This article was published in 2022, in Magazine 155.
Cycling is freedom, freedom is everything. That may be quite a dramatic way to start an article, but it’s true for me now and always has been. At age nine I’d had enough. No longer did I want to be at the mercy of my mum’s and dad’s frankly appalling timing. After six months of ‘campaigning’ I got my way and at the age of ten was allowed to cycle to school by myself. I think my mum was equally worried and bemused: firstly the route was busy with cars, and secondly my dad who worked at the school would be driving regardless. Yet no longer would I be reliant upon them, freedom called, and I needed to hit the road.
The 2.5-mile journey felt gigantic to ten-year-old me, with two massive hills to contend with (at least twice as high as Castle Hill) and about five friends’ houses to call upon, it was quite an adventure. I even started my infrastructure campaigning, with the school soon installing new sheltered bike racks. Those memories are so vivid to me, and the whole summer spent building mud jumps and feeling free on my bike was magical. In this job I’m going to try and channel that ten-year-old version of myself. Stubborn, determined and demanding freedom for my friends.
Then suddenly, aged eleven, my bike commute was gone, my secondary school being only a stone’s throw from my house. The benefit of this was obvious, I could now enjoy waking up moments before the bell and sneaking home every time I forgot my gym kit. The negative was that my bike fell away from my daily life. I still rode on occasion, but things change quickly at that age. Before too long I had outgrown my bike and I looked to my older siblings beginning to drive and having that freedom I still craved.
I tried through the years to integrate the bike into my daily life. A few times I cycled to my first job. A five-mile ride, mostly within centimetres of the A43. On the first attempt I had two punctures due to debris. In another attempt I tried a cross-country route, only to be confronted with rutted mud tracks, ‘private’ signs and angry farm dogs. The final straw came when a car violently pulled across my route, forcing me to stop and verbally abusing me. It still feels sore talking about that moment all these years on and what a negative impact it had on me. There is no disputing that cycling can be tough in our current world, and for many, including myself at the time, too much of a challenge to overcome.
However, thanks to various trips to the Netherlands and Belgium in my early twenties, I knew things could be different. I remember cycling on almost endlessly smooth, tree-lined canal paths and the throngs of bikes in the historical squares in cities like Bruges, Rotterdam and Amsterdam.
Then fortuitously I moved to Cambridge. The city gave me a route back in. But this time I had some damage to undo, as for the first six months I would cycle to the pub and city centre, yes, but work was too much, too far, plus I had a shiny car. It took six months for the traffic jams to take their toll and from 1 January (the only new year’s resolution I’ve ever stuck to) I cycled to work. It wasn’t easy, a 13-mile round trip took some getting used to, the first week was hard and the second week showed no signs of easing up. Then something amazing happened, I fell in love. Yes, dramatic I know, but there’s no other way of putting it. The morning ride would get me set for the day, a moment to myself, as opposed to half an hour raging at the traffic. On the way home it gave me a moment to switch off and forget the stresses of the day. My headspace was better, and my physical health improved drastically. Cambridge showed me a way to live life differently and I was loving it!
Cambridge showed me a way to live life differently and I was loving it!
In 2018 I was accepted into that year’s cohort for Engineering for Sustainable Development, a Master’s at Cambridge University. The programme aims to produce engineers who can lead change with the understanding and skills necessary to conceive and deliver fitting solutions to society’s needs and to address global challenges. It did so much more than that though: for me it was a life-changing experience, and I learnt every day from fellow students, from all over the world, striving to make a difference. My thesis focused on the delivery of future urban spaces, particularly considering car-free development and the role of walking, cycling and public transport.
During this time the bike had gone from an important part of my life to somewhat defining. I began enjoying cycle touring, I’ve completed a solo Land’s End to John O’Groats (LeJog) as well as rides in Jordan and the Netherlands. I was less than a month away from starting a cycle and Trans-Siberian train ride to Tokyo for the Olympics. Alas, Covid-19 hit and then I was cycling LeJog again before the North Coast 500 and Coast to Coast and last autumn from London to Glasgow for COP26. I’ve still got the tan from my recent trip to Mallorca. I love the variety of a cycling holiday and the pleasure of travelling great distances under your own steam.
I believe that walking and cycling are the two key activities that, if fully understood, unlock the fabric of the built environment and allow us to create healthy and sustainable communities. To do this, we must challenge land-use policy and master planning, which is, for the most part, still dominated by a car-centric approach. We also need community-led design, where we truly listen and understand local needs. This is where I hope I can make a difference through our Zero Carbon Streets campaign.
After barely a month in my role as Camcycle’s Infrastructure Campaigner, I’d clocked up nearly 250km on the job. I’ve spoken to people from across the region, listening to their concerns and local issues. I’ve seen the darker side with developers trying to sell local communities short and I’ve been energised through meeting so many wonderful people in Camcycle. I still pinch myself every day that this is my job and I regularly remind my friends who cycle that I’m actually a ‘professional cyclist’. I’m here for everyone in this community, to share my knowledge and help envisage better places for our future, so please reach out, say hi, drop me an email, give me a wave, ask me a question!