This article was published in 2015, in Newsletter 120.
Following on from my article in Newsletter 118 I wondered if young people who cycle to school actually wish to do so, or whether it is merely a matter of necessity. I’ve friends who have a teenage son who is now at Long Road Sixth Form College, so thought I’d quiz him on transport matters as I know he has ridden a bike around Cambridge for several years now.
How old were you when you started cycling regularly and what sort of distances?
I started cycling to school around the age of ten. But when I started secondary school, cycling to school was great for socialising because we could all go off and play on our bikes without our parents. We got into BMXing and did a lot of cycling. Distance-wise, it was a couple of miles to primary school, only half a mile to secondary, whereas sixth-form college is five miles away. I’ll cycle up to 15 miles for work or social purposes.
Do you feel you have advantages over people who don’t cycle?
I have much more free time because I don’t have to wait around for buses. I have more freedom to do whatever, whenever. I only wish I had taken the bus or been driven when it is raining or windy, otherwise I would much rather cycle. It gives me so much more independence. If I didn’t cycle then travelling to work would take much longer, and also it means I can be a flexible worker because I am only relying on myself for transport. It means I can be very active socially as I can meet up with friends whenever I want, and go out at any time. It means that my friends and I can go and enjoy the city fully by exploring places on bikes. Also it’s great for things like going to the pub in the evening and going to gigs that finish late at night.
When I was at college cycling was very unpopular. What’s the culture like for college students nowadays?
Cycling is generally the ‘norm’ to get to and from college if you live in Cambridge. I’ve noticed that people who don’t live in Cambridge and travel from further afield do see it as a weird thing, but I just feel sorry for them because they don’t know the freedom they are missing out on. I didn’t do it on purpose but pretty much 98% of my friends are like me in the way that we cycle everywhere, although I do notice in other groups of people my age that cycling isn’t so much of a thing. The whole fixed-gear thing has really taken off and it is seen as a fashionable thing to have at the moment, so there are a lot more people my age getting into cycling because of this. I have three bikes for different riding. I’ve got a mountain bike for going on muddy rides through fields and trails. I have a fixed-gear bike for town riding and for going to college and work on. I also have a racer that I use for longer rides and touring.
Many young people also want to learn to drive. Do you find cycling changes your perspectives on driving a car?
I think that riding a bike makes you more in tune with everything because you are outside in the elements. Riding a bike is definitely part of a free way of life that people who don’t cycle wouldn’t understand. I am learning to drive. I do feel that already being confident on the roads as a cyclist has helped me as a driver because I know how to deal with situations and other vehicles on the road. It also means that I am very considerate with cyclists, for example giving them lots of room, holding back and not intimidating them.
Will you continue to cycle in the future, even when you have learned to drive?
If I decide to buy a car I would still much rather cycle on a day-to-day basis for journeys around town. I would only ever need the car for when the weather is terrible or if I need to travel a long distance. But I would still rather take my bike on a train for a long journey, to be honest.
I thought these were some very refreshing answers, especially the realisation that if you can cycle everywhere, you are your own boss in terms of time and organisation. What disturbed me, from a campaigning point of view, was discovering that classmates who use the bus by necessity haven’t ‘got’ the reason why those who can cycle, do so. If those distant colleagues were to find themselves living in a place where cycling was the obvious choice for most transport, would they choose it? It is promising that a large proportion of young people are already using a bicycle as a useful and liberating form of transport, but how do we sell this viewpoint to others? Young people who grow up reliant on motorised transport by necessity need to discover that, if circumstances change, cycling can be the most practical solution. Many of these young people will end up moving away for university or jobs. How can we encourage this young man to take his practical lifestyle choice with him when he moves away, and to possibly market cycling to those who may never have thought of it?