This isn’t a great post. It’s disjointed and a bit rambling. I mostly wrote it because I’ve been having a really bad day at work and needed to change my mental scenery for a bit. I’m really passionate about sustainable transport. Particularly bikes, trains and NOT flying or driving much and I have a bunch of thoughts on how to get from a world where we drive way more than we ride and where we fly when we could be taking the train. It turns out they’re not very structured and that I should put them into a whole series of posts rather than bounce around between them like some kind of sustainable transport pinball. So I apologise but this one’s really for me, not you.
I get most of my clothes from the marvellous people at howies. Their philosophy is that getting out there and doing things is brilliant and you should be able to go play in whatever you happen to have put on so alot of their clothes are designed with being active in mind. They also like cheery/quirky/motivational messages (though my favourite t shirts of theirs that I still have just say Aberteifi and Thanks respectively). I mention them because they made the picture here and put it on t shirts.
Now, I’m from West Yorkshire. I went to primary school at the top of a hill. One of my worst memories from that time was having to get off and push to get to school when we were doing our cycling proficiency (and being told off for an inadequately oiled chain – some things never change). Point being, I understand that Britain isn’t the Netherlands or Denmark but plenty of people live where it is more than flat enough to use a bike as one of their main modes of transport.
In transport circles, there is an idea that there is a critical mass around cycling. Once enough people start to do it, it becomes mainstream. Councils have to start providing decent infrastructure, drivers start to look out for cyclists in their mirrors because the chances are there will often be one there. Of course, in Britain we don’t have a very good cycling for transport network so there are alot of places where to get from A to B on a bike you have to share the road with motor traffic. This is where it gets a bit chicken-and-egg because while cyclists have to habitually share road space with things that can kill or seriously injure them, many people will give it a miss thanks.
My mum for example lives just a mile and a bit from the school where she works. If she wants to ride there she would have to take to the road, a fair bit of which is 60mph national speed limit zones. Unusually, the town where she lives is laid out with plenty of open space next to most roads and space to put a separated cycle path between the road and the pedestrian pavement, just like you see in places like Copenhagen which are always being praised as shimmering beacons of cycling infrastructural achievement.
If these were there, A nice, dignified sit-up-and-beg with a step through frame and the weight of a baby elephant would be perfect for getting from home to school in fifteen minutes without working up a sweat (you can’t go fast enough on those, believe me I have tried) and with a basket on the front or a pannier at the back to carry lunch, laptop and maybe some papers.
Instead, she takes the car. She has just a little more than would be comfortable to carry on foot but on a bike would be able to let the wheels take the strain.
This is a pretty typical example of a journey that could be made by bike. If the infrastructure was there, some people who are too sensible to mix it with the cars would be able to switch their journeys over to the bike. Over 80% of journeys of between two and five miles in the UK are by car. That’s journeys of between ten minutes and half an hour on a bike. In 80% of cases, we are using cars to make a journey that would take half an hour at most on a bike. Most of those journeys don’t need a car. They aren’t ferrying more than one or two people about and they aren’t moving loads of stuff. When I do my weekly shopping I bang my big panniers on the back of the bike and ride to the supermarket. Now I’m only buying food for myself but if it was for a family then I’d either go along with the missus or take a tag-along trailer to give me the extra capacity I need.
There are reasons why even with decent infrastructure you wouldn’t want to swap bike for car. In winter it can be pretty horrible – dark, cold, wet even with the right clothes it’s not alot of fun and being overtaken by a gritting truck is one of life’s less pleasant experiences. If it’s raining you need waterproof clothes or a stoic constitution and sometimes it’s just a bloody long way.
So cycling isn’t for everyone and it doesn’t have to be for life, if you only want to ride when the weather’s nice that’s fine too but we need to get to a point in this country where riding bikes is something you don’t stop doing when you discover girls and cider but is another good alternative to taking the car.
Every once in a while, there’s a stupid story in the media about “zombie cyclists” riding around with their iPods on terrorizing pedestrians. Now, I know there are some cyclists who do this but they are completely mental! If you haven’t got eyes in the back of your head, the only way you know if something is coming up behind you is to use your ears. Hearing is almost more important than seeing when you are riding in traffic. So while I love music and I love riding bikes I never mix the two because it is a really bad idea.
The same goes for driving. Sure, you have the car radio and you can listen to music or teach yourself german tapes or whatever but you sure as hell can’t read a book or a magazine or check Facebook or Twitter while you’re driving any more than you could while riding a bike (unless you are a showoff like this guy). That’s what public transport is for! I take the train alot and I get through my morning skim through the BBC News and the papers and what have you and then I get on with the book that I’m reading, all the while trapped in my own headphoney world of music.
- Bikes are for anyone who isn’t going far, who maybe has to carry a bit more stuff than they could on foot and who either has a decent local bike path network or is willing to play in the street like when they were young.
- Buses and trains are for people who want to read and get knowledge and culture while travelling.
- Cars are for people who have to go really far and who can’t or won’t do exercise and read books.