The image of cycling is changing



We have seen marked increases in cycling in Cambridge, as in London and elsewhere. The city and county councils are both supporting the ‘Cities fit for Cycling’ campaign, with no councillor voting against the motion. The obesity epidemic and lack of exercise make alarm bells ring. Truly the image of cycling is changing and more people are recognising the benefits of cycling, with councillors highlighting personal freedom, health benefits and the bike as a relief from rising fuel prices.

But it seems that a lot of people who never cycle have very strong opinions about what cyclists look like and what they should wear. Unfortunately, as well as as having low levels of cycling, this country suffers from large numbers of drivers with no experience of cycling, which may distort public views.

Some descriptions of cyclists cater for controversy. Jeremy Clarkson wrote in a Sunday Times supplement (8 April 2012):

‘In Britain cycling is a political statement. You have a camera on your helmet so that motorists who carve you up can be pilloried on YouTube. You have shorts. You have a beard and an attitude. You wear a uniform.’

Damian Thompson wrote in a Daily Telegraph column (20 April 2012):

‘I enjoyed the rant by John Griffin, Addison Lee’s chairman, who reckons cyclists are making the roads more dangerous. I agree, but that’s only one of their crimes. Many’s the dinner party ruined by the arrival of the last guest: a helmet-clad cyclist stinking of sweat and self-righteousness …’

And then there is a constant stream of letters in the Cambridge News complaining about cyclists without hi-viz or helmets, some even claiming this to be illegal, which of course it is not.

In places with higher levels of cycling and where cycling feels safe such opinions would be completely alien (as Mr Clarkson himself observed in Copenhagen). Cambridge is developing a growing number of routes where beginners and less confident cyclists can feel safe, e.g. the Coton Path, the Shelford to Addenbrooke’s path, the Snakey and Tins Paths, the Millennium Path and Haling Way, the St Ivo and Great Kneighton Cyclebahn, and it appears all parties with representatives on the council are committed to building the Chisholm Trail from the Science Park to Cambridge station. Observing cyclists on such segregated paths it seems that cycling in Cambridge looks a lot more relaxed, safe and sensible (like in Holland or Denmark) than it is described in some parts of the national media.

In order to document the image of cycling I have been taking pictures of cycling commuters in Cambridge at rush hour during the Easter holidays and I will try to complement these with pictures throughout the year. See the Everyday Cyclists gallery at http://cycle.st/g206

But where can we go from here and what else can we do to improve the image of cycling and cyclists? Cambridge Cycling Campaign needs more people to campaign actively, e.g. in subject-specific sub-groups, to ensure that the standards of cycling infrastructure improve. If you need support or information on specific concerns please contact the members list or a committee member.

Klaas Brümann

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