When the Giro moves on

I really do hope I am wrong about my next statement: the Giro won’t bring a lasting legacy for cycling. It won’t normalise cycling. It won’t make cycling any more accessible or raise cycling’s modal share. It won’t address the fact that in Belfast male cyclists outnumber female cyclists by 6 to 1.

The Giro will reinforce cycling’s image as male-dominated, fast and furious, hot and sweaty, clad in lycra. Local shops cater very well for this market.

The real game changer -I believe- will be the NSL-run public bike hire, which will have 300 bicycles available from 30 docking stations in the first phase.

The system will roll out in the autumn of 2014 and be operational in the spring of 2015. Once it is up and running people will see cyclists in normal clothes, shopping, sightseeing or using bikes to get to or from work. They won’t have helmets or hi-viz.

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For the first time in Belfast people will see “fietsers”, bicycle users, in great numbers. And seeing people using bikes casually will, I hope, encourage more people to dust off their bikes, pump up the tyres and use their bicycle for day to day transport.

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Via @byebyethecheese, a bicycle user

And then these new bicycle users discover that their road racing bike isn’t up to the job of commuting, shopping and taking children to school. It lacks any kind of commuting necessity: lights, hub dynamo, an integral lock, a stand, mudguards, a luggage rack with straps, an enclosed chain, a comfy saddle or swept back handle bars. All included when you buy the bike. They want something like this:

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@nigreenways' bike

And if they have children they might want one of these:

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But then they find buying one of these great machines is almost impossible in Northern Ireland. We went to Greenaer in Dublin, after trying one out in Amsterdam.

Belfast is crying out for a shop that sells normal bikes. Or an existing shop to take the plunge and cater for these new bicycle users. I’d like to see a shop that isn’t into carbon fibre, energy gels or lycra. I’d love to talk to a salesperson who isn’t fussed that including a lock will add a couple of gram to the overall weight; who isn’t surprised you cycle your new bike home; and knows not to take off the wheel to fix a puncture. A bike shop that sells practical rain gear.

Every silver lining…

The main problems I foresee with the Scheme are:

Taxis being allowed into bus lanes. In the absence of decent cycling infrastructure Belfast cyclists must make do with bus lanes. The relative safety the bus lanes offer will be shattered as this video from Dublin shows.

The lack of cycling infrastructure. I already mentioned making do with bus lanes. I posted the following a while back. How do similar sized Belfast and Utrecht compare with regards to cycling infrastructure. It’s actually embarrassing. Belfast city councillors, DRD staff from the cycling unit, “cycling” minister Danny Kennedy need to go to Utrecht and see how it’s done properly.

And of course in the year of the Giro and the introduction of the hire scheme the NCN9 past the Waterfront Hall is closed without offering cyclists and pedestrians adequate alternatives.

Finally, will the hire scheme address the gender imbalance? Evidence from London says it won’t significantly alter. In London 4/5ths of Boris Bike users are male. Nigreenways tackles the issue of cycling equality, or lack of it.

Addressing road safety by building cycle tracks separated from motor transport, countering cycling’s MAMIL reputation and changing cycling from a leisure activity to a form of every day transport will be far bigger factors in persuading women to use bicycles. And increase numbers of bicycle users overall.

It is somewhat ironic that women do not use bicycles these days, because it was the bicycle that gave women in the late 1800s the freedom to travel and spread radical ideas like emancipation and universal suffrage.

Utrecht doesn’t have a Bike Hire Scheme but Seville does. And having also constructed 80 miles of cycle tracks the number of cycle journeys in the Spanish city went from 5000 to 72000 a day; an increase in modal share from 0.5 to ~7%. One worries that Spain’s new helmet laws will dent these figures, but many municipalities including Seville have chosen to ignore mandatory helmets and merely recommend their use.

As a major tourist destination Belfast is ideally placed to repeat Seville’s succesful scheme, provided DRD’s plans for a city-wide network of cycle lanes and paths are realised.

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3 thoughts on “When the Giro moves on

  1. Great blog. I agree wholeheartedly. We desperately need to normalise cycling. To make it be seen as a viable means of transport for all. And that comes through not having to get kitted up to go to the pub or the shops. Sadly our roads mean for assertive cycling which men seem to be better at (I am not being sexist here as I know some women who are very assertive). And while a change in infrastructure is invaluable there needs to be a drastic change in attitudes on the roads because there will be direct interaction between motorist and cyclist at some given point. Cyclists in Scotland are currently pushing for presumed liabilty which will help to some degree.
    You are so right about bike shops catering for the ‘mamil’. In a large bike chain store I overheard a sales assistant recommend a sportive bike to someone looking for a commuter bike on the CTW scheme. No mention of lights guards and normal clothes. My own LBS is pretty good. If they don’t have what you are looking for they will get it for you. And will point the customer in the right direction of a bike ideal for their use.

  2. As a female cyclist who commutes to work via the lagan towpath. I think a lot of women are simply concerned about safety. I would simply *never* cycle on the road (apart from when theres a cycle lane present although even then – it depends). I have other cyclist friends who have told me too many horror stories and near-misses. I can’t be bothered dealing with drivers who are going to be trying to drive me off the road or shout things at me. Its just not worth it. Especially before/after work…!
    Does anyone else see a problem with the Toucan crossings near Elliotts shop on Ann Street? For such a busy junction they are minute, and can barely fit three bikes on them; god help pedestrians with children or prams, it just seems really dangerous and I often just dismount.
    I do love cycling, but the changes at the Waterfront are also offputting; I haven’t cycled to work since hearing about them.
    There really ought to be more female cyclists around. Maybe send out a questionnaire to current lady-cyclists or arrange a meeting for them to voice their concerns – to find out why more people aren’t doing it. For me, its primarily about safety, and inaccessibility but its a real shame that they’re missing out.

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