Cycling UK’s mission is to enable millions more people to cycle, in order to create a ‘happier, healthier and cleaner world’. That mission has still been going strong in 2018 with campaigns, rides, events and promotions happening all across the country. Nearly 11,000 people responded to the Government’s road safety review, 70,000 cyclists were engaged through the Big Bike Revival, over 13,000 local rides took place and the charity welcomed over 350,000 people to Bike Week. “It’s about people power,” says Matt Mallinder, director of influence and engagement.
One of the main focuses of Cycling UK is campaigning. For example, in September, when a proposed ban on cyclists using the A63 near Hull was overturned by Highways England, something that was described by Cycling UK at the time as a ‘victory for common sense’. “The A63 was really important for us to get up and stand up and fight for all cyclists,” Mallinder says. The charity has also been involved in Government reviews, including on the back of the case of Charlie Alliston, who was jailed for 18 months in September 2017 for knocking over and killing 44-year-old Kim Briggs as he cycled through east London on a bike with no front brakes. Alliston, 20, was cleared of manslaughter but found guilty of causing bodily harm by ‘wanton and furious driving’. Mallinder explains: “On the back of that we were called into the Government, it was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction, and launched this road safety review around cycling.
“We thought it was all going to be helmets and hi-vis, but actually we came together with a really credible argument and came out with a big dossier called ‘Why Wouldn’t You’, which is a long list of common sense approaches to road safety and we galvanised nearly 11,000 people to write to the Minister, so they were overwhelmed by the response.”
More recently, a review from the Government on the Highway Code revealed the inclusion of Dutch Reach, aiming to educate drivers on how to not hit cyclists when they open their car door. This is where the driver uses their left hand to open the door, which forces them to rotate their body and look out the window to the road. That way if anything’s coming, they see it before the door is opened. “What it shows is two things,” Mallinder says. “One, that the Government or the Department for Transport want to listen when credible arguments are given to them, and two, that this is about people power.
“This is about getting everyday cyclists involved in the political side of cycling to make the Government listen. If it’s just me shouting then they’re not going to understand it. We want the Government to really understand that these are voters and they’ve got a mandate to spend our money and taxes in the right way. We’re very much about empowering people to get involved and enable them to be part of the wider cycling campaign.”
Cycling UK is also aiming to overcome barriers that people face when it comes to cycling, whether that be an economic one, a social one, or a cultural one. One way it does this is the Big Bike Revival. “This is half a million pounds worth of funding from the DfT and half a million from Transport Scotland,” Mallinder explains. “The initiative there is to encourage people to either renovate a bike that they’re already got in the shed, or give them access to a cheap bike either through a bike loan or through working with a bicycle recycling centre.”
He says it’s a progressive programme and reaches communities that don’t cycle, to encourage participation but also to improve the gender gap in cycling. He adds: “We know cycling is biased towards male and middle class, and we want to remedy that. “Big Bike Revival is something that we hold dear. We recognise that people do need that helping hand, but it’s a little nudge. That’s the cherry on the cake for us, we feel very proud of that.”
Mallinder also talks about the fun of cycling engagement, and not always needing to take it so seriously. “As an organisation, you probably don’t think of us as sporty types of people,” he says. “But we’ve got a series of challenge rides, we’ve got sportives that we put on, and we joke with it: you’re more likely to get a flapjack on our ride than an energy gel, but it’s getting back to the heart of why we all cycle and that social bit of the sportive market.”
Another way Cycling UK hopes to increase engagement is through Bike Week. It aims to engage with people that could cycle, who have access to a bike and a reason to ride, whether it’s to work or school, but aren’t necessarily cycling enthusiasts. “It’s just to really shine a light on the activity, but we also provide toolkits and insurance to get groups riding. We’ve got 350,000 people that take part in that week, so that’s really nice engagement.
“The other one that we started two years ago, which was successful again this year was our Women’s Festival of Cycling,” Mallinder adds. “We’re not trying to pigeon-hole people in any way, because women’s cycling could be going to the shops or it could be going around the world, but we know that women are under-represented in cycling and we want to shine a light on it and use them to inspire each other.”
Cycling UK also launched its search for 100 inspiring Women in Cycling, where it searched for nominees from the biggest names in cycling to women working largely unrecognised in grassroots development, and all those in between. It is not the top 100 women in cycling, it’s just 100 women, Mallinder explains. The charity also puts on women-specific rides, with the aim to get people in a safe, non-threatening environment, meeting like-minded people, so that afterwards they carry on cycling, either on their own or in groups. Mallinder says: “We recognise that three-quarters of the bikes that are sold are actually used off-road, but actually a lot of the campaigning is focused on urban communities.
“People just want to get out – they didn’t want to drive to the countryside – they just wanted to cycle from their house to a green space. We’re looking at working with the Government to change the right of way on footpaths, to open up the countrysides to cycling, and working with major landowners to give access.” At the root of a lot of this engagement is a good relationship with the DfT, which Cycling UK works closely with. Mallinder says: “We’re very proud that we can be a critical friend, to the DfT. We see them as the good guys, they’re working incredibly hard. But obviously they’ve got a Government above them that makes the decisions, and they make those based on popular choices.
“We also know that we as the cycling community need to make the case for cycling stronger, and you have to look at the budget. We know from our programmes and our own experience that cycling is one of the best and cheapest ways of getting into a light mental health space, it’s a really good tool. We need to make the case that cycling isn’t just about transport, it helps mental health and wellbeing, social cohesion, environment, urban, rail and congestion.”
Cycling engagement can also be improved on a small scale too, for example, this year Cycling UK launched a search for Cyclist Cafe of the Year for the first time. The competition had four winners, one for each England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Mallinder says: “We all know that cycling and cup of tea go well together, but what we want to do is reach out to all those people who are involved in cycling in any small way.
“There are some really good cafes that are going that extra mile to welcome sweaty groups of cyclists all turning up at once and demanding cakes and cups of tea. We just wanted to shine a light on that and say ‘we’re all part of one big community’, and say thanks to them.”
Whether it’s a small campaign or a national Government one, Cycling UK aims to promote all forms of cycling, protect the interests of existing and would-be cyclists, and inspire people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to discover the joys of cycling. “When people start cycling, not many stop,” Mallinder concludes.