I am what you might describe as an amateur cyclist. I’ve been cycling since I was about five, and have always used a bike as my main means of transport. It (and Britain’s rail network) have saved me having to learn to drive. I don’t want to learn to drive. It is horrendously expensive, enviromentally catastrophic, and… I’d miss the exercise. I can fix a puncture, put a bike together so it works and adjust the saddle so it’s the right height, but that’s about it as far as maintenance goes. Mick looks upon my efforts with scorn – but then, perhaps he’s right to. (Not scorn Geo. Pity. Mx)
I do wonder though if this type of vague elitism – of cycling haves and have-nots – works to the detriment of the wider cycling world. I mean, there’s nothing more intimidating than walking into a bike shop where everyone knows their stuff inside out and you don’t. It’s no good, because it means that people are more likely to pick up derelict wrecks of bikes (thereby avoiding the shop stage), and be forever put off cycling by the sheer crappiness of their ride.
And cycling for a beginner is a difficult enough as it is. Some people have never even pedalled a bike before. For people that haven’t done any exercise for years, getting (back) on a bike must initially be torturous – especially if it’s anything like starting running again. Your body just does not want to co-operate. Not to mention the fact that exercise like running and cycling is something you just have to do outside, in front of strangers – it’s not like a language or musical instrument where you can make all your mistakes in front of a select few people.
It’s a shame that there’s this unaviodable ritual humiliation for people trying to get fit again (and perhaps shake off the shackles of the car commute to work), and so the added psychological barrier of actually going into a bike shop and getting a ride is icing on the cake.
There are several remedies to this sordid state of affairs that I can think of off the top of my head. For starters, cycle maintenance should be a school subject, and cycling should form a part of school sports. After all, schools are obliged to provide technology subjects like woodwork, cookery and textiles; why not bike skills? Incorporating cycling into sports classes would get everyone riding (and having fun). This would make walking into a cycle shop so much easier, since there would no longer be the knowledge disparity between shop and customer. The awkwardness would just dissipate.
Secondly, (and until such time as “bike-time” becomes part of the National Curriculum), a message to existing cyclists – organise a bike ride with your cycling-averse friends. Show them the fun side (cycling along car-free routes); let them gently acclimatise to the bike, and then later introduce them to roads. Cycling, like so many things in life, is much more fun when done with other people. (Thinking about it, this is exactly how I’ve got my own friends on bikes.)
If we really want to get more people cycling (and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t – less road noise/pollution and more smiling faces), we’re all going to have to go out and be fishers of men, women, children and anyone capable of pushing two pedals in a circle. I can think of far worse ways of spending a weekend
Incidentally (and I wasn’t out to cross-sell this when I started writing, promise), Get Cycling do a lot of fine work in introducing school children to bikes. If only the schools themselves had the finances to take the initiative…