Normal for Norfolk is a cruel term devised by doctors at a Norwich hospital to categorise some of their more intellectually challenged patients.
I’d now like to amend and appropriate the term for cycling, and replace the derogatory connotations.
Normal for the Netherlands – N.F.N – would stand for conditions conducive to mass cycling. Cycling for "nannas and nippers," as John the Monkey said on Twitter recently.
Those in favour of the creation of miles and miles of segregated bicycle routes, of the type common on the continent, believe that grandmothers and children – ie the mass of the population – will be attracted to cycling only after the construction of safe routes for cyclists.
This is a laudable aim. But the present administration – just like all the others before them – seem to have no appetite for reducing on-street parking, taking road-space away from motorised vehicles and spending shed-loads on cyclists. It’s fine to spend billions on widening a few miles of motorways, but political suicide to even countenance building stuff for cyclists.
So, if I waited until there was a perfect bicycle infrastructure before letting my kids out on their bikes on British roads, they would be adults before even a tenth of a perfect network was built.
Thing is, my kids are already Normal for the Netherlands. They go on cycle holidays. They cycle to school. You know, on roads. With cars.
Isn’t this dangerous? Can be, but it’s cocooned kids who face the greatest danger long-term. A sedentary lifestyle is a recipe for a whole host of killer diseases. As we all know, the health benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks.
I suspect that the UK government could spend billions on bike paths but this still wouldn’t get Brits on bikes in the numbers that segregationistas hope for. It’s not just the lack of kerbs on bike lanes, there’s a wider image problem. Brits have been brought up on the fact that cycling is wacky. ‘Look at the funny hats, shoes and tight clothing they wear’, seems to underpin a great deal of the anti-cyclist invective you see in newspapers. Bizarrely, beautifully, a recent Daily Mail piece on why Lycra puts people off cycling was accompanied by a wonderful picture of Kelly Brook in a pretty flouncy dress on a classic English roadster complete with wicker basket.
This image said cycling is normal. Cycling as something anybody can do, in street clothes, without a helmet. [Disclaimer: I ride wearing a helmet and frequently squeeze into Spandex].
Sure, the bike trade profits from hi-vis jackets, helmets and all the other clobber for enthusiast cyclists but such cyclists are not Normal for the Netherlands. To expand the market, to get to Dutch levels of bicycle spend per capita, we need to normalise cycling. I’m not suggesting bike shops should cease to stock, or hide under the counter, what tabloid writers consider pervy gear, but might it not be a good idea to have more ‘normal’ cycle imagery and goods displayed in windows and in-store rather than just wall-to-wall out-group stuff?
Naturally, if you’re a BMX or road specialist or sited near to a MTB trail centre, you’ll stick to what you know sells to your tightly-defined captive audience, but would city centre bike shops hoping to attract new customers do more business if their window displays didn’t flag the fetish gear? Nippers and nannas tend not to go into Ann Summers stores.