Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Has Bike Week Got it Wrong?

Eek! That's probably a controversial heading for a bike blog in the UK. Bike week is a week of dedicated events held across the UK with the aim of promoting cycling. It has big backers, plenty of celebrity participants and is generally thought of as a good thing in cycling circles.

So what am I on about?

Cycling is on the increase in the UK, and a lot of that upsurge is due to commuting cyclists, like myself. I personally came to a moment in my life where I had a choice: buy a car or buy a bike. I chose bike and have never looked back. So if we want to make a difference, if we want to get more people out of cars and on to bikes we need to focus our efforts on those who currently drive to work. Those who don't yet have a bike, or haven't even yet considered buying one.

Great, so what is bike week doing to encourage these drivers out of their cars?

I searched on  the bike week website for events within 20 miles of my work in Glasgow. This is what I came up with:

Family fun Charity rides x2
Off road cycle rides x2
Donate an old bike day
Cycle Festival (not held in bike week and I was at it!)
Primary School Ride Event
Big Bike Day (Country Park)
Sponsored ride event

Every one of these events is great and does help to promote cycling generally, but it is mostly preaching to the converted and is not in any way aimed at promoting cycling as a viable form of transport.

Of course there are some events not in Glasgow aimed at commuting cyclists, however, almost the majority of them and free breakfasts for cycle commuters, and free maintenance, again all aimed at the converted.

Who's fault is that? It's probably our fault. Bike week depends on us, cyclists with an interest in campaigning and promoting cycling, coming up with ideas and doing the work to make it happen. So well done to those who have and are organising events! I just feel that to make a difference we need to change the focus. We need to show those who haven't even considered cycling before, that it isn't only an option, but it is often by far the best option.

How do we do that? I certainly don't have all the answers, but I am starting to think through a few ideas, one of which is here. I'm going to be working on that idea and a few others over the next couple of months.

So come on cyclists, especially those that have converted from car driving to cycling, what is that made you switch? How can we encourage others to do the same?


  1. What helped me get into cycling was the support of a good friend. She accompanied me on some of my early journeys - and almost every time I was going to a new destination and got nervous about the route. It made a real difference to my confidence about cycling on the roads and to my perception about what was achievable.

  2. That's true Ruth. Even though I am a bit of a risk taker, I was still nervous about starting my cycling to work. In fact at first I used a few pavements here and there! :-o Now, having the experience I think nothing of filtering through 2 lanes of traffic.
    We can't expect beginners to do that from the start. Bike buddy schemes are a good idea, but I don't think there are many around. I wonder if there is a website advertising bike buddies...I'll need to search. :-)

  3. In Vancouver, for bike to work week, the organizers set up very visible Celebration Stations all over the city where riders can get free breakfast, swag, and enter contests. They put the Celebration Stations in places very visible to bus and car commuters, so they have to watch all us riders getting free goodies :-)

  4. I have also thought that these events don't seem to actually encourage people to use bikes to get to work or to get around in general, they seem to promote it more as a leisure activity.
    I like Alexwarrior's suggestion of handing out snakcs, etc to commuters in places where motorists will be able to see. Got to make people think it's more fun than sitting in a car.

  5. While I agree in part that all bike week is doing is preaching to the converted I don't think the issue is quite as black and white as that.

    There is nothing wrong about preaching to the converted, or giving them events, the trick is to get them to talk loudly about the events they are going to, how safe fun and friendly they are.

    Sure that means 'new' cyclists might not take part this year or start as a direct result. However the increased visibility of cycling it generates increases the chances of them converting.

    I know from my experiences with 30 days of biking and talking about cycling constantly, I've reminded many others how fun it is. Due to this sort of advocacy a co-worker has recently gotten a bike again for the first time since he was 18 and has been using it regularly too. I'm calling that a win.

  6. Hi Guys,

    Thanks for the comments. Visibility is key, specifically visibility to those who currently have no exposure to cycling and thus don't even consider it. Road side events are a good idea, certainly something worth looking into. Placing them at the side of main commuter routes would be ideal. They could be a bit like feed stops at sportives! :-) I might just investigate this.

    3Vince as I said in my tweet to you, you are absolutely right. The trickle effect does work. I know people have been encouraged to cycle to work having seen me do it! I just feel we also need to appeal directly to drivers, the very drivers stuck and frustrated in the queues of traffic.

    More on the blog soon... :-)

  7. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsDnjM9xVpw

  8. I think you are pointing up a fundamental problem with many of the tradition cycling campaigns which are not looking at the bicycle as a practical everyday means of transport, but rather as a toy for recreation and sporting use.

    We are not going to significantly increase cycling rates until we achieve a change in the cultural outlook and vastly improved infrastructure.

  9. For me it started for health reasons. I'm coming up 30 and one day looked in the mirror and thought ..."oh dear"..... I loved cycling but being a very unmotivated person didn't do it often enough.(usual rain/time/rain/cold excuses) I needed to get to work every day regardless so I started cycling to and from work. It's only a few miles so I would take me kit and put in a long ride after work. I can safely say I never felt better (after the first few weeks which, to be fair were less than fun) I was more motivated in life generally, happier and brighter at work and I lost 2 stone in just a couple of months! A year ago my job changed, which meant I had to use my car and very quickly the weight came back on and I got unmotivated again. I'm back in my old job now so can commute by bike again!

    With cyclescheme it is so EASY to get a decent bike and kit (currently awaiting voucher!) and get riding now there really are no downsides!