There’s an interesting, if somewhat depressing, article in today’s Observer: How millennials have put a spoke in the wheels of Britain’s bicycle shops. The sub-heading reads ‘Youngsters say cycling is ‘too scary’, bike sales are static and stores are closing, as highlighted by James Corden [in a tweet] last week.‘ Here’s the tweet:
— James Corden (@JKCorden) January 5, 2019
A few of the depressing statistics from the article:
- Mike Ashley, who bought Evans Bikes for £8m last year, plans to close half of the chain’s 62 shops
- Bike sales in 2010 were £1.49bn; in 2016 they were £1.28bn
- The number employed in the bicycle trade in 2010 was 15,000; in 216 it was 12,400
- In 2017, 14% of people in a national survey said they cycled at least once a week, a figure that has hardly changed since 2003
On a superficial level, we tend to think cycling is riding the crest of a wave, but the article and the real-world reality of bicycle shops that are struggling to stay open would suggest otherwise.
On a professional cycling level, British cycling is indeed on the crest of a wave. The combined efforts of British Cycling, Team Sky and, to a certain extent via their development of the Tour de Yorkshire, Welcome to Yorkshire have brought considerable success our way.
Yet it seems that the much-hoped-for knock-on effect of making cycling the preferred mode of transport of the masses is simply not happening in any place in any big way outside London. Why has it happened it London? Because of Team Sky? Because of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome or Geraint Thomas? Because of the Olympics or the Tour de France paying a visit? No. It’s because it’s the only place in Britain where there has been long-term investment in quality and extensive cycling infrastructure.
Yes, people get excited by professional cycling; it enthuses them to take up cycling, buy a bike, start commuting perhaps… but then reality hits. On British roads you are treated as a second-class citizen, not just by the majority of other people using the roads but also by those who design them, the politicians who instigate them, the civil servants who organise them, the local councils who maintain them… The Netherlands it ain’t.
It’s the infrastructure, stupid.