Five Keys to the Realisation of Cycling’s Brave New Dawn

May 18, 2020
Charlie Raincock

Like many, I am genuinely excited that the growth of UK cycling could be one of the few silver linings of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Public transport is out. Room on our roads for cars is finite. The government has committed to put cycling at the heart of its transport policy.

Finances have been assigned to put in place the infrastructure – both pop-up and permanent – crucial to making cycling a viable alternative mode of mass commuter transport.

If the initiative succeeds, we will look back on this moment as being a key turning point for the industry, for the sport, for society’s wellbeing and for the environment.

We must not f#ck it up.

And let’s be clear, ‘we’ means all of us here, not just the government. Yes, the financial clout to fund the introduction of well-designed cycle lanes will be crucial. However, providing a positive cycling experience to newcomers is not down to infrastructure alone, and will only happen as a result of many groups working seamlessly together.

Cycling during lockdown has been blissful – empty roads, blue skies and time to roam. Now, sustainably converting the resulting community of new, or reborn, two-wheeled enthusiasts into cycle commuters is our challenge. And no small one at that.

The five keys are as follows:

  • A positive introduction to commuting

The pandemic has made all of us re-evaluate our behaviours. We are now more prepared than ever to challenge old habits and experiment with new (GlobalWebIndex). But our first experience of new needs to be a good one.

It is crucial during this next phase of returning to our places of work that the entire cycling community works together to look after one another, and particularly its new arrivals. Life within the lines of the new, or enhanced, cycle lanes is set to get busier and busier, and therein will reside myriad levels of proficiency.

Speed limits might be a step too far but there are times when our paths will be blocked, Strava segments ruined and patience tested by rookie errors or inexperience, but this is a price we must pay for the greater good.

As a cyclist and PR professional, my observation has been that cyclists are not always the greatest advocates for cycling’s growth. Dyed-in-the-wool campaigners haven’t always embraced new arrivals as they might – think barbed wire rather than red carpet welcome. That must change.

If we can embrace the sense of togetherness that Covid-19 has engendered and take that back onto the roads with us, we stand half a chance of not alienating all newbie two-wheelers (including e-bikes and e-scooters) from the outset.

  • Mutual respect amongst road users

The tension between cyclists and drivers has never made sense. Most cyclists are also car drivers, and most drivers have ridden a bike. But their co-existence has never been straightforward.

The equation is simple, however. If the cycle commuter community is encouraged to grow, congestion will be reduced and commuting by car will become more pleasurable – or at least more tolerable. So, it is absolutely in drivers’ interest that people are not scared off their bikes.

An inexperienced, apprehensive rider might seem like an inconvenience on your daily commute, but if they are given a wide berth, treated patiently and given the time to develop into an experienced one, the inconvenience will be momentary. Again, all for the greater good.

  • Industry preparedness

The predicted growth in cycling and cycle commuters has already and will continue to produce a surge in demand for bikes. This demand needs to be met efficiently by both manufacturers and retailers, making bikes affordably available and accessible through competitive finance deals.

In terms of affordability, is now not the perfect time for the government to forego VAT on bikes costing under £1,000? A short-term loss of revenue but potentially both a huge boost to uptake and savings down the line in healthcare provision and obesity-related measures.

For older bikes, Halfords’ free bike check is a welcome nation-wide development to enable people to dust off and re-use their neglected steeds. In a similar vein, it will be interesting to see whether the UK follows the French government’s initiative of underwriting the costs of bike refurbishments, at any dealer, up to the value of 50 Euros.

  • Cycle to Work Scheme

Key to cycle commuting being sustainable, affordable and accessible is the Cycle to Work Scheme.

Employers need to step up here. After 20 years of the scheme’s existence, there are still far too few signed up. No excuse is good enough not to give your staff access to up to 42% savings on their bike purchase.

Never before has there been a greater focus on looking after employees’ health and wellbeing, and ensuring they can get safely to and from their place of work. Businesses should not just be signed up to the scheme but should be actively promoting it to their teams.

Importantly, to address a common misconception, since June 2019 the scheme is available for bikes of any value.

  • Bikeability

Drivers and motorcycle riders are both trained and tested before being let loose on the roads.

Whilst we don’t want to put barriers up for new cyclists, a few basics will serve to build confidence and shrink the skills gap between newbies and their fellow cycle path or road users.

Cycling Proficiency has now become Bikeability – available not just to kids but to adults too. The Dept of Transport’s scheme seems particularly under-the-radar at present, when it should be shouting loudly, potentially as a result of social distancing challenges, so we need an interim solution.

One such could be for experienced cyclists to ‘buddy’ with starters – either friends or people introduced by retailers – to show them the ropes, provide them with a positive start to commuting and help build their confidence.

Boris is committed to getting ‘Britain back on its bike.’

The government’s financial muscle will pave the way for cycling’s brave new dawn. While Boris is at the helm we can be assured that cycling will not be pushed down the agenda. However it is incumbent upon all of us to make it work. The stakes are too high for us not to.