14 May 2018

It Was Always The Future--Until Now?

A sportswriter once joked that soccer (what the rest of the world calls football) will always be the sport of the future in America.

And an economist once said, only half in-jest, that Brazil will always be the country of the future.

Likewise, back in the '70's Bike Boom, bicycles were being touted as the "transportation of the future."  Around 1979 (the time of the second American "gas crisis") I saw, in a shop window, a touring bike with a sign hanging from it proclaiming it "the RV (recreational vehicle) of the '80's."

Then, of course, Ronald Reagan was elected and put the kibosh on anything--except nuclear power--that might've reduced this country's dependence on fossil fuels.

Through the '80's and '90's, bicycle sales in the US basically flatlined, with a few upticks in the middle of each decade.  Anecdotally, I don't recall seeing many more cyclists on the road in the late '90's than I saw around 1983, when I first moved back to New York.  When I was mountain biking in the mid- and late '90's, I would sometimes see new faces on the trails, but they never seemed to do any other kind of cycling.  I wonder how many of them still ride.

I got to thinking about these phenomena after I came across Clive Thompson's article in Wired. "The Vehicle of the Future Has Two Wheels, Handlebars and is a Bike," exclaims the title.   I checked my cynicism at the door and read it.  He made one really interesting point:  The same technologies that are bringing us driverless cars and other things that seemed like the stuff of science fiction not so long ago are bringing us back to a reliable technology that's more than a century old, i.e., the bicycle.

Photo by Noah Berger

One of the main drivers, if you will, of that would-be trend is bike-sharing programs.  As he pointed out, they were tried way back in the '60's but, with no way to track the location of the bikes, the programs quickly died.  When the first of the modern share programs started just over a decade ago, the technology that gave rise to "smart" phones and their apps made it possible to track bikes--and, in the early programs, to create docks where bicycles could be secured.  Newer programs are, of course, dockless because they rely on another technology--phone apps.

Thompson didn't intend any pun when he said that to see the future, we don't have to re-invent the wheel.  And I don't mean a pun when I say that perhaps technology is bringing us full circle.

Bicycles just might be the transportation of the future--right now.


  1. I saw that same article and chuckled...of course we know it's the best way to get around! Why does it, he he, take everyone else so long to figure it out?

  2. Seattle has discovered that the dockless apps don't work when the bike is tossed into Elliott Bay. The news last week showed at least 20 of them at the bottom adjacent to one of the waterfront piers.

  3. Annie--The best minds think alike. We just have to be patient and wait for everyone else to catch up. ;-)

    Steve--Rome's bike share program ended after many of its bikes ended up in the Tiber. Why do people toss share bikes into the nearest body of water?