25 April 2016

Normalising cycling...Cycling Normally...

What's your favourite part of Pedal on Parliament?

For a lot of folk it's the quirky bikes - the velomobiles, tall bikes and unicycles; for others it's the adapted bikes - tandems for partially sighted stokers, hand-powered cycles, recumbents, and side-by-side trikes;  most people comment on the kids - on their own wee bikes sometimes still with stabilizers attached; in box-bikes; tag-alongs,  and tandems;  while for others it's the cyclists in 'normal' clothes -particularly beautifully represented by Alison Johnstone this year, but also (perhaps less beautifully) by many others of us wearing jeans and t-shirts, or other combinations of 'normal' clothes.

But the people who I love to see - and who I always try to thank for coming - is the one group that gets flak:   the club cyclists in full matching lycra.

Every year after POP we get comments saying too much lycra, too many helmets, too much hi-viz.   And I'd love it if people didn't feel the need to wear all that kit for a short ride (although some of those 'roadies' have been cycling for 4-5 hours by the time they reach the meadows).  But the reality is that most folk don't feel welcome on the roads, and they don't trust drivers to not see them.

Hi-viz and helmets are indicators of where we've gone wrong as a cycling nation.  The clubbyness of our 'cycling culture' is a defensive reaction to out-group stereotypes, rather like teenage goths or punks 30 years ago.  Telling these folk to 'dress normally' without changing the environment that makes them feel like outcasts, is as much use as a well-meaning mother asking their kids  'dress normally please' when going to visit grandparents.

But the real reason I love seeing the roadies is because there is a tendency to suggest that cycle infrastructure is something needed by 'less confident cyclists like women and children' (as a draft document produced by Edinburgh Council put it recently).  And this shapes assumptions about the type of infra and how it is understood.

Infrastructure for 'women and children' is a fringe benefit, a nice thing to have, but not 'essential' like infrastructure for road-hauliers and important business-people getting to their offices.  And so, infrastructure is designed for leisure use, or to take kids to schools and parks.   But 'real' spending is reserved for dualling roads and building bridges.

We know that there is a compelling economic case to be made for investment in proper cycle infrastructure - great rates of return, with benefits for local businesses and the economy as a whole.

But in order to get that sort of infrastructure built we need to send the message that everyone - not just me and my kids - will benefit from investment.  And that is why I love seeing the roadies there - because they send a signal that even those die-hard road-warriors want and need better road design.

We need to design cycling into all of our roads - urban and rural, quiet and busy - so that cycling really does become something that everyone can do, in all sorts of clothes.