Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Who do we advocate for?

The tireless freedom fighter from Waltham Forest in London makes plain his disappointment with the London Cycling Campaign. It should, you would think, be an advocate for cycling and be doing what it can to get more people out of cars and on to bikes for the better health and wellbeing of all of London. Not so says Freewheeler. The LCC is part of the problem.

In any debate, a common difficulty is that people do not view the debate through the same eyes. Two people may look at a building from different sides but see totally different things even though they are plainly looking at the same building. It is similar with urban transport. People who already regularly cycle see the debate from their point of view. For example, blokes who tog up in the lycra and clip shoes on a Sunday to do 70kms with some mates have a particular view of cycling that others may not share.

In countries like Australia, where we have a fraction of the cycling modal share of old favourites like Denmark and the Netherlands, advocacy groups generally portray a particular image. It matches the general image of the cyclists you see around town.

Nothing wrong with that of course except that it has become the prevailing image of cycling. Look at how any cycling event is promoted, such as the rides that coincide with the Tour Down Under, and a particular image is prevalent. Again, in this country that is what non-cyclists think of when the topic of cycling is raised. They certainly do not see the Danish tv character, Anna Pihl, riding her upright bike to the station to then taking it on the train to visit her father.

The question for me is whether the image is working.

Another way of looking at it is in a presentation I found on the web a while ago. The presenter, Mark Sanders, refers to a "blue ocean strategy", which is a reference to the size of the untapped market (his notes can be read here).

He is absolutely right that there is a massive untapped market of potential cyclists and with them, a massive market for new bike sales. I am not sure I necessarily agree that the big untapped market is in folding bicycles. My view is that it does not matter whether it is a folding or other bike, you need a new strategy to change modal share and unclog our streets.

A couple of things are vital. The main one for me is visible, unbroken and high quality infrastructure. The untapped market of cyclists includes children, grandparents and a whole bunch of people in between. The infrastructure needs to be so good that you would have no problem riding on it with your 8 year old child. The untapped market also consists of all of those thousands of car trips that are made every day to the hardware store, karate lessons, footy games and so on. It is not Sunday afternoon leisure rides. The infrastructure needs to be good enough that it makes more sense to make those trips by bike than in a car (have a check of the latest film on David Hembrow's site to see how that is done).

There are other things equally vital and they are described here far better than I could describe them (number 3 is particularly good).

The point for me though is that politicians and advocates should have in mind all of those people who never get on a bike when they are considering bike plans and policies. That is where the numbers are.


  1. Have you read Pedalling Revolution by Jeff Mapps. It's very good and not necessarily about American Cities. Lots of good food for thought like the simple 'kids don't ride to school like they used to because parents fear the traffic which they created because they are driving their kids to school' -- pretty basic stuff but it's wakes you up http://amzn.to/gODTDL

    I also ride 70kms on weekends as well, there is nothing saying I can't wear Lyrca as well.

  2. I have not read the book but I will. It sounds interesting.

    Totally agree with you about lycra and I hope I am not misunderstood. I think a group of people on racing bikes with proper jerseys is a fairly awesome sight and makes a cool sound too. The issue for me is attracting all of those people who would normally not even consider a bike.

    What is needed I think is to make all of those everyday journeys, if possible, easier to do by bike. Who knows? Instead of a line of 4WDs outside schools, we might see a whole bunch of cargo bikes.