The bicycle. A golden opportunity to change gear.
Despite the terrible backdrop of a pandemic, this is truly a golden opportunity to make cycling a serious part of our daily transport. Not just for London, but across our nation’s towns and cities. The reasons are multiple.
By Will Pearson.
Speaking on behalf of a cycling business pedalling since the creation of the bike, we have seen half baked travel policies come and go over the decades. Now is surely the time to change our behaviour, to make cycling a viable means of transport for many, is a £2 billion pot all it's going to take?
We have seen scores of new riders adopt two wheels for their daily exercise, and people migrating from public transport to navigate our roads by bicycle. Many have sensed something good, there is a buzz of opportunity in the air. Tamed traffic, no need to hold breaths to avoid clouds of diesel fumes, could the cycling utopia we have experienced over lockdown become a permanent reality, firmly planting cycling into the lives of our nation?
Customers seem wary of travelling on mass transport and see the humble bike as their solution. Prior to the lockdown, we felt that we must support those needing to travel to work, offering free bike checks and servicing to NHS and front line workers to help keep them moving. We now feel privileged to be given essential service status, inspired by our forefathers who had been tasked the same duty through the great wars. Staff are galvanised and keen to do their bit.
There was no more satisfying an example when an intensive care consultant treating Covid patients, had his bike stolen by some 'do-gooder' whilst on a night shift. Dragging his rusty second bike out of the garden shed, our mechanics set to, pulled it apart, and fitted up with free spare parts from the vaults, sending him on his way in time for the next shift. We are experiencing it daily, it's very real, new and existing cyclists capitalising on the perfect conditions to ride, whatever the cost.
“Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.”
At times of increasingly sedentary lifestyles, obesity and depression, exercise is a good antidote to poor health. Riding a bike for daily transport is good for physical and mental wellbeing, a regular opportunity to lose some calories and find some headspace. We must, however, implement cycling conditions and infrastructure which instils confidence to those nervous about riding in urban areas, or at all.
Clear advantages and safety must also be apparent to those considering swapping sub three-mile car journeys (the majority of traffic in urban areas) to cycling. The school run, the daily commute, the town and around journeys, so many have the potential for change. They’ve also breathed the cleaner air now, anything to reduce pollution attributed to near 40k respiratory deaths annually in the UK, is good for us all, plus eases the ongoing burden on the NHS.
You can always tell a happy cyclist by the amount of flies on their teeth.
Through the years of customer relations and friendships, it's very rare to speak to a customer who isn't fitter, happier, and more positive than when on their bikes, be it for business or pleasure. To convert those car drivers, what's on offer has to be far more attractive than just a leap of faith. The plan must be credible, and one that can convert the doubters to be long term success stories. Never have we viewed from our shop window, so many adults with a young child in tow, ride the usually chaotic London South Circular. Such confidence-inducing conditions must be replicated if such measures are to work across the nation.
“These days, you’ve gotta milk a dollar out of every dime.”
And it doesn't have to blow the pot to begin with. Through the Covid crisis we have seen so many people employ 'frugal innovation', making a little go a long way, common sense thinking. Be it a simple line of cones to mark safe distancing in a queue, the way we have made adaptations to work from home, the activities we have undertaken to keep ourselves occupied. People are thinking smartly, and on their feet, to make the best out of a challenging time. We scheme, we implement, we test, we learn from temporary measures, and then spend hard to make the good become permanent. Our leaders must take heed from this.
The right time, the right place.
Timing is also perfect, coming out of a beautiful spring which has spawned so many new cyclists, and being able to maintain cycling journeys through summer and autumn, will make riding through the darker months more practised and potentially more sustainable. We have a cycle centric PM, the London Major poised to revolutionise active transport, and willing councils across Britain (some already with more advanced cycling infrastructure in place than the capital). All of a sudden the bicycle has become one of the most influential inventions of our time.
Let’s test the government measures, adapt and make permanent the really good things that have emerged from this crisis. At a time when we almost owe it to our essential workers, who have been risking their lives on the front line, to all the people who have obeyed the 'stay at home' guidelines for weeks on end, it is imperative to grasp and hold on to the positives of Covid times. Cycling and wellbeing have never been so important.