Changing travel habits

It’s not easy but everyone benefits

I met up with a friend who lives in south Devon. He drives 8 miles each way to work and is leaving earlier and earlier because of traffic congestion and difficulty finding a parking place. To a pedal head like me the answer seemed obvious, but when we talked about e-bikes he said, ‘Isn’t that cheating?’ I thought about that question after he left and realised there is a lot behind it. Firstly, if an e-bike is cheating, what is driving a car? But more fundamentally, the implication is that the purpose of riding a bike is not to get you from A to B as efficiently as possible, but instead to use calories, get fitter, be competitive and win (what other purpose is there to cheating?). He didn’t think of a bike as a viable option for his journey.

Someone else said to me recently, ‘Oh, I’m just a fair-weather cyclist’, as though somehow this was shameful, or an admission of failure. Instead of being proud of the miles she gets under her wheels each week, she was apologising and thinking of herself as a wimp.

We have to challenge these ingrained attitudes, which lead to people feeling that cycle commuting is out of their reach.

I started thinking about what would make my friend even contemplate using a bike – it’s not urban riding where the traffic is slow and lighting good, but tiny Devon lanes and impatient SUVs taking corners too fast. So before any other consideration, is there a route that would avoid the scary commuters? Well, as it happens, there is a Sustrans route on a disused railway that could take him to a station 5 miles away, so he could cycle and then catch a train into the city. That might be a catalyst for changing his view of the potential for cycle commuting.

Suggesting a route is one thing, but it would be even better to ride it with him and help give his bike a check beforehand. Finding others who already ride the route is a great confidence boost too.

These conversations need to happen more and more for people to open their eyes to alternatives they have dismissed as impractical, or unattractive. E-bikes must be part of the solution, but — apart from the cost — they bring other problems, such as secure parking, easy access to re-charging, and a reliable bike shop with experience of e-bike repairs. We are lucky in Oxford; we have good bike shops, all now selling e-bikes that give people the chance to try one out.

So a New Year’s resolution, if you are a cycle rider, might be to offer one or two friends some help in making that shift to cycling. And if you aren’t a regular cycle rider, and use your car for shortish journeys, what about a New Year’s resolution of swapping to a bike for a few of those journeys, and ask a cycling friend for their help in making the shift (when the weather gets warmer and drier).

A Happy Cycling New Year to all our On Yer Bike readers!

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