What a difference a few months makes.
Back in April, high gas prices were on everyone’s mind — especially those in the bike business. The rising cost of gas was having an impact on people’s transportation habits like no advocacy effort of policy change ever could.
People seemed to be ditching cars and hopping on bikes in droves — or at least that what you were supposed to believe by reading all the headlines about the severe “gas price crisis”.
(Photos J. Maus)
One local shop, River City Bicycles, decided to have fun with the gas spike and ran a contest. They gave away a fully decked-out commuter bike to the person who correctly guessed when gas would reach $4.00 a gallon (it happened on May 23rd).
Fast forward five months and we see that gas prices have dropped precipitously. It now retails for well below $3.00 a gallon at several Portland-area gas stations.
Does that mean the party’s over and that all those eager new bike commuters will now hop back into their cars? Not exactly.
Mark Ontiveros, co-owner of River City Bicycles says he thinks Portland’s love of biking makes us insulated from behavior changes tied to gas price fluctuations. “I think we’re on a roll in this city; it’s (the number of people biking) going to continue to grow no matter what.” Business at River City, he adds, has been strong in October and sales are ahead of last year’s pace.
counter at Citybikes.
Citybikes on SE Ankeny is a haven for commuters as well as being located on a busy bike route. Employee-owner (it’s a co-op) Beth Hamon also doesn’t think there’s any direct correlation between gas prices and bike riding. “Interest in bikes as transportation has grown exponentially in Portland over the last 3-4 seasons,” says Hamon. The larger concern she sees is the overall economy.
“Joe Sixpack is not paying attention to OPEC (an influential oil cartel), he’s more worried about how much money is in his pocket at the end of the month.”
Corey Cartwright, owner of Seven Corners Cycles, says once people got a taste of biking to work and for short trips, they liked it and they’ll keep riding no matter what. “I think the high prices encouraged more people to re-consider how they get around, but I don’t think we’re going to see a big drop-off in riding.”
It’s not just bike shop owners who are optimistic that biking habits will hold regardless of gas prices. Yesterday, The Oregonian published a story titled, Despite price drop, drivers stick with fuel-saving habits. Erica Cates, a teacher who lives in Southeast Portland told The Oregonian that even with lower gas prices, she, “expects to continue using her bike…for shorter trips”.
“I’ve kind of got in the habit now,” she told The Oregonian.
And it’s a good habit to get into. According to noted author and thinker James Howard Kunstler, we might be facing not just high gas prices, but outright gas scarcity. Here’s a snip from an article he published on Monday:
“I hope you’re enjoying the temporarily cheap prices at the gas pumps…My guess is that oil and its byproducts will become much more difficult to get in the months ahead — not just more expensive, but literally not available.”
The larger concern for all the shops I spoke to for this story is the uncertainty with the global economic crisis. I plan to do a follow-up story on how the financial downturn is impacting local bike retailers (it’s not all bad).