Cycling In The UK: It’s The Infrastructure, Stupid

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:

A few of the depressing statistics from the article:

  • Mike Ashley, who bought Evans Bikes for ยฃ8m last year, plans to close half of the chain’s 62 shops
  • Bike sales in 2010 were ยฃ1.49bn; in 2016 they were ยฃ1.28bn
  • 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.

Categories: Cycling

13 replies »

  1. The whole attitude towards cycling in the UK needs to change first before the will to sink considerable investment into cycling infrastructure happens. Talk to everyday, normally sane people and see how many of them have a very unhealthy attitude towards cyclists. Apparently we all run red lights, don’t pay road tax, don’t have number plates, hold up cars, etc, etc. THIS is the real problem. You can’t expect MPs/Councillors to take a serious view towards cycling when a huge swathe of their voters couldn’t care less or actively dislike it. I’m not sure how we change that.

  2. Iโ€™ve just cycled from north to south of France … lovely. However, I actually live in London and frankly cycling here in comparison to the cities in France is shocking and dangerous. Itโ€™s just an accident waiting to happen. Katie

  3. I think infrastructure could be a factor but another factor that isn’t mentioned is that Britain has shite weather all the time and nobody wants to commute on bike when its raining or freezing. In Australia and New Zealand cycling is still booming and thats probably because the weather is good 3/4 of the year.

        • Not to me. The weather in those countries is very similar to the UK but they have embraced everyday cycling on a way that Britain hasnโ€™t. All four countries have very good – often excellent – cycling infrastructure… Itโ€™s no coincidence.

            • No-one has all the answers but most of them fall under the heading “political will”. Nothing will be sorted in the UK until our politicians stop tugging their forelocks to the Petrol Economy.

          • In fact in the winter the weather is considerably worse in the Netherlands – temperatures regularly drop a lot lower than they do here and stay low for a longer period of time. They don’t have the benefit of the Gulf Stream.

  4. Yes, the Evans store in Kendal is one of the casualties.

    As Brenda says, the cycle ways they do put in are often ludicrous. But some council noggin will have ticked a box and they’ll no doubt shout about how they are committed to sustainability.

    It is a huge disappointment to read these facts. The obvious health benefits and opportunity to reduce the burden on the NHS which would manifest from a more active society seems to wash over the policy makers.

  5. yes it is time where they consulted people who actually cycle when they put in routes. loads of stupid cycle lanes around here. What is it when a cycle lane stops because of a roundabout. madness

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