We’re only half way through the first month of 2013 and, as the trail-blazing parliamentary enquiry starts to get to grips with how best to coax more Britons on to their bikes, the backdrop is far from encouraging.
Granted, the current snowy weather is hardly conducive to tempt anyone out on a bike in freezing temperatures and on to icy roads, but while the snow won’t last for ever, the mindset that when a cyclist (or pedestrian) is killed or injured on the roads we must also feel sorry for the driver, will take much longer to change. Last week’s court case where a taxi driver who killed a cyclist was only fined £35 was so shocking that, if we weren’t used to these staggeringly unfair legal judgements, it would be unbelievable.
Taking everything – poor or non-existent infrastructure, lack of facilities, perceived lack of safety and little legal redress in the case of accident and injury – it’s hardly surprising that many people are reluctant to swap four wheels for two. And although the chances of suffering serious injury on a bike are far less than commonly believed, it’s little consolation when the law seems so unfairly balanced in favour of motorists.
And the statistics are equally negative: only around two percent of British children cycle to school, compared with 40 per cent in Denmark and 20 per cent in Sweden (two countries with similar, or worse, weather than the UK, if Borgen, The Killing and The Bridge are anything to go by). But the numbers that I find most depressing of all show that less than 25 per cent of all cyclists in the UK are female.
Many and varied reasons are put forward for this, largely centred round the image of cycling as aggressive, macho and gung-ho. While taking on a bus round Highbury Corner may be understandably unappealing to women – as well as many men – there are other reasons why cycling is such as a turn-off for many women and one of my resolutions for 2013 (albeit not made until more than two weeks into the new year) is to highlight some of the other factors that females find irksome about cycling and try to suggest ways they can be surmounted.
So, I’ll start with one of my one of my particular bete-noires : user-unfriendly technical accessories. Last week, deciding to replace my trusty track pump after many years of easy and excellent service, I noticed to my horror, when I arrived home, that my new purchase had the dreaded (to me anyway) reversible head, where depending on the type of tube valve, the connection has to be reversed. As I have bikes with different types of valves, I find it irksome and annoying to have to reverse the head and much prefer my current pump which has a double head.
But what infuriated me even more was that the connection was screwed on so tightly that neither I, nor my iron-fingered climber friends, could undo it. While I don’t profess to possess the strongest hands on the planet, I can manage most things and, having played the guitar for some years, probably have tougher and more flexible fingers than most. Yet, none of us could budge it.
Of course, all cyclists should have some basic idea of how their bike works, as well as some rudimentary knowledge of puncture repair and the like, but if carrying out basic maintenance requires the forearms of Popeye, then all the other initiatives currently mooted, will be to no avail.
Surely it is possible to design affordable and easy to use basic accessories, like tyre pumps, that don’t require the skills of a Formula One technician, or Stakhanovian strength to operate?
Little things like this, can make a big difference. Badly designed and difficult-to-use tools and accessories may seem insignificant, but can conspire against many women feeling sufficiently confident and comfortable to take to two wheels.
So, that’s the first of my ideas to encourage more people to get pedalling. Look out for more in the next few weeks – I promise a more positive suggestion next time.