According to Wikipedia, a ‘Parallel universe or alternative reality is a self-contained separate reality coexisting with one’s own….Fantasy has long borrowed the idea of “another world” from myth, legend and religion. Heaven, Hell, Olympus, Valhalla are all “alternative universes” different from the familiar material realm’. I would also like to tentatively add cycling.
To seasoned cyclists, the World of cycling is a vast one. It’s a World of touring, mountain biking, commuting and racing. Of hybrids, recumbents, fixed wheels, hub gears, single speeds, drop bars, carbon, steel and child seats. Of Bromptons and Moultons and old classic Bikertons. Of segregation, integration, helmets, high viz and ‘cycle chic’. All of this is passionately discussed and debated on cycling websites, forums, blogs, twitter accounts and the good old printed press.
But take just one small side step away from that World, and the average Briton can be happily and totally ignorant of cycling for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t take a lot to make that side step; just looking at the busy roads around where they live usually does it. And then going indoors.
If you were to walk up to a non-cyclist in the street with a clipboard and, once you’ve convinced them that you’re not after any money, ask them why they don’t cycle, the main reason will be that the roads are too dangerous.
And that is where you should conclude your survey.
You could lead them to all sorts of statistics. You can point out that the health benefits of cycling outweigh the dangers. But the same can be said for running with the Bulls in Pamplona – If you run through the streets as a large group, you achieve a critical mass so when the Bull goes charging in only a small percentage get injured.
You could ask them to consider the fact that by driving, they are part of the problem. But the majority of Britons are happy not to ‘rock the boat’, to be a part of the silent majority whilst silently praying that the cost of motoring doesn’t escalate too much. Many would love to cycle, they really would. But they simply don’t know how to start or who to ask for advice or they simply haven’t got the time. And besides, the roads are too dangerous.
It doesn’t matter what the per mile rates for cycling death or injury is. You can train all the adults and children that you like to ride bicycles. But if the roads around them look dangerous, all that effort would have been wasted and some more bicycles are left rusting in sheds. Cycle Campaigners simply cannot grasp the fact that there are many people in the UK that have never cycled. At all. Not just ‘never cycled on a Brooks saddle’, I mean never cycled. What’s worse is that unless campaign organisations start understanding the magnitude of the problem, many more people may never experience the fun and liberation of cycling either.
My 12 mile commute to work is along the A259 from Worthing to Brighton. As I’ve written before, although it quite a wide road in places, it’s very busy with the infamous school runs and white van men and lots of HGV’s serving Shoreham Port. I passed my cycling proficiency in 1979. I’ve raced Mountain Bikes at World Cup level, I’ve helped teach beginners how to ride, I’ve commuted through Central London and through open countryside for years and yet I still find that stretch of road quite hostile. At work, my non-cycling colleagues hold me in the same regard as the Jackass team. To reiterate, this is just for riding a bicycle.
If you need further evidence that the roads are dangerous, then you need look no further than that doyen of local newspaper letters pages, the pavement cyclist. These will generally be novice cyclists that find a particular piece of road intimidating (maybe based on how they drive it) or believe that they can cycle on any pavement because the council has painted a bicycle symbol on some of them so it must be alright. Many pavement cyclists simply don’t want to be classified as cyclists or be bound by any of the laws of the land such as lights, reflectors or being the bicycle’s lawful owner.
The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club believes that two things have to happen in the UK; there has to be seismic change away from draconian car-centric policy (in particular the misguided notion that motoring is the key to sustainable growth, jobs and prosperity) to open up our cities, towns and countryside alike, and there has to be a combination of speed reduction and infrastructure based preferably on the Dutch model (meaning a combination of methods creating a subjectively safe segregated cycle network). Above all, Government Departments and local councils have to realise what the definition of ‘Sustainable transport’ actually is (Hint: not widening or extending roads). If this doesn’t happen, then cycling will remain a counter-cultural curiosity, something that can be held at arms length and forgotten as easily as Cycling England.
There have been massive debates on blogs recently about such issues as segregation versus vehicular cycling or adopting Strict Liability laws such as in most of mainland Europe. Lots of great stuff was discussed by some very knowledgeable and lovely people. But if I was to discuss these issues with my wife’s friends or with acquaintances in my old village local, they would look at me as though I was from a parallel universe. If cycling in Britain limps along its current path, it might as well be.