Month: April 2015

On why it’s important to make cycling look irresistible

First impressions

First impressions

I’ve finally figured out what it is about that phrase, “cycling’s booming”, that really grinds my gears. It’s a phrase used by advocates to present a message to transport budget holders and policy makers that members of the public are flocking to cycling and they would do so in even bigger numbers with the support of better funding. Meanwhile, the real rate of cycling remains stubbornly in ‘margin of error’ territory.

Claiming that cycling is booming in this way is an ‘inducement’. It’s an effective behaviour management strategy. Teachers and parents use it to great effect all the time. As the word implies, it’s a way of encouraging a desired behaviour to occur.

It works in the home or class setting because the person doing the inducing has leverage; is in a position of power. I love it when children in my classroom try the same strategy on me. It shows a great understanding of the fundamentals of human psychology, even if their sense of their own power in the relationship is misplaced.

Better funding for cycling will come about when transport budget holders and policy makers feel that they can no longer ignore the demands of an expectant public.

Whatever way you look at it, it all leads to the need to make cycling look irresistible. It’s time to go back to the drawing board.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat.

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A light rain had just started to fall

Sun shower

Sun shower 

I climbed the last gentle hill before home. A light rain had just started to fall. As I got to the top, I ducked under a tree for shelter. I didn’t put my rain pants on and carry on home. Instead, I decided to wait for the shower to pass. I looked back to where I had come from. In an instant, the sky had changed dramatically. I dropped my bicycle on the grass, grabbed my camera and ran into the middle of the road.

I love this #nofilter photo. It’s like all the colour’s been drained out.

These days when I’m out and about on my bicycle, I inevitably see an image that I want to capture. It means being observant, stopping often, getting sidetracked and taking longer to get to my destination. The pleasure is all mine and hopefully yours, too.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat.

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12 Questions: How to be a Wheeled Pedestrian

Riding slowly

Challenging perceptions that cycling is only for the fast and sporty.

1. What do I do if it’s raining?  Put on a raincoat and, ride slowly.

2. What do I do if it’s hot?  Wear something light and, ride slowly.

3. What do I do if it’s cold?  Put on something warm and, ride slowly.

4. What do I do if I have things to carry?  Put them on a carrier, in pannier bags or in a basket and, ride slowly.

5. What do I do if it’s hilly where I live?  Get a bike with gears or walk up the steepest part and, ride slowly.

6. What do I do if I want to socialise with friends?  Dress as you would normally and, ride slowly.

7. What do I do if I have to leave my bicycle?  Get a good lock and, ride slowly.

8. What do I do if my friends or neighbours see me riding a bicycle?  Smile, feel smug and, ride slowly.

9. What do I do if water from the road splashes up on me?  Fit mudguards to your bike and, ride slowly.

10. What do I do if I need to be somewhere in a hurry?  Leave earlier and, ride slowly.

11. What do I do if there is a lot of traffic and I don’t feel so safe?  Ride on the footpath when it feels prudent to do so and, ride slowly.

12. What do I do if I’m fashion conscious?  Buy a stylish bicycle, sit up and, ride slowly. Congratulations! You are the real deal.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat.

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It’s time to reclaim the definition of cycling.

Hooning around/Go you good things.

Hooning around/Go you good things.

My friends and I always used bikes when we were growing up.  We were mobile and active from an early age.  From four-wheeled toys, to three-wheeled trikes and then finally onto the full monty; a two-wheeler; a ‘real’ bike.  Eventually this plaything grew into a tool that gave us independence, and opportunities to range further afield.  Oh, the stories, the memories.

When I returned to biking in my adult years it had all changed. It had all become about, you guessed it, sport and recreation. I followed the trend (which suggests that there was an element of choice – but there really wasn’t) though I never recall it ever fitting comfortably with me. I had no interest in kicking tyres and doing the technical talk about equipment, distances and times.

I have since made the transition back to how it all began for me. I no longer feel obliged to feign excitement about cycling. My bicycle serves a purpose. It helps me connect with people and place. I don’t love cycling as such, I do love what it offers.

It’s time to reclaim the definition of cycling.  It’s time to remind ourselves that it can also be just a simple and efficient way for connecting people with places.  Just like a #wheeledpedestrian.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat.

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The simple 4 point argument for why bicycle helmets should not be compulsory.

Helmet Freedom

Helmet Freedom

  1. Riding a bicycle is a healthy activity and people who do so regularly, live longer, on average, than people who do not ride bicycles. Cycling should be encouraged.
  2. Cycling is inherently safe. Laws that make the wearing of helmets compulsory (or any safety equipment, for that matter) present the message that cycling is dangerous and in turn, act as a barrier to people taking up cycling.
  3. Wearing a helmet may of course, reduce the risk to an individual of suffering a head injury in a crash. This logic applies to all activities. But for cycling, that risk needs to be weighed up against the potential to discourage people from participating in such a healthy activity and efficient form of transport. The negative impact of mandating for helmet use is that it undermines the benefits of lots of people cycling slowly like #wheeledpedestrians.
  4. A compulsory helmet law is a convenient smokescreen for inaction on making our roads safer for all users. Safety will come with more people cycling. And more people will cycle if the transport environment is safer. A combination of reduced traffic, reduced speeds and an allocation of space to people on bicycles will achieve that goal. Unless you are participating in a high risk, sporty event, the wearing a helmet while cycling needs to be/remain a choice.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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Biking for a better city.

Hey guys, wait up!

Hey guys, wait up!

I spend too much of my time pondering why it’s so hard to get others to appreciate all the personal and social virtues of riding a bicycle.  Cycling is too often on the receiving end of public and political opprobrium. Unfortunately, the media present cycling as it currently looks (lycra, hi-viz, sweat, helmets, sport), rather than what it actually could be.  That’s not the media’s fault though.

Riding a bicycle is as easy as walking. Well it can be.  In some enlightened cities around the world that’s how large numbers of the population roll.  Pedestrians on wheels; for those short A to B trips. You can also ride a bicycle for sports and recreational purposes.

Bikes are a tool to promote ease of movement as well as a lubricant for interacting with people and place.

Highlighting this distinction between different types of cycling tends to generate criticism for allegedly creating unnecessary divisions.   That is definitely not the intention.  There is no preferred way of cycling.  “I mean, aren’t all cyclists in this together; with the goal of getting more people riding bikes more often?”  Well, yes and no.

All cycling is good cycling, but not all cycling will be equally effective at convincing a sceptical public of the merits of creating an urban environment that embraces the daily use of bicycles.

But there is a conflict of agendas here, and that’s a real barrier when trying to promote the idea of a cyclised city.  I experience this confusion everyday in my personal daily interactions.  And it’s regularly in the media…like here and here.  The public could be forgiven for believing that cycling is for a ‘special interest group’ only.  We don’t want conversations that will distract from any meaningful discussions on the important topics of how do we design our cities.  We don’t want to give politicians an excuse to avoid taking cycling seriously.

Of course, cycling should be available to everyone, young and old.  It should be viewed as a tool to enhance one’s daily city experience.  The bicycle needs to be sold for its potential; as an essential part of the fabric of the city.  Bikes are a tool to promote ease of movement as well as a lubricant for interacting with people and place.  Cycling has a role in creating the great people-centred cities that are being increasingly talked about and desired.  It’s part of a vision that challenges the reality we currently have; of cities built around prioritising the moving of cars.

Be reassured that bicycles will feature prominently in any genuinely people-friendly city. Making cities fit for people is the top priority.  In the meanwhile, won’t you join me in #bikingforabettercity. Sit up, ride slowly and enjoy your city like a #wheeledpedestrian.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat.

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Driven to distraction.

Distracted drivers

Distracted drivers kill

It is not widely known or accepted that the current approach to road safety takes place in a ‘shit happens/blame the victim’ kind of way.  So it would be nice if this latest local campaign was the beginning of a new era; to address the real issues of road safety.  A metaphorical first step in the process of coming to a general consensus around the negative consequences of cars; that road safety is a serious issue and deserves our undivided attention- pun intended.  So this kind of campaign could be the very beginnings of our first, tentative steps at starting that process.  Could be…

It’s how the anti-smoking lobby has worked so effectively. It’s about using peer pressure to change behaviour.

In terms of making a real difference, this kind of campaign is a ‘soft option’ and low level initiative but a necessary first step to any improvements.  Let me explain.  There is already a large number of drivers who understand the risks to themselves and other road users, and drive appropriately (given that the road infrastructure is designed in a way that is like an open invitation to drive too fast and unforgiving of errors).

There is also a large group of drivers who identify themselves as law abiding citizens but, due to a pervasive culture of casualness, do not take the issue of driving as seriously as it needs to be.  This is the group that this kind of campaign targets because they can be taught to drive slowly, safely and respectfully. It’s this group that can help shift the balance towards a social contract that makes that kind of behaviour normal.

…most importantly, roads need to be re-engineered to physically discourage speeding.

It’s how the anti-smoking lobby has worked so effectively. It’s about using peer pressure to change behaviour. Being smoke-free is presented as something that is normal and desirable.  And get celebrities to start supporting the cause.  (Let’s clarify something first; hands-free car phones are not safe like Kerre suggests).  But of course, I hear ya… a media campaign alone will never be enough.  It needs to followed up by intense police intervention and enforcement.  The police need to be ready and able to counter the inevitable backlash of ‘waging a war on motorists’ and just focused on revenue gathering.  This is not a victory to be won over night.  Backlash should be expected.

And of course, policies and laws such as reduced speed limits and tougher driving tests need to be introduced and most importantly, roads need to be re-engineered to physically discourage speeding.  Good public transport that is inexpensive, fast and efficient also needs to be provided as an alternative to driving.  Cycling and walking needs to be made safe and accessible to all.  It is a massive issue and change needs  to be made systematically and strategically.  There is too much at stake.

There is a third category of drivers that unfortunately, will be harder to shift.  It is that minority of drivers who don’t respond to normal behavioural cues.  The industries of big tobacco, big oil and big car have done their job so well.  Seriously.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that I can see the future.  I am going to predict the effectiveness of this campaign based on the experience of the last one.  I hope my prediction is wrong.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat.

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.