People often make statements which suggest that the Dutch cycle because their journeys are short. However, it's not actually true that Dutch journeys are significantly different in length from those in other countries, and even in those countries with the longest average journey length, there are plenty of short journeys made which could be by bike. Read on...
I first heard of the Clif Bar 2 mile challenge some time ago. My first reaction was that it was quite ludicrous. 2 miles (3.2 km) is such a very short distance to travel on a bike, yet here's a website showing you how to do it, what equipment to buy (there seems to be an awful lot of it) etc. Surely no encouragement should be needed to get people to make such short journeys by bike ? And why the involvement of an energy bar manufacturer ? Surely no extra energy is needed after that short distance.
However, let's look at it in its context. They claim that 40% of all urban journeys made in the US are 2 miles and under, and that 90% of those trips are by car. I dare say that these figures are correct.
Average journey distances are much the same in any country, the US and the UK having similar figures to the Netherlands. However, choices of travel mode in the Netherlands are a bit different. In this country, 35% of journeys up to five miles (7.5 km) are by bike, 26% by foot and 23% as a car driver. That's for the entire country including rural areas. You get more cycle usage (and walking) in urban areas and over shorter distances. The Dutch also make 15% of their 7.5 km - 15 km journeys by bike and 3% of their over 15 km journeys. i.e. The Dutch make at least three times as many over 15 km journeys by bike as Americans manage over any distance including the shortest. Clif Bar are right to think there is some room for improvement in the USA and it would be a good thing if they could manage to get people to change their habits, even just once a week.
A year or so ago, Kelloggs set a similar challenge in the UK. In their case it is a ten mile challenge (16 kilometres). That's the distance that your family is challenged to jointly ride their bikes in a week. Families which manage this awesome feat can win a new bike (though dare I say it's unlikely they've worn out their old ones...).
Again, it seems absurd when viewed from a country where every man, woman and child cycles an average of 2.5 km per day every day of their lives. Kelloggs had an offer with the same cycle computers in the Netherlands, but they wisely didn't bother with asking people to cycle 16 kilometres.
It would be easy to be cynical about the reasons why both these companies are involved, but I believe both are genuine attempts to raise awareness.
These two challenges are far from alone. There have been many such initiatives in the US and UK, but none of them achieve anything much by way of changing the appallingly low rate of cycle use in those countries. Perhaps this is because none of them actually address the issues which stop people cycling in the first place. A "challenge" is not what's required. What is required is conditions for cyclists which make cycling an attractive thing to do.
If cycling was less pleasant in the Netherlands, then fewer people would cycle here too. However, cycling is both safe and convenient here and the public has responded by cycling more than in any other country. With good enough conditions, cycling largely promotes itself. The same thing could be achieved anywhere, but it takes a similar dedication to building a truly excellent environment for cycling that the Dutch have demonstrated for the last few decades.
If you want to see what it's like over here yourself, we can show you.
Car-Sick Glasgow | Documenting the atrocious conditions for cyclists and pedestrians in Scotland's largest city