Entries tagged with “cycle chic”.

I was at the Cycling Scotland conference and tried to do a bit of live tweeting. Derek MacKay MSP stated in his speech that he prefers not to be photographed in hi-viz, to which I tweeted:

I was rather surprised by the reaction that this sparked off on twitter. Firstly, there was the comment that wearing nice clothes was not going to make the roads safer. But It was a comment that rather missed the point, as neither wearing hi-viz nor a helmet does. To make the roads safer we need to start with a danger reduction approach, which means reducing danger at source. The point of the tweet was to point out that we finally have a transport minster who is not following the Taliban approach to road safety and does not feel that he has to set an example by wearing hi-vis and a helmet to be photographed. Instead, for cycling occasions he is always photographed in normal clothes for press photo shoots, even when some around him choose to do otherwise.

More tweets followed from a number of people, suggesting that I was in some way “anti-Lycra”, and was in some way blaming people in lycra for putting off others. This is where trying to discuss issues on Twitter can get very confused, sometimes it can be very hard to make a nuanced point in 140 characters. My comment above was very much about the use of images and the message which such images can send. There were also comments from other about infrastructure being more important that clothing, but in many ways the two are interlinked.

Why is clothing important in normalising cycling? Ask anyone in the fashion industry and they will tell you that clothes speak volumes about who you are and how you feel. In places where cycling is a normal means of getting from A to B, people just ride in ordinary clothes. They don’t get dressed up to ride a bicycle, unless they are doing so to ride for sport (there is also a misunderstanding about Danish “cycle chic”, Copenhageners don’t dress up to ride a bike, that’s just normal dress for them). In the UK some people seem to believe that it is necessary to dress in a certain way in order to ride a bicycle, for what ever reason. Part of this is to do with something I refer to as the Taliban approach to road safety, the failed idea that making people dress in a particular way makes the roads safer – it doesn’t. Indeed, the promotion of hi-viz and helmets can create a barrier to cycling. Added to this, the motor lobby is always keen to promote the use of hi-viz and helmets, as a means of transferring blame to the victim, and to avoid liability.

Does this mean that we should all start to ride in ordinary clothes as a political statement? No, of course not. There are those who will do so, but for most people the choice of cycle clothing is more about comfort, or more correctly, comfort and fear. Before I moved to Aberdeen I had never felt the need to wear Hi-viz, but in Aberdeen I felt different, it was/is hostile to anyone cycling (or even walking). So I bought a yellow cycling jacket, which made me feel better, but made no real difference to the way I was treated. Drivers still treated me as if they couldn’t see me. Over time, I came to realise that in places like Aberdeen drivers simply don’t look for people cycling, as there are so few. Later I came to realise that bright lights were more effective for being seen in a hostile environment, but not a solution. Like bright clothing, they are a survival mechanism (the real solution is to change the road environment).

In places where there are more cyclists (and pedestrians), drivers are more likely to look out for those more vulnerable road users. However, that doesn’t automatically lead to greater safety or a feeling of safety, you only have to look at images from London to see that there is plenty of fear there. There is a flaw in the “safety in numbers” theory, the death rate on UK roads per Km walked or cycled is higher than in many other parts of Europe. In places where cycling is common, it is infrastructure and legal structure that make cycling (and walking) safe, and this is why you see people of all ages, wearing normal clothes, using bicycles as transport.

In the UK there is another thing going on, which has to do with group identity. This has led to the term MAMIL or “Middle Aged Men In Lycra”, and generally refers to male cyclists who treat travelling to work as an adventure sport. There are those who justify wearing Lycra for commuting on the grounds that they have to ride fast due to the distance of their commute. It is an interesting thing that the average cycle commuting distance in the UK is longer than on the Continent. This is probably because so many cycle commuters in the UK are keen cyclists and like to use their commutes as training rides. On the Continent, in places where cycling is seen as normal (something the 95% engage in, not just the 5%), the sort people who in the UK have 1-5 km journeys and would drive or take the bus, ride a bicycle instead. So there are a great deal more short journeys by bike. For longer distances, the Contintentals are more likely to travel by multimodal means, for example: cycling to the station to take a train, and then walking or using another bicycle at the other end, to get to their final destination. That is not to say that there aren’t people commuting distances of greater than 5 Km by bicycle in these countries, it is just that they are more likely to use an e-bike, so that they don’t arrive sweaty.

Is the MAMIL image a problem? I have been accused of being anti-Lycra or even anti-cycling for using the term MAMIL. Neither is true, there is a place for Lycra and it fine in its place. However, it can be a barrier to making cycling more inclusive, as it can put people off, especially those not currently cycling. No doubt there are some cyclists who will say that the sort of people who are put off by MAMILs wouldn’t cycle anyway. However, if you go to a Women’s Cycle Forum and listen, you will find women saying that the perceived need for lycra, hi-viz and helmets does put them off cycling. A case study: L. is a woman over the age of 40 who says she is put off by the MAMIL image of cycling. However, on a trip to Bruges, L. was persuaded to try riding a bicycle because people of all ages, shapes and sizes were cycling in normal clothes. She now occasionally rides a bicycle in Edinburgh, and although L. is not a regular cyclist, she now has greater understanding of cycling, which is useful, given that her current job is in transport policy.

Before going any further, I will return to the point I made above, people should be free to wear whatever they feel is comfortable for their cycling journey. Images are important here, and where everyday cycling is being promoted, images which show hi-viz and helmets should be avoided. It is always disappointing to see organisations which soak up large amounts of funding, using images of people on bicycles dressed up in hi-viz and helmets. Generally, the majority of people are less likely to engage in an activity that looks like a minority activity, where you need to dress up in specific clothes and that may be dangerous. This makes trying to increase funding for active travel much harder, as it is seen to only benefit the few rather than the many. If you make cyclists look like a small outgroup, it going to be far, far harder to get those with the power to take space from motor vehicles to act. The Dutch didn’t get their famous cycle infrastructure by campaigning for “cyclists”, they did it for the children. Now that those children have grown up, they are the most relaxed parents in Europe, as they don’t have to worry about the safety of their children outwith the home. If we want the same here, we have to make active travel attractive and desirable, and we also have to make it normal and inclusive.

Cycle chic inspires others

Remember images are important

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I recently came across Dublin Cycling Stories, which is a series of short portraits of people who use bikes to get around Dublin. These films were made with support from the Dublin Cycling Campaign and Dublin City Council. The site is inspiring in many ways and there are lessons here for Edinburgh. After all, Dublin and Edinburgh are capital cities of a similar size, both are emerging cycling cities, although Dublin is way ahead of Edinburgh, as we shall see.

Where Dublin has got it right, and where other emerging cycling cities should take note, is that the influencers in the city have made it a priority to promote the Cycling Stories as a normal way of life for Dubliners, and not just a fringe lifestyle for the brave few. These short films were made to show the world how gloriously easy, fun and sexy a bike ride can be, what a great idea!

Let’s start with Lisa’s story, the young mum taking her child to nursery …

… this shows that cycling can be easy and fun, something that both mother and daughter enjoy.

Then there is Paul’s story, he uses a bicycle for work …

… as a photographer he has to carry equipment about with him, but he can easily do so by bike and it’s obvious that going by bike has many advantages over using a car.

For a bit of contrast we have Julie’s story…

… she’s a student and tells us about how cycling gives her freedom (and how hills aren’t really a problem).

Next, we have Georgia’s story, showing how easy and sociable cycling can be as a way of getting about the city …

… in Georgia’s story we see clearly how far ahead Dublin is of Edinburgh in terms of infrastructure.

The film shows Dublin as having a connected network of cycle paths, where space has been taken from motor vehicles. Edinburgh is only just beginning to timidly experiment with this on George Street …

George Street, Edinburgh

… although in true Edinburgh fashion, they have only gotten half way through doing it, then downed tools for the Festival. George Street looks great, but doesn’t actually connect with anything at either end and is not part of a direct route to go anywhere, showing a frustrating lack of thought about cycling as a means of transport by the planners (and they call themselves transport professionals?).

Another thing that is different in Dublin, compared with Edinburgh, is evident from the dublinbikes story …

… Dublin claims to have the most successful bike share scheme in Europe. Edinburgh has yet to dabble with a bike share scheme, although such schemes have been real game changers in other cities. Will Edinburgh ever get a bike share scheme?

Well let’s just say that Rob Grisdale, MD of nextbike UK was sighted in Edinburgh yesterday, and he wasn’t here to do the festival (although I am told, he did manage to take in a show or two). So will Edinburgh ever get a bike share scheme? Given the City of Edinburgh Council’s desire to remain stuck firmly in the 1980’s it would seem not, but as Stirling is showing, the council doesn’t have to be in the lead, it could be a forward-looking social enterprise that takes the lead. I am not going to say more here, but there are ideas forming.

Possibly the greatest lesson these films have for Edinburgh (or indeed other cities) is that by promoting positive images of average people using the humble bicycle as a means of transportation, cycling can be used to “humanize” the city. In the last century the coming of the car brutalised our cities, now in the 21st century, civic leaders are starting to recognize the importance of the bicycle to creating living cities of the new millennium – the ones which embrace multi-modal transportation.

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Having spent far too much time trying to find how other places achieved the high cycling rates they have, I have come to the conclusion that there are two factors which can increase cycling rates and make cycling feel ”normal”.

First: provide usable, high quality (although not necessary expensive) cycling specific infrastructure. Lot of people have bikes and will use them more if they feel it is safe and covenant to do so. This is something which is slowly coming about, with the emphasis on the word “slowly”, and is not helped by so much money being wasted on poor quality unusable cycling infrastructure, which is not fit for purpose. But that is for another post.

Then: emotional marketing, and this is something I would like to discuss in this blog post.

It is important to make riding a bicycle feel like a normal thing to do, for a number of reasons, not least because people are then more likely to support (and demand) the provision of usable cycling infrastructure.

A large proportion of the UK population knows how to ride a bicycle and indeed own at least one bike. Sadly, most bikes are at the back of a shed gathering dust. So at some stage in their lives people felt that riding a bicycle was an ordinary and normal thing to do. However, most adults no longer ride bicycles on a regular basis, and cycling as an adult is no longer seen as normal. For more on why this is the case, I recommend reading Dave Horton’s work on the fear of cycling.

So how do we overcome this fear of cycling? This is where emotional marketing comes in, which is about selling a lifestyle, making it look attractive and desirable. If you are wondering what this has to do with transport, well the motor industry spends about £830m a year on advertising, much of which can been seen as emotional marketing. They are selling a lifestyle: making driving seem ordinary and aspirational at the same time. However, the advertising rarely, if ever shows congestion, the roads are always empty, suggesting this should be the default way to travel. The reality, as we all know, is often very different, but the marketing makes people forget these downsides, and believe there is no other way.

Now obviously the cycling industry doesn’t have the same sort of money for advertising as the motor industry, and many in bike business just aren’t interested in cycling as transport (rather than sports & leisure), but increasingly bicycles are being used in lifestyle advertising. So things are starting to move our way. A number of cities in mainland Europe have started to run marketing campaigns to promote cycling as a means of urban transport, notably Bozen/Bolzano, Munich, and Copenhagen.

These broad promotional campaigns are intended to “sell” the idea of bicycling to those who currently don’t cycle, and to create a positive image for cycling among the public in general. In the same way that the motor industry uses advertising, this promotes a certain lifestyle, successful cycling campaigns appeal to the emotions of their audiences to sell the idea of cycling as a positive lifestyle choice. They use emotion-based sales pitches rather than logic-based ones, and this has generally been proven to be more successful. However, it is important to note that simply encouraging people to cycle more without making it easy to do and attractive will not succeed. These campaigns are not a substitute for providing good, usable, cycling infrastructure. They can, however, play an important role in encouraging people to ask for something better. It is about hearts and minds. After all, if people don’t know there is a better option than the one they have, they aren’t going to ask for it.

These city (or regional) marketing campaigns are well funded formal campaigns, but they aren’t the only form of emotional marketing of cycling going on. At a more informal level, there is the global “Cycle Chic” movement. This is a collection of blogs inspired by the original Cycle Chic blog (better known as Copenhagen Cycle Chic) which started from a single photo and has developed into an international consultancy. These blogs are mostly individual enterprises which aim to celebrate ordinary people, riding bicycles in ordinary clothes, in cities and towns around the world. The message they are sending is: look, there are people just like you riding bicycles as transport, if they can, so can you. As the strap line of Edinburgh Cycle Chic puts it, “Because you don’t have to wear Lycra”. It is the activity of these blogs, documenting people riding on the streets that have attracted the attention of the fashion industry, which is increasingly using bicycles as props in its advertising. If there is one industry which can out-spend all others and influence lifestyles, it is the fashion industry. It also has the power to reach people who are not engaged by traditional cycle industry marketing. In the UK, research carried out by Sustrans in early 2009 found that 79 per cent of British women never cycle at all, but 69% of those would cycle if they felt it was safe.

For some reason there are some existing cyclists in the English speaking world who find the Cycle Chic movement disturbing, but I am really not sure why. Cycling is an activity which just about everybody can do, and it has a lot of potential as everyday short range transport, so where is the problem in promoting it as such? Part of the problem may lie in the fact that cycling can mean many different things, as Graeme Obree says: “It’s is a sport, it’s a pastime and it’s a form of transport. You don’t football down to the shops”.

A lot of the opposition to disquiet about the idea of Cycle Chic appears to come from what can loosely be termed the “Lycra brigade”, who seem to feel that they are in some way being criticised by the emphasis on riding in ordinary clothes. They rather miss the point, Cycle Chic is not about them, no one is saying “Thou shalt not wear Lycra!”. The country which probably has more cycling clubs per head of population and the most fanatical cycle racing fans, is The Netherlands. This is also the country with more people cycling in normal clothes on an everyday basis, there is no reason why this should have a negative effect on cycling as sport.

For those who like to cycle fast or over long distances, there is a case for wearing technical clothing, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, this sort of cycling is never going to appeal to the masses, even the most popular mass participation sports in the UK only engage about 5% of the population each. However, everyone makes short journeys of the sort of distance which can easily be covered by bicycle, and the whole point of Cycle Chic is to show that anyone can ride a bicycle as a means of everyday transport, and that you don’t have to be an athlete to do it.

There are also a small number of people who criticise the idea of Cycle Chic on supposed “safety” grounds. Saying that people should wear hi-visibility clothing and cycle helmets while cycling in order to be safe, this is a totally false argument, as I have pointed out before. Sadly a number of these people seem to think that emphasising high-vis and helmets in cycling campaigns will somehow encourage people to take up cycling. The truth is it won’t, most people are risk adverse. Telling them that they will be safe if they dress in a certain way, while ignoring the real source of the problem, will simply put them off. This has been shown over the last 20+ years by the failure of these “safety” campaigns to raise cycling levels to those seen on the European mainland, and shows it is clearly time for a fresh approach in the UK. There are lessons to be learnt from our near neighbours across the North Sea, where they have shown that the cycling infrastructure and emotional marketing approaches work, especially if employed in tandem.

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For the second part of my look at Alpine cycle chic, I travelled south from Innsbruck to Bozen/Bolzano. The dual name tells you that we have now moved to the South Tyrol (German and Ladin: Südtirol, Italian: Sudtirolo or Alto Adige) in the north of Italy. Once again, this trip was not primarily about taking cycling photos, we had other reasons for going there. I just took the opportunity to grab a few photos.

On exiting the station, you quickly become aware that this is a place with a strong cycling culture, bicycles are everywhere. But it wasn’t until I stopped to take a photo of a shop across the street that I realised just how strong a cycling culture it is. It wasn’t the bikes in the shop window that made me realise this, pretty though they are, it was the reaction of people driving past. There was a traffic light at the end of the street, and instead of rushing to join the stationary queue of traffic, these drivers were slowing down to look longingly at the bikes in the shop. As I was trying to take photos, one of the drivers saw me, smiled and stopped short, so as not to block my view! That is something which would never happen in the UK, as I know from experience. Oh, and here is the shop…

Bikes in Bozen

Bikes in Bozen

Bikes in Bozen

I was tempted to rush in and buy a bicycle my self, but my financial conscience wouldn’t let me, she was after all standing beside me.

According to the conventional wisdom (of English speaking cycle campaign groups), Bozen/Bolzano shouldn’t have a bicycling culture because it isn’t flat. I am often told that a major reason that bicycles are popular in places like the Netherlands and Denmark is because the are flat, and that in places with hills people don’t cycle. OK, would those people please explain these photos then?

Bozen isn't flat

Bozen isn't flat

Bozen isn't flat

Bozzen isn't flat

Another thing Bozen/Bolzano does have is cycle specific infrastructure, such as separated cycle lanes,

Bozen cycle infrastructure

lots of cycle parking,

Bikes in Bozen

Bikes in Bozen

and this is a street open to limited motor traffic.

If you don’t have a bike with you when visit Bozen/Bolzano, there is bicycle rental (Fahrradverleih/Noleggio biciclette), which costs €1 for six hours, €2 for more than six hours and €5 a day for multi day hire. We didn’t hire bikes on this visit, but having seen them outside the station, we will probably do so on another visit.

My favourite bit of infrastructure in Bozen/Bolzano is actually for pedestrians and just outside the station.

Bozen infrastructure

Bozen infrastructure

This pedestrian crossing goes all the way around the roundabout, thereby giving pedestrians priority, putting cars in their place, and it seems to work. I really liked Bozen/Bolzano from our brief visit, and it is no surprise to find that it was ranked as having the second highest quality of life of Italian cities in 2007. The first place was taken by Trento, which I have yet to visit, one day. It is also no surprise that places that have a high quality of life are also tend to be bicycle friendly! Update: it would appear that in 2010 Bozen/Bolzano took the top spot with Trento in second.

Finally I will leave you with a few more photos of bicycles and people in Bozen/Bolzano.

Bikes in Bozen

One for Bike Snob

Bozen cycle chic

Bikes in Bozen

Botzen cycle chic

Addendum: Since first writing this post I have discovered that Bozen/Bolzano was the first city in Italy to install a “bicycle barometer” similar to the bicycle counting machines exist in Copenhagen, and that modal share of cycling in Bozen/Bolzano is around 30%! Oh and the only time I saw a cycle helmet being worn the whole day, was by a long distance tourer at the station, he also had a Californian flag on the bars of his bike…

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