Why do we do it?

This article was published in 2012, in Newsletter 100.

Image as described adjacent

Blogger Rob Ainsley recently wrote that he wasn’t a cycling campaigner but he was glad that there were beardy people in sandals who were, so that he didn’t have to be.

Granted, there may be a bit of beardiness around, but some very clever people devote lots of their time to improving cyclists’ lot. Why?

For the last few years, in my wonderful and privileged position at Cycling England, I worked alongside some intelligent, personable, and even well-dressed people (and in one particular case, all three rolled into one) who share a passion for getting more people cycling. Not to mention Cambridge Cycling Campaign, where it never ceases to amaze me how much time and energy a few dedicated people spend, for absolutely no reward and very little thanks or recognition, trying to improve things for the many.

Back to why? What is it about cycling that’s so special that it makes all these people go to such extraordinary lengths? I think they fall into three camps (if you discount the few who do it just for a living – yes, there are some): the Greenies, the Meanies and the Keenies.

What is it about cycling that makes people go to such extraordinary lengths?

The Greenies are pretty obvious. You can spot them by their T-shirts or the stickers on their bikes. For the ‘one less car’ group, it’s pretty obvious why they devote energy to getting other people on bikes. At a formative age, they probably saw a picture of a polar bear stranded on an ice floe and, let’s face it, as a way to save the planet*, cycling is more interesting than roof insulation.

The Meanies can’t understand why anyone would pay £1.39 for a litre of diesel when you can kit yourself out from beanie to cleat at Aldi for less than it costs to park at the Grand Arcade for 2 hours.

The Keenies are a simple bunch: they just love cycling or just love bikes, or sometimes both. Frankly, I think they’re just lazy and the reason they love bikes and cycling is because it’s so easy that it feels like cheating. The most efficient form of transport ever invented is almost too good to be true and these people – even more than the others – tend to smile a lot, which can unfortunately and unintentionally appear a bit like smugness to the uninitiated.

Each group tends to project its own motivations onto the yet-to-be-converted. So the Meanies use economic arguments to persuade people, the Greenies tug at the carbon conscience and the Keenies, well, they just can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t.

I realise this rather frivolous analysis of the Bike Society (sorry!) misses out the ‘health’ group, but, frankly, I’m not sure many people cycle mainly because it’s good for their health. That’s a by-product, not a primary motivation. Just as each group can co-opt the arguments of the others, so all of them can play the health card, but it’s not their ace.

Pondering my own motivation: not so much as to why I cycle myself, but why I devote my working life to getting other people to cycle too, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just the sheer joy of it that I want to spread. This makes me sound dangerously like a missionary or, to some, a nutter. But running Bikeability has given me the chance to see the look on children’s faces as they discover for the first time the miracle of physics that is cycling.

So, for whichever reason you do it, enjoy riding your bike in 2012 and try to persuade a non-cycling friend to do it too. Saves time, saves money, saves the planet, saves going to the gym, saves your sanity and feeds the child within.

Paul Robison

*For ‘save the planet’, read ‘save the human race’. Mother Earth is big enough to take care of herself.