When is a bike not a bike?

By Andy Chivers

No, this isn’t a joke (like ‘When is a door not a door? When it’s ajar!’), but a look at ‘non-motorised vehicles’ and see how broad that category might be. Motorbike riders call their vehicles bikes which can be confusing, but they are motorised, whereas (perhaps surprisingly) an electric bike isn’t. 

Bike is short for bicycle, which excludes tricycles, so using ‘cycle’ is probably better but even the word cycle tends to conjure a two-wheeled object with one seat and no rack or panniers. Cargo bikes, child carriers, tandems, bike trailers, rickshaws, tagalongs and electric bikes all have special attributes which are overlooked when planners think of bikes, and then there are electric wheelchairs and mobility scooters to consider, since they sometimes use cycle paths. Finally, the arrival of rental e-scooters on trial in Headington brings a whole new class of vehicle to our streets.

Our City Council and County Council planners need to consider these many types of wheeled transport in order to get more people out of cars and using pedal power. If they are ignored a section of the community will be put off riding and use their car instead so we all suffer from increased congestion and pollution. 

Barriers across cycle paths are a particular bugbear for riders of these non-standard cycles. There are lots of examples in Oxford and across the county of badly sited barriers, that are truly barriers, forcing the rider to turn back or lift their cycle over it.  

Each barrier needs to be considered individually and a judgement made about its purpose. Oxford’s twin city, Bonn, has just one design of barrier and that consistency means you know you will be able to complete your journey and not be blocked by one rogue obstruction. Oxford and Oxfordshire in contrast seem determined to have an example of every possible design ever invented. We have campaigned relentlessly to get barriers removed with some success. For example, a few years ago the barriers onto the towpath at Folly Bridge and Donnington Bridge were removed – but then more pop up in unexpected places, like the unannounced appearance of temporary barriers along Parks Road, an example of casual thoughtlessness towards cycle users.

Barriers though are not the only barrier to cycling.  

Lack of secure bike parking, at home, at the workplace and at shopping centres, is a particular problem for all cycle riders, and particularly the owners of the increasing numbers of valuable e-bikes. Some cycles are the wrong shape to get on two-tier racks or between Sheffield stands. Even panniers or a basket can make it impossible to get in and out of some racks. 

And of course, there are many other huge barriers to riding a bike, including lack of confidence and skill, fear of injury and worries about mechanical breakdown.  

If the city and county councils are serious about getting people out of cars and onto bikes, they need to look again at cycle routes and cycle parking facilities and consider the range of bikes, trikes and cycles that may want to use it. That way barriers to cycling should be removed!

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