I came across an interesting blog yesterday which is worth reading before you read this article.
This one here
Go, read it....otherwise the rest of this won't make sense!
Hmmm. I suspect that a few of you may have got to this point and have still not read it. If you are one of these people, I will very quickly summarise. The article writer is disappointed that at demonstrations like Pedal on Parliament that too many people turn up in Hi-Vis jackets, wear Lycra and have helmets on. The suggestion is that if we are to normalise cycling, events like this don't help as they perpetuate the idea that to keep safe as a cyclist you need to wear the gear. If you look at the Netherlands (which I will be visiting very soon!) you see a very different picture.
Here is what the writer is referring to.
|Too much Hi-Vis, too many helmets?|
So, when I refer to the article as interesting what do I mean? Well it certainly interested me, being one of the organisers or Pedal on Parliament, and interestingly someone who at that event wore cycling gear. It also raises some interesting questions about how we reach our end goal or making cycling not just safe for all, but accessible for all.
For the record, at POP I had a helmet on (with a helmet camera on of course), Lycra bib shorts with Ron Hill over-trousers, my cycling shoes, a blue base layer and on top my POP t-shirt. Oh and my cycling specific shorts.
Why did I wear cycling gear to cycle just over a mile very slowly?!
I remember debating the issue of what to wear (certainly with myself, perhaps with others). I did consider going in "normal" clothes. However, I decided against that. My normal cycle to work is 12 miles each way. It is 12 fairly hilly and slightly mucky miles. I also use my commute as exercise so at the end of it I am sweaty and often a bit mucky. So as a cyclist that is what I wear 95% of the time. I wanted to go to POP representing who I am, and dress the way that I dress when I cycle. I suppose I was representing MAMILS. No point in denying who I am as that is what I feel comfortable in.
That was just me though. I have absolutely no idea why each and every person that came to POP dressed the way they did. I suspect that some dressed like MAMILS for the same reasons as me. It felt comfortable. I know that some people came from afar, and dressed appropriately for the long ride, and I know that some people dressed in 'non-cycling clothes' as that is what they felt most comfortable in, or perhaps they wanted to make a statement. However, looking at each individual, without asking, I have no idea why they dressed as they did.
Personally I don't care. I don't care why they dressed the way they did, and I don't care how they dressed. On the day, surrounded by 3000 like-minded and non-like-minded cyclist I can honestly say that I did not at any point give what people were wearing a second thought. What mattered was that we all turned up with one purpose...to ask our politicians to make our roads safer.
Looking back at the event there is a temptation to analyse. Nothing wrong with that of course. The blog I have referred to has done just that. It's looked at the pictures and asked if the dress code sent out the wrong message. Does it suggest that cycling is only for those who are equipped with Lycra, helmets and Hi-Vis?
I really don't think so.
I do however, on reflection, think that the pictures do send out a message. So what message do I think these pictures send out to prospective cyclists?
Firstly, I think the general public looking at that picture would in no way see anything out of the ordinary. They would probably think it was a "normal" picture of cyclists. Nearly everyone I know who doesn't cycle, thinks cycling on the road is dangerous. Yes, they often vastly overestimate the risks, but the perception is there. So seeing thousands of cyclists wearing Hi-Vis to non-cyclists seems normal. Is it right that we cyclists dress like this, and is this how we to look in 10 years time? That's an entirely different question. Is it where we are now? Yes.
Much more importantly though I think the pictures showing a sea of Hi-Vis and helmets shows that people who cycle now, even the ones who are
classed as assertive, do not feel safe on our roads. They feel that they
need to compensate for the risks they face or perceive to face.
There are plenty of arguments for and against helmets and Hi-Vis and
how effective they are, but that really doesn't matter. In the
collective psyche of those that turned up for POP there was a perception
that some form of self protection, however ineffective it might be, was
better than nothing. Effectively by wearing the gear we feel a little more protected.The gear is our protective cage which we are fearful of removing.
So the message for anyone else who does not currently ride a bike, the message to our politicians, is, we don't feel safe. Far from undermining the call for safety that the event was all about, it underlines it
. Should we say to people, get on your bike, but make sure you wear a nice pair of slacks? Help us to normalise cycling...cycle in your glad rags?
I'll finish up with a personal observation. Earlier in this blog I said that 95% of the time I wear my cycling gear when I am on the bike. Two years ago that probably would have been 100%. Something has changed. I haven't started riding to work in my normal clothes, but occasionally I've started cycling for a different reason. I've started riding with my kids. My kids are getting into their bikes and want to come out with me. So we get the bikes out, get their gear on (which includes helmets) and go for a slow safe ride around the local area.
I don't wear any cycling gear. I don't have a helmet on.
Now I realise that some would be shocked by that, suggesting that I was setting a bad example for my kids. Not at all. I have always suggested to them that when they are older they will have to decide for themselves what to wear on the bike, when they understand all the facts. Why though, don't I wear a helmet?
I feel safe. Riding with them, in a quiet area, on quiet roads, I feel at little or no risk, and so I don't feel the need to wear any protection. It wasn't a conscious decision, but one on reflection that I made. Not only that, but donning cycling gear to go for a wee cycle around the cul-de-sacs just seemed....too much of a faff. A waste of time.
Safety and faff.
Telling people what to do very rarely works, unless you legislate....and that's a whole other can of worms. Change is easiest when it comes naturally, when it feels right. For me, just now, the change feels right when I'm with my kids, it doesn't feel right on my commute. Put in proper cycle infrastructure between my home and my work, make it feel safe, make it feel easy, and yes, who knows I might just get rid of the helmet. Prossible not the Lycra though as I'd still get sweaty. For many though, that needn't be an issue.
So in my opinion, if we want to get people to change their cycling outfit, lets not focus on the outfit, lets focus on making the roads safe. Make the roads safe, and people will cycle more. As people cycle more they won't just cycle to work, they will start to cycle to the shops, to their friends house, to the cinema, to the pub. Cycling will becomes a normal every day occurrence. What do people wear when they do these things, most of the time, they don't wear Lycra or Hi-Vis......