Those of you who follow us on twitter may recall that earlier this week we shared a BBC article reflecting on the apparent increase in cycling. Our observation of the aforementioned article(and dismay) noted, with regret, that according to the adjoining visuals ‘cycling’ equates to ‘lycra’ and is seemingly to be understood as a ‘sporting activity’.
There are good reasons to be concerned by the dominant media assumption thatcycling is positioned as a special interest category. Special clothing, principles of competition andelite persons capable of mind boggling endurance are undoubtedly good for sport. Theyinspire millions of people to fill vast stadiums on a weekly basis. They are however unlikely and impractical tools for encouraging a basic shift in the way ordinary people choose to travel and that’s a problem.
The same problem arises (at the opposite end of the spectrum) when local government spends millions on canals while leaving the local school run to feel like the death run of the city’s children on a daily basis. How come we can cover miles of canal towpath but we can't make the few yards around a primary school safe for vulnerable road users? Surely that's insane? A tiny number of our city’s population live in housing adjacent to canals. Subtract from that the number of those persons put off by the need to contest with several flights of stares. Subtract again those whose detination is nowhere near a canal and you quickly begin to understand why Birmingham’s Cycling Revolution is being colloquially renamed the ‘Birmingham Canal Revolution’. Canal’s are largely about leisure, recreation, occasional activity (unless you fill them in ;-)) not the mass moblisation of normal behaviour. Resurfacing canal tow path is beginning to feel like a 1950's view of child behaviour, 'never heard, barely seen'.
To report on cycling almost always in the context of either sport or recreation is also just plain lazy. It is a form of journalism which blindly and willingly ignores the fact that for millions of people across the globe riding a bike is simply their most viable means of mobility. It's not ambitious or heroic it's just normal. The bike is what takes cleaners and brain surgeons to work while buses sleep and car parks require mortgages, it is what takes children to school and keeps them out of obesity clinics, it is what takes graduates into research laboratories and pensioners into the joys of later life.
According to the 2011 DfT report ‘Climate Change and Transport Choices’ 62% of the population have never so much as considered making more journeys by bike. That’s a colossal number of people and a worrying statistic. At least it is worrying if you believe that the best way to knock down a wall is to repeatedly bang your head against it’s strongest cross section. Read the report another way and 35% of those who answered have considered but declined cycling. 35% is a HUGE number of people for whom the possibility of cycling is in their phsyche (week sections of the wall waiting to fall), a potential saving of millions of tons of carbon emissions, trillions of pounds taken off the National Health Service and Trillions more added to a the British economy due to an increase in their productivity.
35% who need not to be put off by images of people adorning pot bellies and ill fitting lycra but who need to be aided and supported simply to ride a bike where they can, when they can because they can.
What if 2016 was the year we talked less about cycling and more about the joy of riding a bike? Some will go fast, have amazing pb’s and wear high end kit while others will not even understand what any of that means, and it’s ALL ok!
Truth is, we don’t need a cycling revolution we need a riding revolution. We don’t need olympic gold (nice though that would be) we need safe junctions and protected cycle lanes. We don’t need to know who beat who at the weekend’s non competitive (cough cough) sportive, we need great people capable of encouraging friends and neighbors to ‘come for a ride’ because that’s how you build a revolution.