Cycling is (or should be) FUN!

I couldn’t make it to Street Talks on Monday, to hear Mustafa Arif of the London Cycling Campaign discuss the Space for Cycling campaign, although I did manage to follow some of the discussion on Twitter. One tweet in particular stood out –

That is, how does cycle campaigning break out of the bubble, and convince people who don’t go anywhere near a bike on a day-to-day basis that demanding change is something they should be involved in?

There are no easy answers here, but I think one profitable angle is fun. People who don’t consider themselves ‘cyclists’ will ride bikes at some point during the year, but usually only under certain conditions.

They will ride bikes along seafronts, when they are on holiday.

Cycle hire at Westward Ho! seafront. Looks like fun

Cycle hire at Westward Ho! seafront. Looks like fun

They will ride bikes around central London on a day out, when the roads are closed for them.

Fun! A

Fun! Last year’s RideLondon event.

Cycling on Upper Thames Street during last year's RideLondon event. You can tell by the little girl's expression that this is fun!

Cycling on Upper Thames Street, also during last year’s RideLondon event. You can tell by the little girl’s expression that this is FUN!

British kids in general like to whizz about on two wheels, even at a very young age.

Also fun.


The trouble is that this experience of cycling – on holiday, or on seafronts, or under certain conditions – does not seem to correspond to the British public’s everyday perception of cycling, which is… not fun. In fact it often looks like absolute misery.

Not fun. Also, a little bit weird.

Not fun. Also, a little bit weird.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 18.10.59

Dear god, that looks terrifying. Why would you even do that?

To be clear, I’m not blaming people for wearing hi-visibility clothing, or helmets, or pollution masks. They are a response to generally atrocious road conditions – a way for people to help themselves feel safer.

And those road conditions are the central issue. People cannot imagine themselves cycling around in our towns and cities, even if they are happy to hop on a bike when they are on holiday. It just looks completely foreign, dangerous, even absurd.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Ordinary day-to-day cycling could be as fun and enjoyable as it is on a seafront, or on a day out. We just have to change our streets to allow it.

Cycling to school could be fun.
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 18.29.07
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 18.27.10
Cycling in cities could be fun.
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 19.34.32
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 19.40.54
Cycling across a busy urban junction could be fun.
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 19.22.58Cycling by a dual carriageway could be fun.
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 19.26.56
Trips from the city into the countryside could be fun.
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 19.20.32
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 19.33.46
Cycling around as a family could be fun.
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 19.50.01You get the idea.

The challenge, of course, is convincing the British that this fun, stress-free mode of transport could be available to them on a day-to-day basis, if we want it to be; that it doesn’t have to look like it does now, on the streets of most British cities and towns.

Can we bridge that gap? I hope so.

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13 Responses to Cycling is (or should be) FUN!

  1. radwagon1 says:

    We do get this a little bit in Cambridge. Sadly, short sections where we don’t “take away from ‘traffic’ “. So many places where conflict appears because we’ve “run out of space”, although lots of room for motors.

    City residents overwhelming want the space taken from motors. City Councillors also want this. County Council runs transport policy, filled with Tory and UKIP deniers who want their single monthly trip to shop on Saturday to remain the same and those “bloody cyclists” to “get out of the way”. The “bloody cyclists” also want to “get out of the way” but have the roadway segragated between those in motors and those on bike.

  2. essuman says:

    See the sound of the morning rush – short clips – taken on Riverside Bridge in Cambridge, where cyclists have a fairly relaxed commute.

    I have tried to illustrated “little bit in Cambridge” radwagon” is referring to in pictures

    • Essuman’s bridge is lovely, but what percentage of anyone’s commute is spent on that bridge ? Radwagon talks of Cambridge being “a little bit” like what Mark has written about, but he also posted a video just a couple of days ago which showed three close passes in succession along one street in Cambridge.

      While “a little bit” of Cambridge is like the Netherlands, the city as a whole is actually almost entirely unlike the Netherlands.

      It’s the weak points which define the overall experience, not the strong points. Anyone will cycle where cycling is pleasant. However, they are much less likely to do so where the joy of the pleasant parts of their routes is interrupted by fear due to the unpleasant parts.

      And that brings me to the Netherlands, which is where all of Mark’s photos of good conditions outside of special events were taken. Some of those photos were taken during a study tour here in Assen and feature local Dutch children going to school on their bikes. This is a place where everyone sees this as a safe thing for their children to take part in, not somewhere where just a minority let their children cycle independently.

      We’ve lived here for nearly seven years now. That’s nearly half as long as we lived in and around Cambridge. The experience of cycling in these two places is not the same at all. The good bits in Cambridge can indeed be relaxing and pleasant, but they serve only as tiny glimpses of what is possible. By contrast, all my cycling here is relaxing and pleasant. It’s all fun. Not once have I experienced conditions such as are shown in radwagon’s video from last week because the infrastructure is designed to prevent this from happening.

      It’s possible to take photos of cyclists enjoying places where they can cycle without stress anywhere in the world. However that’s just cherry picking the good stuff. In the Netherlands, the situation is reversed. There’s no need to cherry pick. The good stuff, where people smile and can cycle in a relaxed manner with their children is joined together as a finely meshed grid which covers the entire country. Anyone can go anywhere by bike with a reasonable expectation of finding pleasant conditions for cycling for their entire journey. Places where the infrastructure lets cyclists down are few and far between and relatively difficult to find.

      • essuman says:

        David, the good parts in Cambridge are the cyclebahn along the guided busway, the Coton Path, the river north of town, the commons,…, most of the rest is rubbish (eg pavement cycleways giving way at every junction). We don’t have a single roundabout and not much in the way of junctions that would pass the “10 year old test” (would you as a parent feel comfortable letting your 10 year old master this roundabout on a bike?), not even in the more recent developments around Addenbrooke’s. It is an uphill struggle, as legislation, design guidance, attitude, lack of experience, planning regulations and procedures, funding etc all work against cycling.

        In the past population growth happened outside the green belt (Bar Hill, Caxton, “Great Carbourne” and many smaller developments), with people commuting (mostly by car) into Cambridge. But now population growth is concentrating on Cambridge’s urban area:
        – The Marque
        – Wing Development 1,500 homes
        – West Cambridge
        – Southeast development near Wort’s Causeway 430 homes
        – Bell School playing fields development (347 dwellings)
        – Cambridge Biomedical Campus, AstraZeneca future site, 2000 jobs
        – Great Kneighton (Clay Farm and Glebe Farm)
        – Trumpington Meadows – In total 1,200 units.
        – CB1
        – Mill
        – Kaleidoscope (Crest Nicholson)
        – Triangle
        – Travis Perkins site on Devonshire Road
        – Veritas (Weston Homes) on Cromwell Road – 115 private flats, plus social, plus a few houses
        – Ridgeons site on Cromwell Road
        – Riverside
        – Vie
        – Union Road
        – Miller Homes (183 dwellings, sold)
        – Orchard Park 800 dwellings and 2 hotels finished. Shops and another 400 dwellings to be built.
        – Darwin Green (former NIAB site) 1,780 dwellings
        – The Quills by George Wimpey, Wellbrook Way, Girton

        As it is difficult to widen the roads of tiny Cambridge (about 120,000 inhabitants or so), councillors can only pray that the new residents will leave their cars at home…

  3. Joel C says:

    Might sound a bit counter-intuitive, but some of the best cycle campaigners could be professional drivers of buses, taxis and HGVs! If engaged properly and advised of the benefits (even if just from a “it’ll make the roads quieter and will get the bikes out of your way” angle). The enemy of my enemy and all that ….

    • Har Davids says:

      Im both a professional driver and, as I don’t own a car, an avid cyclist. I live in Rotterdam and about a month ago we had our annual Film Festival. There was hardly any empty space near its venues, bikes where everywhere; a sight that needed some explanation for our tourists. If you live in a city, can walk and the distance you need to travel is less than 5 km, there’s no need to own or use a car.

  4. Tim says:

    This is indeed a key question, and as well as fun obviously there are many other benefits – saving money, getting there quicker, not having to search for parking, even getting a bit fitter.

    These should all be convincing arguments, but it seems to me that people will very rarely consider any change in their own behaviour until the opportunity arises and the change actually happens.

    Take Manchester’s “Transport Innovation Fund” bid in 2008 for example. Manchester had won three billion pounds of government money to spend mainly on public transport – metrolink (light rail) expansion, oyster-card-type system, improved bus services, road upgrades, etc. But part of the proposal was the introduction of a congestion charge, just at busy points in one direction at key (rush-hour) times (unlike London’s area-based charge). Importantly, it was a condition of the proposals that all the good stuff had to be in place before the council was allowed to introduce the congestion charge. If the referendum question had been based around “do you want loads of government money to spend on Manchester” that could have been an easy win. But people who drove in had no imagination and assumed they would always live and work in the same place, and always drive in. They focussed on the congestion charge and saw it as a tax on themselves, an extra bill to pay. The referendum result went overwhelmingly against the proposals and Manchester essentially threw three billion pounds away.

    Just like people may be partial to the idea of having a nice cycle path near them, but not nearly enough to consider losing on-street parking, etc.

  5. Nico (@NicoVel0) says:

    I used to look like that guy with the pollution mask, with dark sunglasses added in summer. Then one day I stopped at a zebra to let a lady with a little girl cross, all smiles (not that they could tell).
    Little girl: “Mommy, is the man going to hurt us?”
    Since that day I don’t wear the mask or “cycling clothes” (unless absolutely necessary), and make eye contact with pedestrians as much as possible.

    • Paul says:

      Absolutely – and another reason NOT to wear a helmet. Cycling in short sleeved shirt and baggy shorts I have found that pedestrians actually say hello rather than cowering away from the alien.

  6. Jitensha Oni says:

    To get back to the tweet reporting Mustafa Arif, it might help if:

    – the ASA didn’t step in and brand the depiction of folk cycling in normal clothes “irresponsible”
    – the police didn’t harangue bike riders in ordinary clothes about wearing helments and hi-vis
    – hack journaliists, from the BBC down to your local rag, didn’t fuel a climate of cyclist-baiting and vilification
    – head teachers didn’t try to dissuade people from cycling to school
    – highway authorites didn’t expect the public to learn new infrastructure by osmosis
    – cycling, with a bit of highway code thrown in, was a mandatory subject in schools
    – bike and e-bike manufactureers (many of whom are owned by big corporations) and the cycle to work scheme were advertised more extensively
    – city cycling wasn’t so smelly and injurious to health through pollutants
    – retailers sold bikes that weren’t either £10,000 style icons, or about as attractive as a pile of scaffolding

    And so on and so forth, and I’ve not even mentioned legal protection, driving standards and hardly mentioned infrastructure. BJ and his chums have been making the right noises again with their spiffing wheeze to jolly up conditions on some major London 60’s relics. So maybe, just maybe if this latest noise actually came to pass; worked as expected; and then, and this is important, had its praises sung to high heaven nationally, then others might sit up and take notice, and demand similar stuff in their areas.

    In the meantime, more like Pedal on Parliament needs to be done all over the country, more frequently. Big gatherings of bicycles on the streets. Catch the politician’s eyes. PoP is publicised well in advance and got in the region of 4000 last time I believe: some of the LCC demos have been with only a week or so notice, and the few that can then turn up are almost bound to fail to catch political interest. But with major publicity for such events and a long lead time, maybe you could really bump up the numbers. Publicity, promotion, advertising, marketing, spin, or as one of the “Bedford Cartel” (as I now like to call them) recently wrote: “pure propaganda”, are all part of the toolkit to get folk involved, and maybe could be used more extensively.

  7. Sara says:

    Only yesterday a colleague of mine was talking about joining the gym as she doesn’t do enough CV exercise. She lives about 5 miles from work.
    I asked why she didn’t ride to work, great exercise, great for getting rid of work stress, she’ll save money in bus fare and not have to pay for a gym. She won’t even consider it. She’s too afraid to ride in traffic.

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