Exclusive extract from Chris Boardman’s autobiography, Triumphs and Turbulence, by Ebury Press.
My first foray into the world of transport policy had been in 2003 when I’d sat on the National Cycling Strategy Board, a body set up by government supposedly to advise on ways to increase cycling. It took me just under two years to realise there was zero appetite to do anything meaningful to achieve the stated goal and that setting up the committee represented the entirety of govern- ment action on cycling. I resigned soon after.
Now, in 2012, the climate was different. The unprecedented success of the GB team ever since the Beijing Olympics had given both the general public and the press an awareness of cycling that had been missing a decade earlier and their interest seemed to be intensifying. Something which had been viewed by many decision makers as a frivolous leisure pursuit that got in the way of the serious adult business of driving was now being discussed as a genuine transport solution.
It was an easy cause to champion: it lowered pollution, reduced congestion, improved health and was cheap to implement. There was just no logical downside to cycling as a means of transport. In a civilised society it should have been the obvious way to get about, particularly since nearly 70 percent of UK car journeys were under five miles.
Yet despite the mountains of evidence in favour of promoting cycling – much of it generated by government departments – many in Westminster were just as uninterested in two-wheeled transport as they had always been. They simply didn’t like it and had no intention of letting facts guide their decisions. Unfortunately for them, public opinion and a good press were something that couldn’t be ignored. But the smiles and positive words would never lead to actual change unless some traction could be gained while the sun was shining on the sport. That’s why my appearance on BBC’s Newsnight in 2012 was so important. I was now an advocate, a political activist for the two-wheeled cause.
EMILY MAITLIS: Cycling is something that is very close to the British character. Do you think that we are embracing that because we see it in ourselves, because everyone is on the road now?
CHRIS BOARDMAN: I think it is just a wonderfully accessible tool for transport. And something that you can do from age 8 to 80. And either side of that as well. Unlike running. you can freewheel riding a bike, you can choose your speed, so it is massively accessible. And what I hope is what we are seeing here is a massive advert for the sport and we will see it ripple out and see it used more as a tool for transport. So the implications of success here could be huge.
EM: Really, so in terms of, sort of, over turning how our cities are run? Bradley Wiggins made the point just yesterday, after the tragic death of the cyclist yesterday in London, that he felt that, not speaking about the young man who died, that helmets should be enforcable by law. Does that …
CB: I’m not sure about that actually and the statistics don’t really necessarily support it either. It’s a tool for transport and helmets are a tool that are used when they are required and I think that really the question is why do we need helmets now and we didn’t 10 years ago. I think they can distract … detract, for me, from what is the real argument. Why can’t we make an environment that lets this activity take place? It solves so many problems with pollution, with health, with congestion. Why don’t we invest in it?
EM: And what is that? You have a mayor of London that who is a keen cyclist who has thrown money at it, and the Boris Bikes and all the rest.
CB: There is a finite amount of road space and we are at the junction now where you have to make a choice. And politically that is very difficult because someone has to pay, and at the moment road design is for cyclists to get out of the way the car safely, rather than lets get the car out of the way of the cyclist. And that is a big call for a politician to make.
EM: And you don’t think anyone will do that?
CB: Well, I think things like we are seeing right now with the Olympics, and with the kind of focus on the sport along with as well the amount of people riding in London, in what is a challenging environment, now is a good time to make a call like that.
Chris Boardman will be signing copies of Triumphs and Turbulence at:
12.30pm London Wall Waterstones – London Wall
7pm Waterstones Liverpool One – West Africa House, Liverpool
7pm Rossiter Books – Blake Theatre, Monmouth
1pm WHSmith Birmingham – Union Street, Birmingham
7.30pm Booka Bookshop – The Marches School, Oswestry
12.30pm Linghams Bookshop – Heswall, Wirral
7.00pm Silverwood Events – University of Central Lancashire, Preston
Chris Boardman won a gold medal at the Olympics in 1992, and in 1994 became the first British rider since Tommy Simpson in 1967 to wear the race leader’s yellow jersey in the Tour de France. After he retired from racing he became the backroom guru behind British Cycling’s Olympic successes. He headed up the R&D team known as the Secret Squirrel Club, whose meticulous attention to detail and pioneering technical know-how was the crucial aspect of the team’s success at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. He also developed Boardman Bikes.