Opinion: Help someone begin their cycling journey by showing them the way

Robin Heydon (top); Time flies when you’re having fun: the ride along the river to Fair Street and on to the Grafton Centre went quickly for the person who was new to cycling (bottom)

Image as described adjacent
Image as described adjacent

I was chatting to somebody the other day about travelling around Cambridge. This person pretty much always drives, even if they are just popping to the local shops barely five minutes walk away from their house. Now, they know I cycle a lot so they probably expected the question ‘Why don’t you just cycle to the shops?’.

‘It is too dangerous. Those cars pass too close. There is nowhere to park. It is too far to cycle. It is just too easy to drive, and the parking is free, and I don’t have to worry about other people hitting me as I have a big metal box to protect me.’

This became a challenge. I asked them to pick a place that they would not cycle to and then I’d offer to show them the way on our bikes. They chose the Grafton Centre, stating that they were not even going anywhere near Elizabeth Way bridge on their bike, or that roundabout where they admitted they even felt a little intimidated in their car. I replied saying, ‘yeah, whatever’. They looked at me a little concerned and I continued, ‘it will be fine. Tomorrow, 11am. Here. OK?’ They nodded, and I went on my way.

The next day, I arrived at the same location and watched them walk their bike up. They repeated that they didn’t want to cycle along the roads because they are too dangerous. I said, ‘well, we do have to go down there’, pointing down a tiny little side road as, conveniently, a rather larger than average lady rode past. ‘If she is happy to cycle down there, why can’t you?’ They agreed, and we set off.

We went at a very slow pace, but comfortable. People were overtaking us, mainly people on cycles. We turned left, and right, and then right, and then left. And then left down a cycleway to a bridge over the river. My friend said, ‘Where are we?’ So we stopped, and I explained where we where and where we were going. ‘Oh, I never even knew this
bridge existed. It wasn’t here when
I moved into town.’

We then cycled along the river. I rode at their side, chatting. All of a sudden we were cycling up the slight hill away from the river, and then crossed over Maids Causeway and we were on Fair Street. At the corner we stopped and dismounted. OK, we are here, and look at all those cycle parking spaces. ‘What already? It takes longer than that just to drive up the ramps in the car park.’

The next day I got a huge thank you message saying that they really enjoyed the ride, and being shown the way. And they wanted to know how to get to the Grand Arcade next.

Do you know somebody like this? Somebody who drives because that’s what they’ve been doing for ages? Somebody who has a cycle, and used to ride but doesn’t anymore because they don’t know the best way to go? Just ask them if they’d like to go somewhere they’d normally drive and instead show them the way with them on a cycle. Take it slow, be patient, and be supportive.

Robin Heydon is Chair of Camcycle. This article was first published on 17 June in the Cambridge News and online at cambridge-news.co.uk, where you can read his column each week.

Find out more about how to encourage new people to start cycling in Cycling to Work: how to get your colleagues cycling on page 45.