What does define me to some extent is my cycle campaigning. That is part of who I am, and is certainly something that I use when I describe myself. I am a husband, a father, a clinical scientist and a cycle campaigner. Depending on the situation, depends on which role I take.
Another label that is often used, and in my experience misused is 'serious cyclist'. That is, a cyclist who in some way takes cycling 'seriously'. I've been called that quite often, but it's a label that doesn't fit comfortably on my shoulders. Cycling for me is something that is far too much fun to be taken seriously. I take campaigning seriously, perhaps I should be called a serious cycle campaigner, but I'm not a serious cyclist.
It is however, interesting to look at how the label 'serious cyclist' is used in the UK today. Personally I find that I am called a serious cyclist by the majority of people I know who don't cycle, and I think that is the experience of most regular cyclists. Other cyclists certainly don't look at me that way.
What the label and it's use suggests is that cycling is an exclusive activity for those with enough love or passion for cycling to do it on a regular basis. It is also seen as a label for those 'crazy enough to take on the crazy traffic and all the dangers that come from that'.
I've talked about the realities of safety elsewhere, but my focus here is on the exclusivity. The fact that people pigeon-hole me and most regular cyclists into that group is worrying, and is a barrier that we need to break down. I think that barrier will be eroded with time, when (not if) we improve the environment for cycling on Scotland's roads. More worryingly though is the sense of exclusivity that I come across within the 'cycling community' (a phrase that itself suggests exclusivity).
Seven years ago I started cycling. and for about the first three years of that I argued that there was no need for segregated infrastructure. Why build cycle lanes when there are perfectly good cycle lanes already, called roads. I had an online discussion with another cyclist recently who felt this way. That's why I felt compelled to write about it.
My opinion changed dramatically when my first child started to cycle. As I watched him wobbling around the road in our cul-de-sac I started to think about how much fun it would be to go on proper cycling rides with him. Then it struck me.
Where could I take him cycling?
The cul-de-sac was fine, some of the very quiet country roads near by weren't too bad, but everywhere else was a no-go-zone. There were small pockets where my son could ride safely with me, but he was excluded from everywhere else.
Of course, danger in cycling is generally overestimated and in general my son would probably safe riding on most roads with me (he is now 7). However, I know for a fact, considering some of the incidents that have happened to me, if my son was exposed to just one scary incident, he would probably give up cycling, if not for good, at least for a long time.
My child is not unusual. In fact most adults, whether we think it is understandable or not, feel the same way and would probably react the same way if a scary incident happened to them. Therefore, without change, without significant change, cycling will always remain exclusive.
Of course, exclusive does not mean that it will only be MAMILS or young males that will cycle on the roads. The demographic of those who are willing to cycle in the current road conditions is not limited to MAMILS or young men. Exclusivity is not based on gender, age or the type of clothes that you wear. It is based on a persons understanding or risk, and approach to risk, and we all have very different approaches to risk.
Cycling is, when compared to many other activities, is very safe. However, a large percentage of the population would not and should not have to be willing to put up with the close passes, left hooks and occasional agression that virtually all cyclists face from time to time. This percentage of the populations are not included if we base our cycling future on the roads as they are today. No amount of soft measures alone will work.
That is why Pedal on Parliament (POP), has a vision of Inclusive Cycling; cycling where everyone from 8 to 80 and beyond can cycle in our cities. It can be done, and shining lights like Amsterdam show us the direction that our politicians must take if our cities are to be sustainable into the future. Everyone cycles in Amsterdam.
As Enrique Penalosa is quoted as sasying:
The great city is not the one that has highways, but one where a child on a tricycle or a bicycle can go safely everywhere.
Let's take that a step further:
The great country is not one that invests in more motorways, but one that invests in cycling so that everyone, child or adult can safely cycle everywhere.By coming along to POP2 on the 19th May in Edinburgh you will not only help Scotland reach it's target of 10% of journeys by bike by 2020, but you will help us achieve a wonderful vision of Scotland as a healthy, sustainable, vibrant nation.