Keep On Pedalling…Please
For many people, it takes riding a bike to realise how marvellous riding a bike can be.
For years passionate bike enthusiasts have worked to encourage others to ride bikes, and this has had an impact.
Personally, as a Breeze Champion I speak to women for whom coming along on a led ride has started or re-ignited a love of cycling. I run a ‘Bike Bus’ to my children’s school and am known as ‘that woman with the bike’ so I regularly get asked for advice about cycling with children and I love to see families then getting out on their bikes.
There are so many incredible initiatives out there to support people to get on their bikes. Ironically, that is not what is turning 2020 into the year of the bikes.
I don’t think anything has ever got more people on their bikes than Covid-19.
Since the start of the UK lockdown in March, the massive increase in the number of people out on their bikes has been phenomenal. It seems that everywhere I go (admittedly, not very far right now!) there are people out on their bikes. There are children out on bikes and families cycling together. As I write this I am watching a family cycling up and down my street.
I think there are a number of reasons for the increase in the numbers of people on bikes:
- The roads are (or at least were) much quieter and are therefore perceived as safer. Fear of motor traffic is a massive obstacle to people getting on a bike, especially for women and children.
- For many, there are more hours in the day. With many workers furloughed, and with most people’s normal daily activities cancelled or curtailed, there is more time to fill.
- With reduced public transport, and fears about the safety of using public transport, travelling by bike is a necessary or more appealing option for many.
- Many people are struggling with the impact of the current situation on their mental health, and exercise outdoors is a great way to relieve stress.
- Gym regulars are needing to find new ways to raise their heart rate while the gyms are closed.
- Parents need to find ways to tire out their children.
- With families sharing space all day every day, going for a cycle is a great way to be alone for a while.
- The weather is great at the moment.
- There is simply not all that much else to do.
In my own family, my eight year old is finally riding his bike regularly. This is something we have meant to encourage for ages, but somehow it hasn’t happened. Pre-lockdown we always seemed to have other things on at the weekends and he preferred the cargo bike for the school run since he gets to read and eat snacks in there. Now he is absolutely loving cycling and has set himself the goal of a 10 mile ride sometime in the next few weeks. I have hopes of persuading (bribing) my youngest to join me on the tandem, then we can go for family bike rides.
Now, as lock down starts to ease a little. We are all taking a tentative peek at the future.
For my family, we are definitely going to move to the tandem and the eldest riding his own bike for the school run. The cargo bike will be the standby option for seriously wet days and ice (I love my ice tyres). I hope that family cycles will a regular feature of our lives.
But what about our wider communities? Are the increased numbers on bikes here to stay?
I really hope so.
Since March I have loved the cleaner air, the break from the constant noise of the roads around our house. I have loved chatting to more people as we all move at a more sedate pace. Beyond the immediate, just imagine the potential improvements in the physical and mental health for so many people. If you are keen to read more about what cycling can do for a community, I would thoroughly recommend ‘Bike Nation’ by Peter Walker.
So how can those of us already passionate about cycling support these ‘new’ cyclists to keep on pedalling?
I’ve seen several discussions on exactly this on social media recently, and to be honest, some of these discussions worry me.
The thing is – and I’m really not wanting to offend anyone here – but those of us who are passionate about cycling…..well, we can sometimes be just a bit too passionate about cycling. We can be a bit prone to ranting. We can be a bit prone to assuming that everyone wants to be ‘a cyclist’ or a cycle campaigner, that everyone’s ideal number of bikes is n+1. We find it hard to stop telling people how wonderful bikes are. We can identify what is causing that noise someone’s bike is making, and we want to tell them how to fix it. We know how much more efficient that person would be if they raised their saddle and we have allen keys and would love to raise it for them right now. We know we don’t pay road tax any more than any other road user does and we do not jump red lights whatever someone in a car might of seen someone else on a bike do once somewhere.
I hate to say this, but sometimes, I think all this ranting can all be just a bit much.
Please do be very clear that I am including myself very much as one of those who can be off-puttingly passionate. I am a cycle coach, a Breeze Champion, a British Cycling Tutor and a bike blogger. Give me the opportunity and I will talk bike for hours. After all, what is a blog but an extended rant!
I think it is really important to support the people around us to stay on their bikes, if that is what they want. But I also think that we need to be careful not to tell people what they want or need.
I also think we need to appreciate that many of these ‘new cyclists’ are women. Supporting women to get into riding bikes is something I have a great deal of experience in. In my experience women do not always want the same things out of their cycling as men do. They want advice they can trust…but only when they ask for it.
The novice women cyclists I have come across frequently don’t want to be able to fix their own bike, they just want to know which bike shop they can trust to fix it for them. They often want to ride with their saddle too low, because it makes them feel safer. Many don’t care that they only use a few of their gears as long as they can get up that hill. Lots don’t want expensive cycling kit, they just want to know which is the best waterproof jacket for cycling.
And what they absolutely, definitely, categorically do not want, is cycling mansplained to them…even when that mansplaining is well intentioned.
I think the best thing those of us who love bikes can do to encourage people to keep riding their bikes…is to keep riding bikes.
Ride bikes wearing lycra. Ride bikes wearing jeans. Ride bikes which make funny noises. Ride expensive bikes. Ride cheap bikes. Ride bikes in the most energy efficient position. Ride bikes in a strange position that you like anyway. Ride bikes to work Ride bikes for fitness. Ride bikes for half a mile. Ride bikes for 100 miles. Ride bikes wearing a helmet. Ride bikes not wearing a helmet. Ride bikes if you are overweight. Ride bikes if you are underweight. Ride bikes on roads. Ride bikes on cycle paths. Ride bikes in the woods. Ride road bikes, mountain bikes, gravel bikes, cargo bikes, tandem bikes, BMX bikes, tandem bikes, hand bikes, adapted bikes…
Just ride bikes.
People need to see that people just like them ride bikes.
We need to normalise cycling as a thing that people do in whatever way works for them.
A couple of years ago I went to an Edinburgh Festival of Cycling talk where the Edinburgh Council Transport Convener, Lesley Macinnes, talked about her experience of starting out cycling for transport. She described herself as a bit over 50, a bit overweight and dressed in ‘normal’ clothes on her e-bike. What stuck with me was her description of looking at the other people on bikes around her and wondering “where are all the people who look like me?”.
We need all kinds of people, who look like all kinds of people, out on their bikes to demonstrate that cycling is (or at least can be) for everyone.
There is definitely a place for ranting in cycling (phew!). When it comes to getting the kind of quality infrastructure which will get people cycling and keep them cycling we absolutely do need to keep on ranting.
But sometimes we should rein in the rant and just get on our bikes and quietly ride.
From the Bike Week website:
Bike Week, delivered by Cycling UK, is an annual celebration to showcase cycling. Thousands of people all over the UK enjoy the simple pleasure of riding a bike.
This is what we need right now.
So please, look up Bike Week, share information about it, take part, ride your bike. With the vast majority of children across the UK out of school right now, schools are often keen to share initiatives with families so tell your children’s school about Bike Week.
I don’t think the UK will ever become a nation of cyclists….but I would love to see it become a nation of people on bikes.