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Tall Bike Bobby questions your perception of what’s practical

Tall Bike Bobby rolled through town last week on his tour of the West Coast via, you guessed it, a handmade tall bike.

Bobby Gadda is a leader of LA’s bike movement and a co-founder of CicLAvia. I had the opportunity to ride around town with him during his stopover in Seattle, and he was like a one-person bike parade turning heads everywhere we went.

Anne-Marije Rook at Cascade also chatted with Gadda while he was around. Here’s how he explained his mission to her:

Bobby had to duck under branches on the Burke-Gilman.

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“I have been riding a tall bike for a while and I always have lots of fun when I’m riding it because people want to talk to me about it,” explained Bobby in regards to his choice of bicycle. “Traveling with this bike, I meet way more people and start so many conversations about biking, and this trip is all about making connections between different bike communities.”

Additionally, Bobby is setting out to prove a point.

“The whole point of [touring on a tall bike], for me, is questioning ‘What’s practical?’. A lot of people don’t think biking is practical, and so I’m doing this thing that looks ridiculous and yet, even this is practical!” said Bobby. “I can actually carry a lot of cargo and it is more stable than a lot of touring bikes.”

If Bobby finds it convenient to tour the West Coast on a tall bike hauling his gear and a banjo wherever he goes, then you will find that taking a “normal” bike to the grocery store is, in fact, perfectly practical for your life.

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19 responses to “Tall Bike Bobby questions your perception of what’s practical”

  1. John

    Need an answer to the question about what’s practical? OK. I’ll bite.

    Practical is when you have to commute 64 miles round trip to work, each and every day of the year, here in Seattle. That means dealing with the miserable rain, the wind, the cold weather 9-10 months out of the year when it’s not sunny.

    Practical is when your employer has the requirement for you to be physically present at the office instead of telecommuting. Whatever the reasons may be, they’re valid ones because they’re giving you the paycheck.

    Practical is when you have no changing or showering facilities at work, so that you are presentable and both professional looking and smelling at the beginning of the day. Unless you’re a trash hauler, coming to work sweaty and smelly isn’t gonna cut it.

    Bikes aren’t practical in hilly and rainy Seattle, unless you work by yourself or with a small group of like-minded people. To you, I salute you. For the other 97%, we need a practical mobility alternative to cars and congestion.

  2. Matthew

    Move closer to work.

    BTW a bike with gears and some rain gear will handle the hills and the rain. It isn’t hard.

  3. LWC

    Sounds miserable. Sorry to hear about your current life situation.

    I personally find it immensely practical to commute 20 miles round-trip year-round on my bicycle – it’s faster than driving for my own commute. I’m lucky enough to have an employer who provides parking and shower facilities, and gives me some degree of flexibility. I consider that an immense blessing.

    Your post is a great illustration of the need for continued advocacy in our city for safer routes and better facilities. Thanks for the motivation!

  4. LWC

    Also, I think we should be realistic about what factors are influencing people’s choices about what’s practical. According to a recent census, 3.6% of people in Seattle commute by bike (http://blog.seattlepi.com/transportation/2011/09/27/census-bike-commuting-increases-22-percent-in-seattle/). This is significantly more than many cities which are flatter and have more days of sunshine. So clearly weather and hills can’t tell the entire story.

    I would argue that these data show that the existence of safe bicycle infrastructure is much more important than weather and hills in influencing people’s perceptions of what is practical.

  5. melinda

    I’m sorry you’re in such a difficult situation.

    A while ago, my commute took an hour each way on the bus sometimes because I was going across Lake Washington. It was awful.

    I was lucky enough to be able to change jobs so that I could work 3 miles from my house. Now I can bike there every day (yes, over a hill, and even in the rain), and I have tons more free time. Just because bikes aren’t practical for your case doesn’t mean they aren’t practical for anyone else.

    Of course, I work in the tech industry, which is one of the few parts of the economy that’s doing well enough that I felt comfortable changing jobs.

    Not everyone has to live 32 miles from their work, and I personally would never do it on purpose. From the tone of your post, I’m guessing that you didn’t, either. My parents never did (heck, my mom lives close enough to her job that she goes home for lunch), and even those 13 miles felt crazy to me.

    I hope you find something that works out better for you!

  6. Raincitykitty

    Just because it’s not practical for some people to commute to work by bicycle doesn’t mean you have to give up on bikes altogether. While I live just under 3 miles from where I work, it’s all downhill on the way to work, and all uphill on the way back. I’ve biked to work a few times, and put my bike on the bus for the trip back up. Kind of a hassle, and my employer pays for my bus pass, so 99% of the time I am going to ride the bus to work.

    But I do ride my bike to the grocery store and local shops/restaurants–usually alongside my 6-year-old son on his bike.

    As for Tall Bike Bobby, I saw a bike just like that a few weeks ago in Capitol Hill, and I wonder: how does one get on and off such a tall bike?

  7. Ryan

    Living 64 miles away from where you work is not practical, move either your home or your job so they are closer together.

    My employer requires me to be at work monday through friday from 8 to 5, but since our office is running 24 hours a day 5 days a week and 12 hours on the weekends I sometimes have to come in outside of those hours, and I do it by bike.

    It is easy to carry extra clothes to change into (maybe in the bathroom, your work does have those right?) and a few different companies make shower free wipes that you can use if you are afraid of being stinky.

    The hills and the weather should not prevent you, or anyone, from commuting by bike.

  8. Ryan

    Also want to mention that I got to meet Bobby at the castle rock stop on the STP, we talked briefly about steal bikes and his tour from Vancouver to LA. It was awesome meeting him and really cool to see his picture here.

  9. Mark B

    That keeps you from sweating?

  10. Jim Harvey

    Interesting that so many pro-bike commenters are happy to tell John how to run his life.

    I don’t think these cyclists would like it if Seattle’s biking decisions were made by a purely democratic ie majority rule decision, yet they as part of the 3% have no qualms about telling John where to live and work. Dingenuous…

  11. kommish

    I don’t actually care if John rides his bike to work or not. I’d agree that, less his choice to change other stuff in his life, riding to work seems not to be practical. But he’s raising a straw man – the question raised by Tall Bike Bobby and the post is not “is a bike practical in each and every situation?” but rather “should we question our idea of what’s practical to include more situations than we presently do?” (read what he says carefully – he justs asks what’s practical, he doesn’t offer an answer). And the answer to that question, I think, is yes.

    And I’ve seen people get off tall bikes using parking meters, the sides of pickup trucks, holding onto tall trees and hopping down, etc.

  12. pqbuffington


    I am not sure anyone on this blog thread is telling John how to live his life, per se, but he did post to a bike blog about the impracticality of commuting by bicycle and was merely answered with practical suggestions.

    True, a 64 mile round trip commute is quite the chore, but not impossible however heroic it would be. That being said, people who drive automobiles and/or take the bus 64 miles a day move to reduce their commutes; this is not an unheard of phenomenon.

    As for Seattle’s “…biking decisions…” (however few and far between they actually are), they have been made by democratic process, i.e. elected representatives and the respective policies. Maybe you should run for mayor and then if democratically elected you could be the next Rob Ford. Then, of course, it would be practical for me to move.

  13. Thanks for the great post Tom. It is so nice to see the idea for my trip articulated more well than I have. The idea is really just questioning practicality of various transportation/living situations, not offering any particular solution. I’m just trying to push people’s perceptions of what is considered practical.

    Kommish, you also expressed this idea really well. Thanks for the comments everyone! This discussion has inspired me, I think I will expound on this practicality theme in a future blog post…

    Ryan, it was nice to meet you as well!

  14. BT

    JH – I would like to give you advice on your writing skills: improve them. Right now you come off as a poor combination of ignorant/ arrogant.

    I think anything under 10 miles (each way)_ is do-able as a daily bike commute. A lot of bike trails around the city follow the flattest routes possible, and as you build your legs up, the hills become less of a chore (although they are still a chore). Plus you get the added benefits of the stress reduction, cardio exercise, extra time outdoors, it’s a win win.

    My commute b bike is only 4 miles, so I usually just wash may face and comb my hair when I get to the office, and then change. If it’s a day you need to look sharp, don’t bike.

  15. steve

    I live 8 miles from work. I get off at 11:00 pm most nights (sometimes later). I usually take the scenic route to get a longer ride. I average 4.5 days a week all year round. I’m just an overweight 60 something; nothing special. I figure I’m going to be wet whether it’s from sweat or rain, so why not ride. Once you quit looking for reasons not to ride, it’s not hard to do.

  16. Orv

    Rain gear just gives you the choice between getting drenched by the rain or getting drenched by your own sweat trapped underneath it.

    Personally I loved doing a combined bike/train or bike/bus commute during the summer, but I drove to the train station in the winter. Now I live in Des Moines, surrounded by steep hills, so it’s not really practical until I can budget the money for electric assist.

  17. Elwood Mossien

    Hello! This post could not be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this write-up to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  18. About 50 miles from Black Rock City (aka burning man), NV we passed Tall Bike Bobby in our big rental truck, just about at a herd of cattle crossing the road. We had to pull over a few miles later to wait for our friends, and soon Bobby came pedaling up and stopped for awhile and chatted. I was amazed to see that amongst all his things strapped to his bike was a banjo. My co pilot and I wanted to know how the herd of cows (and a big mean bull) had reacted to his tall bike.. he said they just stared and stared. Much like most people do.
    A few days later Bobby brought his banjo by our burning man camp for some tunes. Kudos to him for his challenging trip!

  19. […] can read more about him here and here and follow his blog […]

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