Thanks to our mountain playground, Salt Lake is known as a lifestyle city. It seems no one interested in work-life balance wants to move away, and lots of folks are moving here to stay. While that presents growth challenges, the mayor’s office and bike enthusiasts see opportunity knocking. Could our Rocky Mountain city be an outpost for not just recreational but commuter biking as well?
As an American living in Amsterdam, Jared Madsen adopted its urban biking lifestyle. Pedaling alongside students and professionals, past older cyclists carrying groceries in their baskets and weaving around parents toting children in front-cargo “bakfiets,” Madsen says the experience charted his course. A decade later in 2008, MADSEN Cycles was born.
The father-of-three traded in his job in manufacturing to tinker with a new cargo bike design for toting around his own brood. The Salt Lake-based company specializes in family-style “bucket” bikes with a unique backloading design that allows for a smoother, comfier ride compared to its European competitors.
“I wanted to recreate the experience because, of course, we’re happier when we exercise,” says Jared, “but biking gives people a sense of community and a sense of belonging to the life in the streets.”
From the outset, Jared’s wife and company president, Lisa Madsen, harnessed the emerging sheen of social media to their enterprise. Capitalizing on the rise of the selfie, MADSEN Cycles developed a cool-factor on Instagram.
“Our customers are generally young, hip and love the attention that comes from riding a Madsen bike with their kids, their dog, their groceries or all three,” she says. “We tapped into the Instagram world early and influencers immediately loved the look. It’s like the ‘cool mom’s’ ride.”
The Madsens, and “cool moms” everywhere, are not alone when it comes to reimagining the role of bicycling in their lives. Its popularity has skyrocketed, with companies like Contender Bicycles (in Salt Lake’s 9th & 9th area) reporting record sales in 2020, likely as people sought safe alternatives to the gym and to too many Zoom meetings in pajamas.
It’s not just the spandex-clad going nuts for two-wheeled transport. The sales for electric bikes and errand-running cruisers have also climbed, evidenced by the rising success of MADSEN Cycles—which introduced its first electric bucket bike in 2018, as well as conversion kits for its older models. (Turns out, pedaling the kids, dogs and groceries up the hill can be a bit of a drag.)
On all fronts, it seems many folks are channeling their inner, bike-riding child—and just in time.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall ran on a promise to fix our city’s poor air quality and build a “smarter” city where we can live, play and work within 15 minutes without a car. She aims to increase multimodality in hopes of luring 20% of residents out of their cars on any given day in the city. Like the Madsens, she’s also looked to the Dutch as a guiding light.
“Amsterdam was completely car-centric 30 or 40 years ago,” she says. Now, folks prefer public transit, and a whopping 36% of citizens report biking as their primary mode of transportation. “As its population exploded, they saw no choice but to change the way they moved people. That’s where we are now.”
Mendenhall says Salt Lakers can flip the script on how we view our streets. “Once our streets were the public forum, now they are dedicated entirely to the vehicle. We need to undo that mindset and turn over more street-to-foot traffic, greenspace and bikes,” she says. “With wider-than-usual roads and underutilized alleyways, in many cases, the infrastructure is already there.”
In addition to dramatically extending existing bike paths and creating new ones, this “if you build it, they will come” approach applies even more urgently to macro-level planning. Affordable residential development plans, which include 3,600 units in our urban center, are aimed at tackling not just recent housing price-hikes but also the sprawl that makes transit biking problematic.
Salt Lake City has another reality to contend with if it hopes to be a biker’s paradise: it is, after all, perched in the Rocky Mountains—with the weather and hills to prove it. So, until snow gear and spandex aren’t prerequisites for our office commutes, it may be hard to persuade 20% of us to give up our cars.
City planning director Nick Norris says they’re taking Salt Lake’s snowier weather and hillier topography into account. For commuter-biking to be realistic in our region, public transit that works in tandem with bikers will be essential. The 2018 “Funding our Future’’ sales tax bump put an emphasis on expediting public transit and amping up street maintenance (that includes adding dedicated bike lanes and keeping on top of snow plow-created potholes—a biker’s nightmare).
“As we work on our streets, we’ll create clear, safe and, in many cases, dedicated bike lanes that run alongside circulator busses equipped with bike racks that come so often, folks can hop on and off without having to check a schedule,” Norris says. “If the weather is wet or you don’t feel like pedaling up that hill, you won’t have to.”
WHAT IS A MADSEN BIKE? A back-loading cargo bike made for one or multiple passengers
PRICE RANGE: E-bikes: $3855-$4345 // Regular bikes: $2195-$3855
ACCESSORIES: E-bike kits, cargo canopies, front racks, lights, leather seat upgrades, bike bells, water bottles, messenger bags and T-shirts.
FIRST BIKE, LISA: Schwinn Stingray Fair Lady. “As the fifth kid in a family of 13 children (no joke), I did with hand-me-downs, so it was definitely memorable when my dad let me pick out a new bike.”
FIRST BIKE, JARED: 1972 Schwinn Midget Sting-Ray in campus green. “It made my world so much bigger. I’d draw maps of my neighborhood and explore on my bike.”
Read more stories about life in SLC.