Words by Danny Williams, author of Cyclists in the City:
Over the past three years, people in cities like London, Manchester and Edinburgh have campaigned increasingly loudly for their elected officials to invest in meaningful cycling infrastructure. In London, thousands of people took part in flash rides and over 10,000 pedalled in the rain to support the London Cycling Campaign’s initiative for London to “Go Dutch”. In Edinburgh, several thousands took part in the Pedal on Parliament and did so again this year.
Authorities have sat up and taken note. The cycling vote became an important part of last year’s London elections and, in March, led directly to Boris Johnson unveiling a significant revision of his cycling strategy.
This summer, the Mayor of London will unveil several miles of proper, Dutch-style bicycle infrastructure. Some cities in the UK are beginning to see that creating safe routes for people to take up cycling is a way to attract investment, reduce congestion and to drive economic growth.
Yet support from bicycle manufacturers and, with the odd exception, bicycle shops is noticeable by its absence. Bike Hub levy cash supports childrens’ cycling initiatives, via Sustrans, and this is welcome, but there’s no support for at-the-coalface cycle campaigning.
Brompton is ploughing a lone furrow, having had the foresight to sponsor London’s Go Dutch initiatives. Elsewhere the bike industry has remained silent. There’s precious little support from bicycle companies in terms of funding or in supporting initiatives that would increase the national pool of people who use bikes. The bike industry doesn’t tend to engage with some of the serious funding and policy discussions on a social media level, let alone actually spend any money to get behind this movement to embrace the bicycle.
When Boris Johnson goes to battle central government to raise funds for his cycling revolution, the bike industry is invisible. It doesn’t seem to be lobbying for investment in safe cycle infrastructure or support changes in the law to protect people out riding for sport on the roads.
Instead, the bike industry seems content to maximise sales to consumers and ignore the role it could have to make things better for cycling in the UK. That job is being left to poorly-funded campaign organisations and to groups of individuals who, like the people behind London’s flash rides and Edinburgh’s Pedal on Parliament, have had enough of the imbalance on our streets and roads and want to create a country where everyone can get on a bike, for work, for pleasure or for utility. I can’t think why the UK bike industry wouldn’t be interested in supporting those goals.
National companies should be getting themselves involved with major regional campaigns like those of the London Cycling Campaign or the Pedal on Parliament initiative. They should also be working with British Cycling, which has been robustly challenging government to provide better funding for cycling and to change legislation that discriminates against cycling on our roads. They should be forming working groups to support what British Cycling has started and provide it with more financial muscle but, just as importantly, they should be spreading the word and getting more people involved. We need to make everyone who cycles in this country campaign for better conditions. That will only happen if the bike industry gets together and works with established leaders like British Cycling to promote common themes and messages to the wider biking community.
Bike shops should be an excellent conduit for these sorts of initiatives. Until the larger industry players start to get their act together, though, there is absolutely no excuse for local bike shops not to get involved in local cycling campaign initiatives. Bike shops need to get themselves in tune with what the campaigners are looking to achieve and they too should be amplifying those messages, making their customers aware and building consensus.
We need the bike industry to come together and get behind initiatives that will really make the UK a place where people cycle as a daily activity. I’d go as far as to argue the bike industry has a moral responsibility to get behind these initiatives.
Danny Williams is author of Cyclists in the City blog and a member of Boris Johnson’s Roads Task Force for London.
There’s a response to this article from the Bicycle Association’s Phillip Darnton here.