Don’t make the mistake of listening to Cameron and his remarks about “swarms of cyclists” taking over the roads… “swarms” being an unfortunate perjorative term.
Sometimes he betrays his ignorance in a spectacular way. Britain’s successes in world-class cycle races and the Olympics has triggered a surge in the number of people buying bikes and taking to the road but in terms of cycling as a whole, Britain is merely catching up with the Europe, where bicycles have always been an accepted uncontroversial method of travel – whether it’s to school, to work or to pick up a baguette from the village shop.
Cyclists come in a wonderful variety of types. Yes there are the people who can’t get on a bike without being kitted out from head-to-toe in expensive outfits and clipped-in racing shoes. They might be just starting out in cycling and intent on doing it all “right” as they see it in cycling magazines… or they might be former racers keeping their hand in who can’t bear to be seen without wearing their club or favourite team colours.
But there are also vast numbers of people who don’t require expensive accessories to ride. They just get on and go – wearing… wait for it… ordinary shoes and… whisper it… *flat pedals*. They have bikes which aren’t tricked out and don’t cost over a grand. They buy them second-hand or treat themselves to something useful and workmanlike from Evans or Halfords. They might have inherited a bike and done it up with some spiffy new bar tape.
While I was out riding today, it occurred to me that the cyclists I saw were nothing like the “swarms” that Cameron claims are giving drivers cause for concern. Those I saw today seemed to illustrate just how wide the spectrum of cyclists actually is.
A middle-aged couple on racing bikes, going steady along a bike trail. She wore a red jacket and black lycra leggings. He wore black leggings and a hi-vis waterproof.
A dad on a mountainbike with his son, aged about three, sitting happily in the seat fitted on the back. He was a very sweet dad, chatting to the child a lot, showing him the river and the ducks before hitting a straight section and setting off at a good lick.
A pleasant older chap on a racing bike in a country lane – prepared for rain with a yellow rain-bonnet arrangement over his helmet.
A man wearing a tweedy flat cap curled up in a sleeping bag under the dual-carriageway bridge. He was half-covered by some kind of yellow water-proof sheet. He had bags and possessions all around him and a touring bike propped up against the wall with front panniers and a bar-bag. I rode past him quietly wondering if he was ok. I think he was the same chap I saw cycling slowly into Gloucester, his bike loaded with bags, late yesterday afternoon following torrential cloudbursts that had left lakes of surface water on the road.
I was worried about him. I didn’t like to think that, cold and wet, (traumatic memories of my Birthday Bike Ride) the best place he could find to afford him warmth and shelter was the bridge under the road. I continued my ride to Gloucester but decided to check him out again on the way back.
Fortunately, this time he had stirred and was sitting up, sorting out his belongings. I felt quite sorry for him but didn’t think he’d welcome my intrusion with damn-fool questions. The sun was shining and he was almost certainly going to press on with his journey.
Last time I saw him he had two bulging panniers on the back, a rack pack plus had two panniers on the front wheels and a bar bag. He was maxed out on luggage. He was also wearing a full rucksack on his back.
It occurred to me that David Cameron should meet this cyclist and feel reassured that here was one cyclist who wouldn’t be “swarming” any time soon.