It’s now more popular than ever to ride a bike. A pleasing phenomenon not just occurring in our country lanes, but in our bustling high streets too. A walk down Oxford Street and you’ll see push-bikes everywhere: on the roads and in fashion stores as well. It’s the all new handbag, and smart-phone for the urban dweller.
All the same, it comes with a sobering health warning. According to urban studies, Copenhagen has managed a formidable 50% rise in cycling and at the same time, benefiting from a 75% drop in injuries. Whereas in London, a marginal 16% increase in bicycle travel comes with an alarming 50% surge in injuries.
Why the difference? Having biked around Copenhagen, the infrastructure is clearly in place, but so too is the fact that choosing to cycle is an accepted part of communal life. In fact, in Copenhagen you just want to; it’s safe, easy and cool. So much so, it has even spawned a following, with Copenhagen Cycle Chic branching off their take on cool into many major cities. Still, London can boast this too. Although, I still think Boris Bikes should come with a clear warning; if those tourists only know what we know. So perhaps, we’re simply 20 years behind the Danish and the Dutch? Then how do we account for Berliners having cultivated such a safe cycling habitat in such a short space of time?
They say you should be prepared to speak up for what you believe in. Well, faced with a sports reporter I froze. Not because of the winter freeze, but because I wasn’t prepared at all. Sure, I’ve got my thoughts, but it all just came out wrong. She asked : What do you think about what happened to Bradley Wiggins? And do you think cycling has become more dangerous? Thankfully, Matt responded more eloquently and refused to stand up for cyclists who pedal without concern for others. He wished Brad well and hopes that this will be a turning point for us.
Since then, I’ve had a chance to consider this and a lot more besides. I’m hoping something good will come from this incident – the fact that Brad is alive is both a relief and a great start. As a result, our politicians and media have sat up to realise that collisions do happen to absolutely anybody; from a Tour de France winner to a princess pedalling up Portobello. Being thoughtless doesn’t discriminate. It will kill anyone.
You can talk about modelling after Amsterdam, Berlin and Copenhagen. You can talk about driving tests and cycle proficiency, you can raise awareness and encourage tolerance and acceptance. Yet this doesn’t mean a thing unless people start caring. The government and the tax payer wouldn’t have to pay a penny on consultations and meetings. All people need to do is consider and care. I realise, it’s not going to be as simple as that. There will need to be consultations on organising safer cycle lanes and addressing ‘black spots’, but we could start saving lives and making life better for all if we just care. Imagine if we behaved like this in the shopping aisles, our offices, our homes?
The thing is we have all the right ingredients to begin with: the re-discovery of a timeless invention that is inspiring people to get active and be free of public transport whenever one desires; helping young people get away from the urban jungle, to explore and find some peace in the country; the Olympic fervour and sweet taste of success we experienced this summer continues; and more importantly a nation that is supportive and ready to care. Are we as cyclists prepared to do the same?