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How do you get more people to ride bicycles

How do you get more people to ride bicycles

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.

Cycle parking, a new opportunity in Edinburgh?

Cycle parking, a new opportunity in Edinburgh?

Some time ago I wrote a post called Cycle parking, please can we have more… in which I flagged up issue surrounding cycle parking in Edinburgh and the particular problems for tenement dwellers. Finally things are starting to change, as a result of lobbying by Spokes the City of Edinburgh Council has proposed a Pilot of on-street residential cycle parking. They say:

“The City of Edinburgh Council is committed to increasing the percentage of all journeys in the city by bike to 10% by 2020. One of the biggest barriers to cycling in the city is a lack of suitable cycle parking for residents in tenement areas. In recognition of this, the Council is considering providing on-street cycle parking in areas with tenement residences. This will initially be done on a trial basis at a small number of locations. We are planning to trial:

  • covered cycle racks;
  • individual lockers; and
  • uncovered cycle racks.

So if you are interested for your tenement/flat area, please talk to your neighbours and apply by 9th December 2011. Application form [pdf 4.4MB] application form [doc 764k].

However, it should be noted: “Applications are subject to being selected on the basis of suitability and feasibility. We cannot guarantee that locations that are selected will be installed. Should you require any further information please contact”

I hope to see this project going ahead, but the “suitability and feasibility” clause does worry me that the Council is not fully committed to “increasing the percentage of all journeys in the city by bike to 10% by 2020”. As I have seen existing cycle infrastructure around the city quietly disappearing, such as well used Sheffield stands being removed and not replaced when pavements are relaid, and cycle lanes being converted into on street car parking. Still this initiative does give me hope for the future!

Life is more beautiful by bicycle

Life is more beautiful by bicycle

I recently spotted this Ad by Decathlon and was so charmed by it I had to put it up here:

The strap line reads “Life is more beautiful by bicycle” and who could argue with that?


Thanks to Cycling in Auckland for putting me on to it.

NB, the original You Tube video had been pulled, so I found another copy on Vimeo.

Bringing home the harvest… (part 2) the BIG pumpkin

Bringing home the harvest… (part 2) the BIG pumpkin

In my first post on Bringing home the harvest I wrote about how I was unsure as to just how we were going to get the biggest pumpkin of this year home. The ideal solution would be a cargo bike, but where to get a hold of one?

However, before I go any further I think I should just introduce the biggest pumpkin we have grown year…

The biggest pumpkin this year?? No not that one.

No not that one! This one…

The biggest pumpkin this year!

Right, so now you get some idea of the scale of the problem, there was no way that thing was going to fit in a pannier. So the options were either hire/borrow a cargo bike, borrow/hire a bicycle trailer, or get a friend with a car to drive it back for us. Well, the last one was a sign of desperation, the preferred option was either one of the first two solutions. So where to get either a hold of a cargo bike or a trailer? I knew that the Bike Station do have a number of cargo bikes, and that there used to be something about hiring cargo (and vintage) bikes on their website (alas no longer), so I sent them an e-mail asking about it. So far, I have yet to get a reply.

Having failed to get a response from the Bike Station, I decided to experiment with the new social media and posted up a request to hire/borrow a cargo bike or a bike trailer, on Twitter and on a local cycling forum. The first reply was from the cycling forum with an offer of a Revolution child trailer. I also received offers of another cycle trailer from Greener Leith on Twitter and a Nihola family trike, also on Twitter. The Twitter offers came in just after I had accepted the offer on the cycling forum.

So far, so good, but of course things in the real world never run as smoothly as in the virtual world. I was discussing the collection arrangements with the person who offered the loan of the bike trailer (we will call her S) over the forum’s Private Messaging (PM) system, when we both lost the PM thread. Her PM thread disappeared first, so we started a new one, at which point I should have taken note and made a backup (or just written it all down on paper). Then I lost the PM tread about about an hour before I had planned to pick up the trailer, just as I was about to confirm the details. Therefore, I didn’t have S’s phone number or address, I just knew that she lived (conveniently) part way between my home and the allotment. Fortunately, I noticed that the forum admin was on-line, so I e-mailed him to ask if he could pass my phone number to S. Ten minutes later S phoned me and we were able to get things back on track, phew.

From the PM discussions I had had with S, I knew both my bikes might have a problem mounting the towing hitch, on the CdF because there is a protective cuff around the rear drop outs, and on the Norco because the rack mount is very close to the QR skewer. I took the Norco anyway, and sure enough, the towing hitch didn’t fit. Fortunately Ulli had brought her Trek, which was an easy fit. Having picked up the trailer, it was on to the allotment to load up the pumpkin, and also to do a wee bit of harvesting of other things and tiding up before the winter. Given the size of the pumpkin, we decided that it was best strapped into the child harness in the trailer, to stop it moving about in transit.

The biggest pumpkin this year...

After a short discussion, it was decided that we would take it in turns to cycle the pumpkin home. I don’t normally like riding Ulli’s bike, but in this case I was going to make an exception. Ulli took the first half of the ride and chose to go along via the canal, I expected her to struggle a wee bit on the road up to the canal, but she managed it fine. However, on the short down hill section from the bridge to the tow path, she found the limitations of her brakes and was lucky not to go straight into the canal. We got some interesting/ed looks and comments as we proceeded along the tow path, especially when people saw the pumpkin. The most pleasing comment was from a couple with a push chair, who, on seeing the trailer, said “we could do with one of those”.

Crossing the Meadows with the BIG pumpkin in tow

It wasn’t until we got to the Meadows that I was finally given the chance to have a go at towing the trailer, it was an interesting experience. Pulling away required a bit more effort that usual, probably as the bike needed to be in a lower gear than usual and wasn’t, first lesson leant. While getting up to speed, there was an odd slight jerking, but this stopped once I was at cruising speed. The loaded trailer was surprisingly stable and easy to ride with, for the most part other traffic gave us plenty of space. However, there was one idiot who misjudged the length of cyclist and trailer, and had to stop mid overtake when the on coming driver started flashing lights. (There had to be one, sigh.) Overall it was a great way to get the harvest home.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, it weighed in at 16.4 Kg!!

Bringing home the harvest…

Bringing home the harvest…

It is that time of year, when the leaves start to drop and the hearth in the living room starts to fill with a random range of fruit and veg…

Potatoes and pumpkins

Yes, it is harvest time at the allotment, and getting the harvest home is always an interesting exercise, especially as I haven’t owned a car since 1994. I have considered joining the City Car Club, but somehow I can quite bring myself to do so, as we can bring most stuff home by bike. For the last load I brought back, the panniers weighed in at 18.6Kg! One of the pumpkins was 7.4Kg by itself. It is not the one above (those are just wee ones), it is the one below…

The second biggest pumpkin

…when I took the photo I left the chair up against the table in order to give scale, it is 35cm across. However, this isn’t the largest pumpkin this year, no that one is at least twice the size and is still on the allotment awaiting collection. The ideal solution would be a cargo bike, a Dutch Bakfiets or a Danish BULLITT, I have to admit I really like the idea of a “fast cargo bike”. As always, the the ideal number of bikes is i=n+1, or as, have seen elsewhere i=n+1(-1=D) where (-1=D) keeps the number of bikes one below the number which would lead to divorce.

In the meantime, I have to figure out how to get the harvest home before Halloween, just in case someone tries to climb the fence…

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