Sunday 21 September 2014

'Responsible Family Cycling" is what is wrong with Britain's Cycling culture

Spot the common theme

1. The manufacturers of "mid tier" bicycles saying they haven't seen a boom in their product sales. Mid tier is defined as "some form of on-road bike between supermarket and MAMIL", ignoring women roadies and other apparently niche groups.

People are interested in cycling but it's not correct to say cycling is booming in the UK. In our part of the market, which is mainly mums and dads going out for a ride with the family, we haven't seen the same effect. There's not a massive uplift in cycling across the country."

The weather was blamed (this year) for being too hot:

"Without making excuses, if it's baking hot would you go and get on your bike? You would probably want to sit in your garden and have a barbecue.

2. The New Forest NPA trying to think of things to do with the money so the DfT doesn't take it back, and proposing some out-of-forest cycling hub, —and repeatedly using the phrase "responsible family cycling" in their press releases to define what they support: families cycling around not holding up locals or causing any annoyances. It explicitly excludes groups of adult cyclists, and implicitly the notion of "cycling as a transport option".

3. Sustrans promoting "traffic free cycle paths" with books showing their named routes.

The common theme: the notion of cycling as a leisure activity, one that families do sometimes at weekends, often by driving out to some special car-free path so rare it has to have a name.

As such, it epitomises what the "Cycling Culture" is in Britain. for families, its something you can do together —you just have to drive somewhere where the adults feel that it is safe for the kids to cycle.

For Sustrans, it's where to showcase the project they have worked on -the great railway to path conversions, which, lovely as they are, are not the cross-nation car free routes they've envisaged. They are so rare they have names, and so unique in Britain that people do drive long distances to visit them. As a result, work on new routes, such as Chepstow to Tintern, can crippled due to local's fears they will increase car parking pressure, something which has now been held up since at least 2007.
 Think about that: resistance to new bike routes because it will increase visitors wanting somewhere to park. How fucking NIMBY can you get? Yet they have a point: family leisure cycling is about driving somewhere for a safe and pleasant ride. And with projects focused on "family leisure cycling", they fail to sell themselves to locals, who view the cycle routes as an inconvenience rather than an opportunity for their own benefit.

Ignoring the fuckwits at the NPA, Dawes are interesting. As well as their classic tourers (currently out of fashion), some of their bikes seem non-aggressive urban bikes, with baskets and mud guards. But look at some of the others: "Hybrid" bikes, where hybrid means "Comes with shit suspension for for no reason except it is what people have come to expect from a bike that goes along gravel tow paths".

Those are the bikes targeted at "responsible family cycling", which is what, to a large proportion of the country, cycling is viewed as.

  1. Those monday morning "what the fuck are cyclists doing in my way in the rush hour" twitter haters cannot conceive of somebody actually cycling for anything other than a hobby.
  2. The New Forest NPA can't conceive of cycling facilities to benefit locals, so instead are rushing to fritter away their cash on family cycling out of the way of those locals.
  3. The ongoing battle for a Tintern Path where the locals fear those families coming and causing congestion or taking away parking spaces.
  4. Dawes complaining that bike sales were down as families would prefer BBQs.
And think about what that cycling culture isn't about
  1. Families cycling with their kids to school.
  2. Kids cycling to school on their own.
  3. Weekend family leisure rides they can do straight out their front door, rather than having to load up the car and drive somewhere safe to cycle.
  4. Cycling to work being anything other than a niche activity for the bold -usually young male- cyclist.
  5. Mass market bicycles being practical tools, rather than hybrid bikes that are neither a mountain bike or a useful urban bike.
It's not that there's anything fundamentally wrong with family leisure cycling —it is just what we get in Britain is broken. A system has developed wherein the leisure cycling is pushed into the places where the cyclists don't hold up traffic —but instead now the volume of leisure cyclists is itself perceived as the problem.

It has dug itself into a rut of leisure cycling, where the infrastructure and bicycles are optimised to match.

As the Dutch, the Danish and the Germans will point out: it doesn't have to be this way.