Want more sales? Invest in cycling culture

Cycling campaign groups and savvy bike shops are working together across the UK to grow cycling culture.
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Over the last couple of months I’ve given a number of talks to cycle campaign groups, including in Leeds, Hackney and Cambridge. These talks - I’m also available for birthdays, weddings and bar mitzvahs - have been made more enjoyable by the cycle safaris I’m treated to at the end of the evening. I’m taken on guided tours of bicycle infrastructure.

Hackney’s hands-on campaign group, with the help of cycle-aware councillors, has helped raise cycling to work's modal share from 5 percent to 15 percent in ten years or so. I was taken on a two-hour cycle safari of the borough. Hackney's famous filtered permeability schemes - bollards cutting down on motorised rat-running - have helped incubate a cycling culture that's now hale and hearty. Yes, there are fixie hipsters in Hackney but what blew me away were the amount of solo women pedalling around the borough after midnight, on normal bikes in normal clothes. Few of them had helmets, hardly any were festooned with flashing LEDs. I'd rather they'd had lights but the fact they felt safe without strobes spoke volumes. Hackney is not Houten, there aren't curb-lined bike paths everywhere. I saw only one. What Hackney has done is re-model many of its streets so they're a lot less welcoming to people in cars and a lot more welcoming to people on bikes and on foot.

Similarly, Cambridge has blocked off many streets to cars, making it a pain to drive a private car in Cambridge. Parking is also fiendishly expensive and it’s just easier to get from A to B on bicycles. None of this came about by accident. The city council - often guided by cycle campaigners and others interested in the public realm - made decisions to restrict cars, and favour bicycles. Just as in Hackney, this is a work in progress and neither place is a Groningen-style nirvana for people on bicycles. But compared to the rest of the UK, Cambridge and Hackney are light years ahead in terms of bicycle modal share and this shows in the number of bike shops.

When I was in Cambridge I fired up the Bike Hub app - which geo-locates nearest bike shops - and was pleasantly surprised by the BSDQ, ‘bicycle shop density quotient’. (I just made that up).

In short, you’re not far from a bike shop in this university town. But sales aren’t dominated by students. Colin Beckett, owner of University Cycles told me most of his customers are workers, not students.

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What many of these people on bikes might not realise is how much of Cambridge’s bike friendliness has been shaped by the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. Naturally, there are many other factors at work, too, such as bike-friendly topography, including river routes and car-free greens; and the Cambridge University ‘motor proctor’ who prevents students from driving cars, and has done so since the beginning of motoring. Nevertheless, an active local campaign group has been instrumental in growing the local cycling scene, and this clearly benefits bike shops.

The Bristol Cycling Campaign is another campaign group working wonders for local cyclists, and bike shops. Campaigners have been active for a number of years in Bristol (it’s where Cyclebag was founded in 1977, a campaign group which grew into Sustrans) and their largely unsung work will now be boosted by cash from the Cycling Cities Ambition fund and from the pro-bicycle policies of Bristol’s first elected mayor, George Ferguson. Elected on an independent ticket in November 2012, Ferguson says he wants to double the number of cyclists in Bristol within six years.

There’s talk of Dutch-style infrastructure for the city. Mark Bradshaw, Bristol’s assistant mayor for transport, planning, strategic housing and regeneration, said: “We are producing a new cycling strategy and have been working with Bristol Cycling Campaign on plans for the strategic cycle network for the city…We will continue to work with the campaign group and other stakeholders in delivering a comprehensive network for Bristol.”

Other stakeholders? Could that include bike shops? It certainly ought to. Bike shops across the UK should be working hand in (cycling) glove with their local campaign groups. They want what you want: more people on bicycles.

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