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How one simple thing changed my life

How one simple thing changed my life

Some eight years ago when this blog was very new, I wrote a post called On cycle commuting, as it was “coming up to that time of year when people make resolutions to change their lives”. I think it is time to revisit that post. I hadn’t at that time seen just how much selling my car to fund my first year at university and getting a bicycle was going to change my life (OK, so the money only lasted the first term, but I did have a very good time).

That was how I came to sell my last car in 1994 and since then I have never looked back. The car was an MG Midget 1500 since you ask, and I had had two MKIII Midgets (one of which had round rear wheel arches, such a pretty wee car) before that, but despite the 1500’s ugly rubber bumper this one was my favourite, it was such fun. But I digress, at the time I sold the car I couldn’t imagine living without a car and thought that as soon as I graduated I would get myself another one. However, that was not the way things worked out, by the end of four years of car free living I had discovered freedom in the shape of a bicycle and my own two feet, and so I didn’t want to go back to owning a money pit. You never really realise just what a burden a car is until you get rid of it, it is a continual drain on resources. So people think of the car as freedom, but then constantly complain about congestion, the cost of fuel (even when it is getting cheaper), the lack of parking, the cost of insurance, etc. Drivers are never really happy.

When I was living in Aberdeen (2002-2005), I did for a short while consider buying another car. Aberdeen is an awful place to live as it is so car sick, it is difficult to get about by active travel even though it is a small city and distances are short. At the same time it is heavily congested, people drive everywhere, and as a result it can take over half an hour to make a two mile journey. Yes it would be quicker to walk, but there are continuous barriers put up to make walking unpleasant and dangerous, which further increases the incentive to drive. However, I discovered that even in Aberdeen I could get about by bike, although it was more stressful than anywhere else I have ever cycled. Have you tried cycling on roads used by Humvees? In a city where Range Rovers are two a penny, there are some drivers who feel vulnerable unless they are driving a light armoured car imported from a dubious source in the Middle East.

So while I did feel peer pressure to buy a car, especially for getting out of Aberdeen into glorious Aberdeenshire, the thing that ultimately stopped me was sitting down with a piece of paper and working out the economics of doing so. It didn’t take me long to work out that for what it would cost me to buy and run a well maintained five year old second hand car, I could hire a car for three week long rentals and several more weekends (which was as much usage as I could see myself needing at the time). Not only that, but by hiring I would always have the use of a brand new car, I could choose the right size for the journey I was making and if by any chance it did breakdown, I could just hand it back and get another one. Why buy, it really made no sense. After moving back to Edinburgh I did consider joining the City Car Club, but again found that it didn’t suit my needs, in Edinbugh I didn’t feel the need for so many weekend hires and the CCC is more expensive for longer hires, CCC cars are intended to be hired for a few hours at a time. In the last few years I haven’t even felt the need to hire a car at all, as I have discovered that car free holidays are really great fun.

Looking back at my blog post On cycle commuting I realise that it was only the tenth post I had written and the first on the subject of cycling. When I first started this blog I had no idea what I was going to write about, it certainly hadn’t occurred to me that cycling was a subject I was actually interested in. For me the bicycle was just a quick and convenient way of getting from A to B, it was transport, a utility item and nothing more. However, around the same time I found myself commenting on a cycling forum. I don’t quite remember how it happened, I think I was looking something up on the internet and found myself in the commuting section of the old C plus forum (now part of Bike Radar). For some reason I felt the need to join in the conversation, it was the first time that I had joined an internet forum. When the C plus forum was subsumed into Bike Radar, I, like many others, moved to a tiny new forum, run as a hobby by a guy called Shaun. This forum started to see exponential growth and in some ways being there at the start of the growth felt like being a pioneer. I became a regular poster and was involved in a few innovations which helped it to grow as a community.

I found that I made a number of friends through CycleChat, people I have broken bread (or should that be cake) with in the real world, not just on-line ‘friends’. However, over time I drifted away from forums and onto Twitter, here I was involved in a wider range of conversations. Around the same time I also became a qualified cycle trainer and for a while taught kids to ride bikes on the road. This, along with my experiences as a fully qualified driving instructor (before going to Uni as a mature student), changed my views on the safety of our roads. The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain formed around the same time (pretty much by accident). It looked like a good idea so I signed up to it, but as all the meetings were in London, a group of us started to talk about forming a Scottish Consulate, mostly over Twitter, but there was one memorable lunch as well, in our kitchen. Then one evening (24 Feb 2012, for the record) a couple of friends and I were discussing talk of a big protest in London. To quote an e-mail sent the same evening from Dave Brennan to Sally Hinchcliffe and myself:

Hi Guys,

The call has gone out […] for cyclists to go to London on the 28th April
in a show of support for the ‘cycle revolution’. I’d love to go, but I
just can’t make it. Too far, too expensive, too difficult. 🙁

However, that got me thinking, surely this is the right time to push the
agenda north of the border. We have a separate parliament who have yet
to make any major noises about this campaign. So, I’m wondering if we
need a Scottish ride to coincide with the London ride. Probably an
Edinburgh ride to Holyrood.

What do you guys think?

So was born Pedal on Parliament. When we started, we had no idea just how big that would become. At one stage in the early planning we were filling out a form to get permission for the ride to go ahead, one question was about how many people did we expect? I suggested that we put down 300 and that if 50 turned up, we’d be doing well. On the 28th April 2012, 3,000 people turn out to ride to Holyrood in support of the PoP Manifesto. Following this first PoP protest ride, we were invited to meet the (then) Minister for Transport, Keith Brown MSP. Since then PoP has had a number of meetings with the Minister and we have made it clear that we are not going away until Scotland becomes a a cycle-friendly nation. It will, one day.

Having seen the turnout for the first Pedal on Parliament, I came up with another idea and innocently put up a blog post asking if there should be an Edinburgh Festival of Cycling? It seemed like a good idea at the time, I hadn’t really expected people to take it too literally, but they did and the next thing I knew, we were doing it. The first Edinburgh Festival of Cycling which was held between 15th and 23rd June 2013, the festival took place again this year (2014) and we are now planning 2015.

So if you are thinking about doing something in the new year to change your life, I would recommend, in the words of Mark Twain, “Get a bicycle. You will not regret it. If you live.”

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