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Sometimes you try to help somebody get into cycling (buy girlfriend a bike, fix up a friend's bike, give a bike to family, help friend shop for bike) and they never really get into it and fall back into the previous non-cycling habits.

Other times you do even less work and it "takes" and they get into cycling and stick with it.

It's not clear to me why some attempts succeed and others fail.

What have you found worked to get somebody into cycling? What have you seen work with others? What worked to get you into cycling? What techniques from other areas have you seen work that you think could work with cycling?

In my experience, a good first step is simply setting a good example, but we're looking for more than just that.


This started as a rewrite of What tactics other than 'setting an example' successfully encourage friends/family/others to become cyclists? discussed at How can this question be improved?

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Glad to see the question lives on! I am stumped for answers b.t.w...! –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Jun 9 '11 at 20:35
    
The discussion around this question has inspired my wife and I to plan a 2-day tour to Lancaster. So maybe one answer is "ask questions on Bicycles.SE". –  Neil Fein Jun 9 '11 at 21:32

9 Answers 9

When I was in college I had three housemates in a 2-bedroom apartment. I was the only one who biked. I stored my bike in my bedroom on a "bike pole," elevated about my dresser. It was a huge conversation piece. My roommate saw me lift my bike onto the bike pole multiple times per week, and guests were always intrigued with my storage solution.

A year after I graduated, one of my roommates learned to ride for the first time. One other started biking to work, and another bought a bike. They all said that I was one reason they were drawn to biking. Had I stored my bike outside or in a hidden storage area it is less likely they would have thought to bike more.

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Do not mock.

Do not mock others' choice of bicycle, bicycle color, bicycle accessory, or bicycle decoration. Do not mock others' choice of clothing, or how they look in it. Do not mock others' speed, or lack of it. Do not mock others' helmet, or lack thereof. Do not mock others' comfort level with bicycle repair. Do not mock any cycling-etiquette faux pas you see. Do not mock others' weight or fitness level.

Obvious safety issues, sure, bring it up, nobody wants a friend or family member hurt -- but discuss it without sarcasm or snobbery.

This goes beyond making sure you don't specifically alienate the person you're trying to convince, though that is certainly a consideration. It's more generalized than that: mocking third parties makes non-cyclists believe they'll just be somebody else's meanness target if they start cycling. Instead, you want to establish that cycling is a pursuit with an accepting, welcoming, helpful community. You want your friends or family members to believe that if they start cycling, they're not letting themselves in for a whole bunch of grief.

I've broken these rules myself, and always regretted it. Please do better than I have.

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With friends the subject of cars and traffic is bound to come up in the conversation one way or another, that is the time to say stuff like :

  • I don't remember what a traffic jam feels like.
  • The last time I put gas in the car, was it last month or the month before ?
  • There is always a free parking spot right in front of where I'm going, that's convenient...

At the restaurant, while the girls eat their salads, and you ravenously chomp barbecue ribs and french fries, casually mention that you lost XX kilos of fat on your bicycle.

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</irony>, maybe? –  Neil Fein Sep 24 '13 at 0:13

Cycle!

Be the example that leads people to ask questions about why they don't ride. Not in a pushy way, but just through lived experience. When you're meeting people somewhere, turn up on your bike. Park it right next to your destination, go in. If it's raining, take your bike on the train with the other train users. Show that there's no need to be a purist about it. Over time you'll build up in people's memories all the times a group of people went from place to place and the bike was faster as well as cheaper and easier to park.

Once that sinks in as lived experience rather than "10 things you need to know", they're much more likely to have a go themselves.

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Insofar possible, don't be the cyclist stereotype in someone's head. Or if you can't avoid it, find another cyclist who isn't, and introduce them.

If you're the kind of Lycra Lad/Lass superhero type (right down to the spandex!) usually seen in bike advertising, this will be difficult, granted. A lot of us aren't like that, though, and that helps other people who aren't like that think "hey, if they bike, maybe I can too."

Cyclists who wear street clothes (even dresses) while cycling, fat cyclists like me, middle-aged (me!) and older cyclists, cyclists who cycle home in triumph with the farmer's-market haul for the week in panniers or Wald baskets... the more visible we are, and the more we seem to like our cycling without becoming intrusive evangelists for it, the more we break down imagined barriers to cycling in others.

Anecdotally, an unconventionally attractive, comfortable-looking bike can be a useful conversation piece. I got into a lot more conversations with curious strangers over my purple Electra Townie with its unusual curved outline than I do now with my somewhat more conventional-looking custom step-through. (Though it's lavender-colored, and that helps.)

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For what it's worth, another fat cyclist was my role model getting started. I don't think I'd have taken the plunge if not for her example. –  dsalo Sep 21 '13 at 15:26

Return.

Calculate the internal rate of return (IRR), i.e. the rate by which the value of future cash flow is zero. First cost could be the purchase of bike and then positive inflows could be the amount otherwise used for transportation.

It is perhaps just my environment but I have moved a number of Audi guys to bicycles when I showed how poor investments their 5km trips to work have been, something that my peers cannot stand ;D

Strategy

  1. be a good example by doing your balance, analyzing your allocation and consumption
  2. fire up a spreadsheet, play with IRR -function (you need to have one negative value)
  3. ...and have fun! -Yes, you can do games even with spreadsheets.

P.s. Do not mention about the B-type arbitrages you can get, you better keep them for yourselves...

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A bike can be cheaper when you offset its price against the cost, not of a car, but even of a year or so of public transport fares. You might add the cost/benefit of exercise: don't need to spend money on a gym; and do have enough time during the day to exercise if you exercise while you're commuting. –  ChrisW Jun 10 '11 at 12:59
    
@ChrisW: spot on observations, sure it can be but it requires some patience to learn the basics about maintenance. I find it hilariously cheap activity to get some cheap bike for 50-150EUR even if I am in a new city with short time period. Bike broadens up the world view a lot, doing things with 25-35k/h in comparison to 5-7k/h without much energy is a huge boost to productivity and well-being :) –  user652 Jun 10 '11 at 13:42
    
The cost of public transport here is more than $1,500/year: that will buy a lot of maintenance; or, brand new bikes, which include a year or two of free maintenance from the LBS. I did ask about maintenance: and there's not a lot of maintenance to do on a bike. Just keep the tires pumped and the chain clean, and get it serviced twice a year. –  ChrisW Jun 10 '11 at 14:06
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I like your approach, but your answer uses jargon that assumes a somewhat narrow bit of knowledge. Can you either omit or clarify your joke about "B-type arbitrages". Maybe link to an IRR spreadsheet example (can you post yours as a google doc?). Thanks! –  PositiveK Sep 21 '13 at 5:38
    
What user29020 said. You can't just tell someone to calculate an internal rate of return without explaining what that is, why it matters, and how to calculate it. –  Carey Gregory Sep 22 '13 at 5:16

Set a good example

In my experience, this is the baseline for almost any personal cycling advocacy.

Be available to help

Make it clear that you're available (but not pushy) to help any friends/family with cycling.

A challenge to get them in the habit

My regional bicycle coalition does a Team Bike Challenge as part of Bike to Work Day/Month. They change the rules each year, but basically your team earns points the more you use a bicycle for transportation.

A couple years ago, I "captained" a bike to work month team and got a few of my co-workers onto the team. This requires identifying people who are likely cyclists who could possibly be convinced to bike commute regularly. My team also had another person who already biked to work regularly during good weather. A couple of those team members are now regularly commuting to work on their bicycles, and one of them helps out at the local bike co-op type place now, too.

I think the two key aspects of this are:

  • Making it competitive provides motivation to do it day after day
  • Doing it day after day makes it a habit. Once you're in the habit, it's really no harder than riding to work.

A very close personal relationship

(borrowing a bit from moz's sexier answer on the original version of this question)

It can take several years. It's a very slow conversion process. Seems to have worked with freiheit♦'s current girlfriend, and with 2 of moz's girlfriends.

I think the fact that it's an activity you can do on your own, with your life partner, or with random acquaintances helps a lot.

  1. Find a potential mate/girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse who is a potential cyclist
  2. Through years of relationship, set a good cycling example
  3. Help them get a bicycle (buy for them, help them shop, whatever) when they indicate interest (don't push)
  4. Help them with any issues that come up. Fix a flat now and then, work on the bike (or get it to a shop) when maintenance is needed. Help them get the right accessories, etc.
  5. Help them get that second bicycle when they figure out that the first one wasn't quite right
  6. Help them get that third bicycle when they think they've finally got everything figured out just right.
  7. etc.

Start early

Put your children on a bike as early as possible, first on a child seat on your bike (as soon as their head stands, 8/9 months) then on their own bike (3/4 years). Go to school by bike with them. Sooner or later, their mother will be converted as well.

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Please feel free to edit this answer to add your own items –  freiheit Jun 9 '11 at 20:29

Mentoring

I find mentoring is effective. Ride to work with them every day for a few weeks, and ideally ride home too. If there's a bike bus available, join that. Bike buses work largely through the same things as mentoring - someone is there every day to take you to work and home again.

This works in several ways. First, they've got someone to show them how it's done - which route to use, how to handle the tricky spots and so on. Just having someone else there is a huge confidence boost for many people. Second, theres the sense of obligation that comes from having a friend on your doorstep. It's much harder to say "no, I'm taking the bus" to someone face to face than to an unloved bicycle in the back shed. And finally, you're there to directly answer the inevitable questions and problems. If they get a flat tyre, you can either show them how to fix it or provide pointers if they get stuck, or fix it for them. This also means that instead of a pile of "what if"s that gets bigger and scarier the longer they don't ride, they have the universal "{mentor} will fix it" solution.

(in as a separate answer because mentoring doesn't have to be as personal, it's possible to be a "community mentor" like BikeSaint is. BTW, that's a name she has been given, not one she picked)

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In my case, I was able to get my wife into bicycling... to a point. I told her about my tours, and let her know she was welcome to come along. However, there were two factors that really sold her on cycle touring, even though she's not interested in longer tours, or ones that go for more than a few days:

  • Designing tours appropriate for her helped enormously. Our most successful and fun joint tour was a 5-day jaunt around the Finger Lakes in New York state, with days kept to no more than 20-30 miles. Hell, we rode less than 110 miles over five days, and we had a blast!

  • Prior to this, we went shopping and got her a bike that fit. Cycling's no fun if your bike is a torture machine; her bike prior to that, a Mongoose steel mountain tank, was no fun to ride and too large for her.

On our next tour together, a 3-day tour in the DC area, she had her longest day yet--49 miles. (She kept insisting we go on.)

In summary, don't push or you will almost certainly make bicycling seem like a chore undertaken to appease. I gave her the opportunity to have a comfortable ride on tours appropriate for her skill level. I'd like it if we toured together more often, but I'm happy that we tour together as often as we do.

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