Biketown – Davis, California

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Last week I visited Davis, California, a small campus town famous for its high cycle usage. Flat, warm, and with oodles of cycle infrastructure, much of it more than 40 years old, Davis sticks out like a sore thumb when compared to nearby towns and cities which tend to be car-dependent. In Bike Boom I’ll discuss the reasons for the high cycling modal share in Davis (the US census says it’s 20 percent and is falling, but the census doesn’t include journeys done by students …), but here, for now, are a few photos from my research trip. The one above shows that drivers have to be very aware of cyclists even away from campus, because they’re everywhere.

I drove to Davis and then hired a bike. It was very noticeable that motorists in town drove slowly and carefully. The town has some wonderful separated cycle infrastructure – including the Davis Bike Loop – but most of those dotting around on bicycles seemed perfectly fine with mixing it with the slow, careful motorists (many of whom may also dot around on bicycles once they’re parked up). Most, that is, except this helmet-clad BMXer who rode for some distance on the sidewalk while a woman on a town bike, without a helmet, stuck to the road.

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Riding without a helmet seems to be the norm in Davis, as is the case in the Netherlands. Where cycling is normal and ordinary – and perceived to be safe – few choose to wear personal protective equipment. Skateboarders getting propelled don’t wear helmets, either.

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Some of the cycle infrastructure dates to the 1960s. This particular tunnel beside a busy road out of town was constructed in 1978:

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The Putah Creek underpass was constructed in 2000:

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Well-constructed cycle infrastructure isn’t just great for cyclists:

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In Davis, even the drive-in fast-food joints warn about the presence of cyclists:

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The last shot reminds me of the famous Lewis Mumford quote: “Forget the damned motor car and build the cities for lovers and friends.”

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The Bard was a bicyclist


The Handlebards are a cycle-touring Shakespeare-playing foursome. They ride to all their performances (instead of swords they fight with bicycle pumps, and the trailer that schlepps their gear is called Penthesileia after an Amazonian queen mentioned in Twelfth Night) but they don’t appear to have twigged that their hero was very much into cycling too.

OK, I’m kidding, bicycles didn’t come along until 200 years after the Bard died but squint and you can imagine he was into his cycling …

Buy the best equipment

Will this gear ne’er be mended? Troilus and Cressida Act I, Scene 1

Lights, lights, lights! Hamlet Act III, Scene 2

I’ll provide you a chain; and I’ll do what I can to get you a pair of horns. Merry Wives of Windsor Act V, Scene 1

Lights, more lights! Timon of Athens Act I, Scene 2

Don’t buy poor equipment

A merry heart goes all the day, your sad tires in a mile-a. Winter’s Tale Act IV Scene 3

… to ride with ugly rack … Sonnet 33

Look you what hacks are on his helmet! Troilus and Cressida Act I, Scene 2

… thou hast worn out thy pump … Romeo and Juliet Act II, Scene 4

Don’t jump red lights

Stir not until the signal. Julius Caesar Act V, Scene 1

OK, you can jump lights that only turn green for cars

Lo, where it comes again! I’ll cross it, though it blast me. Hamlet Act I, Scene 1

Lock it or lose it

You shall not now be stol’n, you have locks upon you. Cymbeline Act V, Scene 4

Club riders arriving at a hostelry

…do you look for ale and cakes here, you rude rascals? Henry VIII Act V, Scene 4


HT Rob Ainsley and Cyclismas for the pic


Carlton Reid Tour Dates