Bike Boom? What Bike Boom?

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Bike sales are up, cycling is suddenly all over our newspapers and magazines. We in Britain are in the middle of a bonafide bike boom. So says veteran cycling journalist Carlton Reid, who’s writing a book about the bike boom, that’s called, imaginatively, “Bike Boom“. But fellow long-in-the-tooth cycling journalist John Stevenson of Road.CC disagrees. Cycling in Britain is far from booming, it’s flat-lining. The pair lock horns on air, joining host Jack Thurston to debate the bike boom.

3 thoughts on “Bike Boom? What Bike Boom?

  1. As far as things here in California, urban cycling has seen an uptick in recent years as the gas prices have pushed people to consider alternatives. In places like Los Angeles, commute cycling or cycling for transportation was unheard of a decade ago, but today, bikes have become a popular accessory that it’s been integrated into the fashion and urban sub-culture.

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  2. The Dutch don’t have a “cycling culture”, they ride bicycles because bicycles are the most efficient and easy way to travel in the Netherlands. Riding a bicycle is quite normal for everyone, and few would consider themselves to be “cyclists”.

    This goes to the root of the discussion: Carlton is talking about “cycling” as done by “cyclists”, people who belong to a “cycling culture”, and who are members of cycling clubs. This is great, but it’s nothing to do with everyday use of bicycles by ordinary people for transport.

    There is no chicken and egg situation.

    Without cycleways in the UK the only people who are cycling are the keen cyclists who enjoy their niche culture. These are the people who are enjoying a Boom in London and Surrey, they’re the MAMILs and similar: mostly middle-aged, mostly men, mostly happy to “take the lane” and ride assertively on the carriageway. These people will never result in a rush to build cycleways everywhere, simply because they’re a minority and a sub-culture of the voting population, and because they’re mostly quite happy riding without cycleways (in fact some of them even campaign *against* cycleways!).

    With cycleways we could be like the Netherlands, and this would happen as soon as the cycleways were built. No need to wait to “build a culture”, if you provide safe cycleways people flock to them even before they’re finished. Everyone could then ride a bicycle for transport, even children cycling on their own bicycles to get to and from school independently. Riding a bicycle for transport is just another transport choice, and as ordinary as walking, taking a bus, or driving a car. None of these new bicycle-using people would consider themselves to be “cyclists” and they wouldn’t form any kind of “culture” and they wouldn’t join cycling clubs.

    • Hi Anthony,

      You make good points and I pretty much agree with you. What I will say is that the Dutch had a very strong tradition of cycling (tradition is different from culture, but I think Carlton uses culture when he probably means tradition, though you could say that the bicycle has a place in mainstream Dutch culture, whereas in Britain, cycling is a subculture – a big difference there. As a result of the strong Dutch cycling tradition, even by the worst times of the late 60s / early 70s, the cycling modal share was around 25%. The tradition of cycling in the Netherlands goes way back to the 1920s. Have a read of Pete Jordan’s book on the Amsterdam cyclist, which covers this subject very well. The reason it’s important is that it helps to explain how Dutch campaigners pressing for cycleways in the late 60s and early 70s were able to call on a pretty large section of the population who were still riding bikes. In the UK, cycling had been made more or less extinct by that point, so there was no real political constituency here to back the calls (which there were at the time, from groups like Friends of the Earth) for cycleways on British roads.

      This 1984 video is very interesting as it shows that some of this was underway – on a very, very limited extent – in London under the GLC. Sadly Margaret Thatcher abolished it. It shows that campaigners had the right idea, for the most part, as long ago as the 1970s and 80s, they just lacked the political power to achieve their aims. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmR5t2RELns

      And as for today, at 2% modal share, UK cycle advocates have the same problem as they did back then. The Dutch never gave up cycling as we have given up in Britain, so we’re not really starting from the same place as the Dutch campaigners were, though there are certainly a lot of lessons we can learn from what they did. You’re right to say we need cycleways to have mass cycling and I think Cartlon agrees with that, but the question is, how to get there politically, from a 2% modal share. Hopefully the new cycleways in London will be a success and this will encourage more British cities to do similarly.
      I’d be interested to know if you have a political strategy for achieving Dutch style cyclceways in the UK in 2015.

      thanks for listening

      Jack

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