Bike friendly company
The bike is experiencing a new season. The sales figures, the expansion of cycle tourism, the diffusion of the city's use of bicycles and alternative vehicles and in some way attributable to new forms of mobility in environments that are not very bike-friendly, the new cultural sensitivity towards the ecological transition are among indicators of its rediscovery. In the memory of many, the bike is associated with pleasant experiences of exploration and freedom. The bike is considered one friendly technology (Illich, 1973; Pivato, 2021), capable of creating balanced ways of relating to the environment. There are many cities and regions that have invested in cycling and have favored the moderation of speed in urban spaces. On World Bicycle Day, however, it is important to remember that cycling is not as widespread as one might expect.
The delay in cycling
To understand the reasons for the 'delay' in the diffusion of cycle mobility, which are particularly significant in our country, apart from commendable exceptions and in the face of a significant increase in the number of bicycles in circulation, from the lockdown period onwards, it has developed, through the collaboration between researchers from the IRPPS CNR, the University of Naples 'Federico II', the University of Turin, the University of Padua, the University of Siena, the University of Salerno, the FIAB Research Center a national research network. The emerging network has given rise to a lucky streak of online seminars that it is still possible to review today; he has also produced a 'special issue' in the magazine Eracle (Landri & Tirino, 2022) and is finally working on a book on bikes and society. The network, as it has been possible to understand, is unique and tends to follow the international network 'small' Cycling & Society which for several years has been the reference point of scientific production in this sector (Cox, 2020; Cox & Bunte, 2018; Equality & Cox, 2020).
The theme of cycle mobility is expanding by number of publications. Therefore, it can already be observed that the 'delay' in the diffusion of the bicycle runs parallel to the 'delay' in the development of academic communities which look at the bicycle. The scientific literature on the car, by comparison, is widely spread. The rediscovery of the bike, even on an academic level, essentially places us before a fact for granted: contemporary societies are self-centric (Urry, 2004) and show variable degrees of sensitivity towards cycling (Belloni, 2019).
Indeed, countries may differ in relation to national cycling cultures. Italy has a sporty cycling culture, but not a widespread cycling culture (except in some regions), as in other countries, Holland, Belgium. However, cycling cultures are not immutable, they can regenerate, evolve over time, emerge where they are not present. Analyzing the cultural dimension, as emerged during the special issue curated by two researchers from the bicycle and society research network (Landri & Tirino, 2022), is a promising research path for understanding what favors cycling.
The media favor cycling
Among the factors that favor it, the media play an important role. The epic narration of cycling emerges in our country precisely in relation to the processes of construction of the national state. That narrative is now giving way to the dynamic storytelling of cyclists on social media. Social platforms, on the one hand, capture cycling in the extractivist logic of digital capitalism; on the other hand, they create new sports practices such as virtual cycling (which is now one of the various e-Sports), but they also encourage the emergence of new subjects (women, LGBT+ communities), expanding cycling practice. Unlike traditional media which aimed to create the epic deeds of champions, social media, by promoting the circulation of knowledge among practitioners, allow an increase in connections, sociality, communication and lower the barriers to accessing the practice. In short, by democratizing knowledge, they act as positive incentives for the diffusion of cycling.
Media is necessary, but it is not enough. Building bike-friendly societies is actually also a scientific challenge that requires a constant flow of empirical research and theoretical reflections. In fact, it is a question of generating knowledge to favor minimum conditions for cycling in environments that are mainly thought of in a self-centred way. It is not just a technical fact, it rather requires, as is emerging from the works on the web, the development of a sociology of the bicycle, understood as the search for a virtuous concatenation between knowledge, techniques and society.
Curated by Paolo Landri (on the occasion of World Bicycle Day on June 3, 2023)
Belloni, E. (2019). When you rode a velocipede. History of cycling in Italy (1870-1955). Franco Angeli.
Cox, P. (2020). Cycling : A Sociology of Velomobility.Routledge.
Cox, P., & Bunte, H. (2018). Social practices and the importance of context. Framing the Third Cycling Century, 122–131. https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/sites/default/files/medien/1410/publikationen/181128_uba_fb_third_cycling_century_bf_small.pdf
Equality, I., & Cox, P. (2020). The politics of cycling infrastructure. The Politics of Cycling Infrastructure, 5940. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvvsqc63
Illich, I. (1973). Tools for conviviality. Harper and Row.
Landri, P., & Tirino, M. (2022). Media, Society and Cycling Cultures: Editorial. Heracles. Journal of Sport and Social Sciences, 5(1), 1–4. https://doi.org/10.6093/2611-6693/9612
Pivato, S. (2021). Happiness on a bicycle.Il Mulino.
Urry, J. (2004). The 'System' of Automotive. Theory, Culture & Society, 21(5), 25–39. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276404046059