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What Do Sushi and Bicycles Have in Common?

7:14 AM PDT on June 1, 2010

3691249508_d02e5c8ae7.jpgA Danish take on the sushi-bike connection. (Photo: Mikael Colville-Andersen via Flickr)

How is a bicycle like a fish? Specifically, a piece of raw fish on sticky rice wrapped in seaweed?

Over at Copenhagenize Mikael Colville-Andersen is talking about the parallels between bicycle culture and sushi — from a marketing standpoint.

It’s part of a great conversation going on at Colville-Andersen’s
site about the difficulties of marketing bicycling as transport in a
country like America.

In a guest post
on Copenhagenize over the weekend, Brian Glover pointed out that in
most of the United States, people who bike to get places rather than
for sport are viewed as either losers or freaks.

How to change that? Glover, who lives in North Carolina, is
skeptical that people in the American heartland will ever buy into
cycling based on the sleek urban images popularized on the
Copenhagenize and Copenhagen Cycle Chic sites. Here’s the core of his

I do think it’s possible to market cycling to the mainstream here
in the U.S., and in developing cycling cultures around the world. But
the way to make that happen is to tie cycling to high-status lifestyles
in specific local cultures. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.
Though it may trouble Mikael to admit it, “Denmark” is not a magic word
for everyone. So, advocates and marketers need to look at what people
really want; to be crude about it, they should market cycling in ways
that, for the mainstream of a given local culture, just might get you

[E]ven [in North Carolina], and in much of the South, I can see possibilities. For instance, I think a "Charleston" approach
would appeal to quite a lot of people — blonde sorority girls on
updated beach cruisers, tailgate parties with kegs and dogs (arriving
by bike trailer), couples who look like George W. and Laura Bush (or
even better, Cindy McCain) pulling up on expensive city bikes to big
ol’ Victorian houses in dense, Spanish-moss-draped neighborhoods right
out of Southern Living. Ladies who lunch, pedaling stylishly in pastels
to an azalea-shrouded church that isn’t an exurban megacomplex.

But Colville-Andersen, who has worked for years now to improve the
image of cycling worldwide, sticks to his guns. The innovation, he
insists, must come from the urban centers and infuse the culture from
there. And that’s where the sushi analogy comes in:

Sushi was "trendy" in L.A. and then New York, where it stranded for a while — but didn’t go away. The Theory of Diffusion of Innovations
came into play. The Innovators took hold of sushi. It moved over to the
Early Adopters and then the Early Majority. It’s now been embraced by
the Late Majority and, in the case of sushi, there are probably many
Laggards who will never try it. Nevertheless, it’s a success.

The bicycle is "hot" again, all over the world. With a bit of luck,
the trend won’t fade and we will continue to sell urban cycling
positively, in order to allow the bicycle to tango its way into the
lives of the Early Majority. We’re well on our way.

What do you think? Will bicycling as transport one day be as ubiquitous as California roll?

More from around the network: The National Journal Transportation Expert Blog asks if transit authorities should get $2 billion in emergency operating aid. Human Transit has more on transit and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (a continuation of a conversation we took note of last week). And Cap’n Transit looks at the pernicious effects of parking requirements.

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