Tag Archive | business

Utility bicycles are exploding in popularity

In an earlier post I suggested the utility bicycle shop as a sound business idea and a good way of lowering the barriers to cycling as transportation. As I’ve found out more about utility bike availability in North America, it struck me that most such shops had only recently opened. To see whether this was true, I searched out every North American bicycle store I could find that has a strong current focus on utility bicycles and bikes as transportation. The answer turns out to be a resounding yes. Below are the shops ordered by founding year.

Beer in a bakfiets (box bike) to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Dutch Bike Co. Chicago. (Photo: Flickr / Steven Vance)

Human Powered Machines* – Eugene, OR

Curbside Cycle* – Toronto, ON
Rapid Transit Cycleshop – Chicago, IL

Hudson Urban Bicycles – New York City, NY

Urbane Cyclist* – Toronto, ON

A.N.T. Bikes* –  Holliston, MA
Dutch Bike Company* – Somerville, MA

North Park Bicycle Shop – Victoria, BC

Jorg & Olif* – Vancouver, BC (they have since moved to the UK)

Dutch Bike Co. – Seattle, WA
A Black Bike – New York City, NY
Rain City Bikes – Vancouver, BC
Clever Cycles – Portland, OR
Tip Top Bike Shop – Oakland, CA

Bowery Lane Bicycles* – New York City, NY
Flying Pigeon LA – Los Angeles, CA
Renaissance Bicycles – online
Madsen Cycles* – online
Downtown Bike Hounds – Hamilton, ON
Metrofiets* – Portland, OR
Dutch Bike Co. – Chicago, IL
Joe Bike* – Portland, OR

Commuter Bike Store – online (the year is my guess)
Violet Crown Cycles* – Austin, TX
My Dutch Bike – San Francisco, CA
Wheel House Bikes – Santa Barbara, CA
Copenhagen Cyclery – Chicago, IL
J.C. Lind Bike Co. – Chicago, IL (formerly De Fietsfabriek USA)
Arriving by Bike – Eugene, OR
Beater Bikes* – Toronto, ON

2010 (up to May / the date of this post):
Republic Bike/Urban Outfitters* – online (founded in 2009, Dutch-style bikes added in 2010)
Bike Bike – Calgary, AB
Portland Velocipede – Portland, ME
Fort Langley Cyclery – Fort Langley, BC
Adeline Adeline – New York City, NY
Cycle Butik – Toronto, ON
Public Bikes* – San Francisco, CA

2010 (June or later):
Rolling Orange Bikes – Brooklyn, NY
icargobike – San Clemente, CA

Shops marked with a * build, design, or special-order their bikes. (Curbside gets a star for starting a major distribution company and helping design the Batavus Fryslan and Breukelen.) I think the number of shops doing their own thing is partially a consequence of major North American bike companies long ago abandoning utility bicycles. That said, in addition to the growing number of imported brands, some smaller North American bike companies do now focus on city bikes and utility: Electra (founded in 1993), Xtracycle (1998), Breezer (2002), Yuba (2006), Civia (2007), Madsen (2008), and Linus (2009). For that matter, new European manufacturers of city bikes have also been setting up shop, including Azor (1998), Retrovelo (2003), WorkCycles (2003), De Fietsfabriek (2003), and Velorbis (2005). Interestingly, both WorkCycles and De Fietsfabriek were started in Amsterdam by Americans.

Utility bicycles really are exploding in popularity, despite (or maybe thanks to) the recession. And it’s not just the bikes, but also the inviting “slow bicycling” that goes along with them, the ever-more-frequent calls for dedicated cycling infrastructure and buffered bike paths, and the rapid spread of bike-sharing schemes (which of course use utility bicycles). So expect to see more city bikes coming to your town. And if you want to see them sooner, now’s the time to open up a bike shop and get more regular people riding (and demanding cycling infrastructure).


When voting with your dollar, interpretation matters

Much is made of consumers’ ability to influence how things are produced and services performed just by choosing how (or whether) they spend their money. But instead of “What is my dollar supporting?” a better question to ask is “How will my dollar be interpreted?”

Say you want to support local producers, and you go buy local apples at the grocery store. The grocery store might misinterpret your dollar for local apples as just a dollar for generic apples. When they run low on that variety, they will get more from their distributor – who may be carrying imported ones this time around. If they are not paying attention to the distinction the consumer is making, then they might miss it.

A concrete example is with hydroponic on-the-vine tomatoes in local grocery chains. Even during the same time of year, sometimes they’re from Canada, sometimes they’re from Mexico, and sometimes there’s both kinds in the same bin – and all have the same scan code. If I buy only the Canadian ones, to that grocery store it’s a vote for hydroponic tomatoes, whatever their source.

Perhaps you buy some household item in part because it is made in Canada and not China. The manufacturer could easily interpret this as a dollar for that item (regardless of source). When they ramp up production, they decide their customers won’t notice and take manufacturing offshore.

Or say you buy something from a local, large-scale producer. Your dollar is supporting them, but do they interpret it as a “local dollar” or just as a dollar? It’s very possible that they don’t pay much mind to where their business comes from. With initial local support they can expand to nationwide sales and cease to care about local sales, and then perhaps move their production elsewhere.

The direct question of “What is my dollar supporting?” is still a valuable one, and I am not suggesting to disregard it. What I would suggest, however, is to pay attention to the cases where the interpretation of the dollar will differ significantly from the intent – and to try to remedy them. Wherever the dollar vote may be misinterpreted, one can try to point out the intention to the party responsible for interpretation. However, in some cases the misinterpretation is likely endemic, and the only way to have your dollar understood properly is to take it elsewhere.