Everyday I am reminded that a normalised version of cycling is a long way from being realised. I know this to be true because colleagues, friends and even members of my extended family still define me and refer to me as a ‘cyclist’ in a way they would refer to a Tour de France cyclist. For example, a colleague offered me some cycling shirts the other day. The stretchy, highly advertised ones that you wear with lycra shorts when riding fast on a bicycle that weighs less than 100 grams. He thought I would have a use for them. Because I’m a cyclist.
I also get, ‘where’s your hi-viz vest?’ Or, ‘are you doing the Taupo ride this year?’
If random people were asked to draw a picture or describe in words their version of a cyclist, I reckon the sports/recreational/vehicularist version would be the most common response.
My teaching colleagues talk in terms of cyclists being two-wheeled versions of motor vehicles. They teach children about cycle safety but ignore the fact that knowing how to secure a helmet correctly or how to do a hand signal on a school field will not slow down motorists or convince parents that riding a bicycle to school is a safe option.
There’s a rule of thumb in the teaching business that says when you are trying to modify a particular behaviour, you need to provide as many as ten positive statements before making a corrective statement. The positive statements help build up a strong relationship that then allows you to nudge the behaviour into the direction you want it go.
It’s this kind of thinking that needs to be applied to changing people’s perception of cycling. The public are the target that need to be nudged into seeing cycling as something that is a normal, everyday activity. Imagery and words matter.
Efforts at growing ‘everyday’ cycling seem directed at current cyclists and seem to assume that the non-cycling public are already aware that cycling is an easy and functional transport tool, well suited to short journeys. I say, assume nothing.
Presenting the general public with models and imagery of wheeled pedestrian style cycling will also have the impact of decreasing public resistance to the building of the necessary infrastructure like cycle ways, or introducing supportive transport policies like slowing traffic down.
‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.
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