So there’s this guy, right?
Wednesday the fourth of February 2015 was a big day for him.
This guy, he rides bikes. Loves it. Thinks riding bikes is great. It’s freedom, it’s excitement, it’s all sorts of fun. Ask him what he’d do if he had a free weekend and he’d say ride a bike. Tell him he couldn’t do that, and he’ll say fiddle with his bike, or clean it, or something. Mountain biking, road racing, touring, BMX—doesn’t matter which he loves, but he loves it.
This guy rides on the road a bit. Might be a couple of miles to get to the trails or the skate park, might be the club bun run, might be a 400km audax, but he does it. And he’s ok with it. Maybe it’s not as nice as bombing down a trail or hauling some camping gear through the wilderness, but—hey—it’s still riding a bike. A day on the road’s better than a day in the office, right?
This guy sees the cycle lanes by the road and shakes his head. Man, they suck. Look at them. Sad bits of faded paint in the gutter, full of drains and broken glass. Stupid strips of red that disappear under rows of parked cars. Little pictures of bicycles painted on pavements—what’s that all about? You get ticketed for riding on the pavement, and then they tell you to ride on it? And they never go where you want anyway. Not that you’d really know, because they never have signposts.
This guy won’t be using those. No way, Hans Rey! The road is where he’s supposed to be. A bike is a vehicle, after all. It’s more like a motorbike than a pair of shoes, that’s for sure.
Now, this guy knows that when it comes to the road you’ve got to be a bit assertive. Keep people back when you need to turn, or when there’s a pinch point ahead. Claim a bit of road. Man up, get some confidence. Try and keep up with the traffic, then you can take the lane more easily when you need to. A bit of experience, that’s all it is. Bottom line is, assume they’re all out to get you. Basic stuff, right? That’s defensive riding: assume the worst, then stop it happening. It works. It’s worked all his life. These basic skills are what make you a Cyclist.
And this guy’s definitely a Cyclist. Not one of the POBs, the People On Bikes. They’re the ones who ride on pavements, with their crappy BSOs—Bicycle Shaped Objects, this guy calls them—wobbling about and riding in jeans and not even bothering with helmets or anything. They’re the reason he gets abuse from drivers. They’re the ones that give him a bad name. He’s not one of them.
Nope, proper Cyclists ride on the road, where bikes should be.
So anyway, this guy just sees more of these stupid cycle lanes and shared pavements getting built and he’s pretty unimpressed. Why are they doing that? Just get people to drive better. That’s the problem: the drivers. Not the bits of tarmac. They don’t suddenly hit you, it’s BMWs and Vauxhall Corsas and tipper trucks that hit you, and it’s the nut behind the wheel that’s the problem there. Fix the people, not the roads. Obvious. Why spend money on paint and useless bits of paving that don’t go anywhere when you could spend it on teaching drivers better and having a few more police on the road? Once you’ve sorted the bad drivers out, the roads will be safe.
And this guy’s right.
Well, he’s right in just one respect.
He’s right in that cycle facilities are crap. You only have to browse through the Bollocks Infra timeline to see that.
But he’s wrong on everything else.
You see, when this guy looks around him on the road, he notices that he’s everywhere. A lot of the people he sees are himself: male, wearing helmets and at least some lycra, riding bikes with skinny tyres and no mudguards, bum up and head down, some of them chasing Strava times on their way to the office. This guy gets away with saying “man up” to ride on the road simply because that really is the true nature of it.
Then this guy sees pictures of what goes on in the Netherlands. And the thing he notices first of all—the most startling aspect of these images—is that he’s not in them. He’s nowhere to be seen. No, wait. Here he is, on a ride in the country, on a nice quiet rural roa—hang on a minute, that’s not a road. That’s a cycle track.
And then he looks through the images again, and this time—realising that even Where’s Wally probably doesn’t wear a red-and-white jumper all the time—he starts to recognise himself. There he is, wearing his work clothes to ride to the office. And there he is again, in some jeans to go to the shops.
Then, gradually, he recognises the people around him. There’s his wife, who simply doesn’t want to ride on the road because it’s full of fast cars and big lorries. There’s his elder daughter, who he doesn’t allow to ride on the road because he knows she doesn’t have the skills yet—she’s not yet a Cyclist—and he doesn’t want her to get hurt. And then his youngest, who’s simply too young to be on the road. And there they are all together. And there are his neighbours. But also his parents and—good grief!—his grandparents are out there doing it, staying healthy, staying mobile, not having to worry about whether their ability to safely drive a car is ebbing away with the years.
Everybody’s out there, just using bikes.
And on Wednesday the fourth of February 2015, a door opened up to this different world.
For the first time in the UK, the decision was made to commence work on a piece of dedicated infrastructure that was unashamedly dedicated to mass cycling in both design and scale. Not a total dog’s dinner. Not a broken design resulting from a desire to be creative. Not a piece of Dutch design totally misinterpreted and abused. Not even something done properly but surrounded by stuff that isn’t, but a plan that offers genuine segregation of cycling traffic from motor traffic, and which has the continuity that’s required for people to choose it over the road alongside.
It won’t be perfect. But it will be a sea change in British cycling infrastructure, and it will be the decisive moment in Britain’s attitude towards cycling as a mode of transport to be valued, modelled, planned for, built for, and—crucially—used. It will be our one opportunity for real change.
So, whoever that guy is, this guy is looking from afar at the internationally-visible stage of London, as are many others not just in this country but around the globe.
We’re watching Britain finally “man up”, get a bit of confidence, and claim some road. Not just for the Cyclists, not just for the People On Bikes, but—most importantly of all—for the people who aren’t yet on bikes.
Welcome to the future. This time, it’s for everyone.