It's not about the bike

10 Sep 2010 by Karl Hallam

Cycling is trendy. That may not seem remarkable to many people, but for some it is a bit of a shock. Are those who were into it before it became fashionable entitled to feel a bit annoyed? Cycling always tended to attract people who liked to go against the grain, how do they feel about Boris Johnson being on their side? What would the 1980s Conservatives and Margaret Thatcher have thought about someone who cycled? She was not too impressed by people who caught the bus, even if her colleague Norman Tebbit thought people should get on a bike and look for work.

The record numbers on London's Sky RidesMark Cavendish's record breaking Tour stage victoriesVictoria Pendleton's adverts and Sir Chris Hoy being a 'Sir' at all, Mintel claiming the growth of MAILs (middle-aged in lycra) is resulting in carbon fibre bikes outselling sports cars and the London bike hire scheme are all signs of the two wheel revolution.

Is this good news for anyone other than people who sell bike gear? Cycling is often sold on the basis that is good for physical health, saves the planet and it does have a role to play in these areas, but could a growth in cycling in towns make a bigger difference in other ways. Our Hoodie, goodie, buddy project is interested in these kind of issues and will report soon.

The current government talked about Broken Britain before coming into power and are now advocating the Big Society as the answer to quite a few things. Some might say that one of the ways Britain is broken is in the way it has allowed cities to be taken over by cars. An interesting and must-read post by Victoria Johnson on the New Economics Foundation blog makes the point that the roads have not any safer with the cycling boom. Part of the appeal of the Sky Rides is closed roads, because most parents will not allow there kids to ride on open ones. Sustrans' work to make safer routes has not had any impact on the vast majority of every day trips. Is promoting cycling for the health and environment reasons the wrong thing to do? Cadence Director Sophy Hallam did an MA project that looked at whether leisure cyclists converted to utility cyclists and vice versa. That was in the mid-1990s and while I can't remember the answer now, I wonder if it would be different now?

While thinking about those questions, enjoy the NEF blog post and the reference to Douglas Adams' take on car dominance ...  

'In Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy first broadcast as a series of radio plays in the late 1970s, Douglas Adams derides the UK's growing car-centric society. One of the leading characters, extra-terrestrial Ford Prefect (also a British car manufactured in the 1950s), we are told has chosen his name carefully to blend in with Earth society. But in fact, Ford Prefect had simply mistaken the car as the dominant life form - and who could blame him?' 


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