eastern Michigan University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, and representatives were to present to the OU INC Investment Review Board at OU INC on Tuesday, Feb. 14, to win additional funding opportunities. Company co-founder Sean Simpson said the Ann Arbor Spark loan represents a key step forward in AutoBike’s efforts to provide casual bicyclists with a means to ride a bike at a steady cadence without having to push levers or turn knobs.

“Our technology allows even the most novice bicyclists to always be in the right gear, because instead of teaching the rider how to shift, we taught the bike how to,” the company’s Web site explains. “The AutoBike bicycle riding experience can best be described as a stress-free ride in the park.”

While the intention of this article is not to critique this technology but to critique the idea that some new bike technology is the answer to stress-free riding.

It isn’t.

Having an optimal cadence isn’t going to make riding in the product’s hometown of Troy “stress-free.” Implementing the non-motorized master plan the city of Troy paid for and put on the shelf would be a step in the right direction. Or building Complete Streets.

What’s primarily holding Metro Detroiters back from riding more is the condition of the riding environment and the perception that it’s not safe. We hear that all the time and it’s a common problem in many other cities across the U.S.

Detroit’s Golden Era of Bicycling

And consider the technology when bicycling was at its peak in Metro Detroit – the 1890s.

There were no gears to shift. Everyone rode fixed gears, and in most cases, the bikes didn’t even have brakes.

Why was bicycling so popular then? Detroit’s streets were quite welcoming to cyclists of all abilities and there were more dense land uses, which meant shorter distances between destinations.

If you want to see the Autobike, here’s a video they produced.


Looks like it’ll work in London, too.

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2 Responses to “What’s preventing more people from biking?”

  1. T.R. Morris Says:

    That video was stressful to watch because the rider at first rode on the right side of the road (which made sense as the setting appears to be North America) and later rode on the left side.

  2. Sean Simpson Says:

    We agree that bicycle safety is the number one barrier to getting more people riding and enjoying bicycles. Fortunately, there have been and currently are a lot of groups and organizations working to help reduce that barrier and these initiatives have a lot of public support. We also support those efforts and hope our bicycle provides a safe and fun way to enjoy the fruits of these groups’ efforts. Follow our progress at http://www.evolvethebike.com. -Sean

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