30 Days of Biking #24 – The Bold and the Brave

Yesterday’s biking-related activities included an evening of edutainment at Roll for the Soul. What I learned:

  • Amsterdam wasn’t always a cycling-friendly city but became that way following the apparently famous “stop the child murder” campaign 40 years ago (400 children died cycling there in 1971), combined with the oil crisis making motoring less affordable/sustainable. There was a hubbub of recognition in the room when the old-style Amsterdam was described as having cycle lanes that were “absent at junction and not connected”. Not just me noticing Bristol’s no-bike lands then. The first cycle routes there were constructed in 1975, among other policies to encourage cycling.
  • The difference in cycling culture and infrastructure there makes cycling less of an effort – no special gear such as helmets or hi-vis, the mantra is “the smaller you are, the more protected you are” (haven’t really worked out how that works yet but for now I’ll take their word for it).
  • Things that make cycling easy in the Netherlands include parking facilities in central locations for up to 10,000 bikes and cargo bikes for hire at €2.50 an hour.
  • Bristol’s “Make Sunday Special” events have a way to go before they match “Ciclovias” in Bogotá, Colombia (or many of their world-wide emulations).
  • The term “vehicular cycling” (which is essentially what Life Cycle instructors teach).
  • For all its flaws, the J3 underpass is a heck of a lot better now than it used to be – I’ve picked a comparatively good time in its life to start routinely cycling through it.

We were also treated to that guy who films himself bumping into things in cycle lanes and a manic cyclist sketch from the TV show Portlandia (watch out of the celeb-on-a-bike cameo), and ended on a positive note about cycling in Bristol with that video of the Bristol Cycle Festival, featuring a  few of my favourite biking helpers such as Women’s Night and Bike Back.

It was a informative and thought provoking selection. As always, being bombarded with pro-cycling propaganda made me want to defend the rights of drivers and pedestrians, especially those who can’t physically cycle. Cycling proselytisers never seem to be aware such people exist; someone in one of the videos described the situation in the Netherlands as “you don’t think about cycling any more than you think about your feet for walking“. I know people who have to think about their feet for walking, and people who can’t walk, much less cycle, so boasts of urban design that makes it difficult for people to get a taxi at a train station sounds a tad callous in that light – of course there may well be some fantastic provisions for disabled access there that just weren’t mentioned in the film. There’s also a whole n’other blog post about my internalised victim-blaming thinking patterns and finding one’s own balance of assertiveness and courtesy towards those who can and want to go faster, which sadly I have no time to write today – it’s been a busy day in a busy week and tomorrow will be the same with an earlyish start, so I need some rest!

I’ve forgotten which film the man was in saying that with the right infrastructure, urban cycling can be the norm, whereas right now in the UK it is only “the bold and the brave” who do it. I quite like being one of those, though I was hardly an early adopter. One of my motivations to start was fitting in with the eco-friendly crowd I associate with, which for a time actually made me feel one of a shameful minority for not cycling. But I doubt I’d mind trading in that status for a cycling culture that involved less faff and fewer dodgy bumps on my routes.

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