Infra, willpower and surprising origins: the cycle boom dissected

Last week’s ‘evening with Carlton Reid’ proved to be illuminating, enjoyable and thorough. Roughly 60 people listened to 5 perspectives on cycling. Mark from Future Inns explained how the hotel chain was embracing cycling custom. Sybil from Pedal Power helped us to understand the extra challenge for cyclists with disabilities ( tricyclists in particular). Gwenda Owen spoke passionately about working toward that common goal of improved cycle infrastructure provision and Carlton dissected motoring’s debt to cycling – in particular, cyclist’s – and how some cities embrace alternatives to engines. I provided the link between the speakers.

Aside from owners of Carlton’s book – ‘Roads were not built for cars’ – I think few in the audience would have appreciated just how big an impact cycling has made on road infrastructure. The motorists of today can thank the bicycle for innovations in engineering technology, road surface and policy (now THAT would lead to an interesting debate at the traffic lights). Having a copy of the book, it was very enjoyable to hear the prose enlivened with witty observation and emboldened with large graphics, but for me, the most interesting part of the evening related to the here and the now. What are other cities doing well and how can we learn from their example?

As cyclists, I think its fair to say that most of us would like to see our provision improved a bit. And by ‘a bit’, I mean ‘A LOT’. The Netherlands makes us misty eyed, Copenhagen green with envy and Portland, shocked into attention (Oregon? USA? REALLY?). Yet Carlton makes the eloquent point that whilst infrastructure makes us safer and more comfortable, is not the be all and end all. There is a missing ingredient, one that is slippery and difficult to identify.  There is undeniably a cultural element, prevalent in the UK and US that results in many people wedded to their cars, even when huge attempts have been made to provide good infra. So even infra is not the panacea many would pin their hopes on. To support this,  Carlton cites the stagnation of cycling numbers in the Netherlands and  Stevenage planning as examples (Stevenage has a huge network of planned cycle infrastructure, separating cyclists from motorists, yet only achieves the national average for modal share). So what is it that elevates places like Portland?


Here’s my hunch.

Attitude. Positive role models. Advocates. 

And in this, I feel we all have a role to play. If you care about your lot and want to improve your experience. Tell people. Stress the positives, the benefits, the enjoyment. Explain why sitting in your car is in no way comparable to being part of your environment. Describe how your experience enriches your day, pumps blood around your veins and re-invigorates your mind. Spell out your joy of whizzing past a long line of static cars and beating your fellow commuter home. Justify that extended holiday with the savings made by cycling.  This is not say that cycling campaigning and tackling hard issues head on should not be done – it very much should be done – but please, please, PLEASE  leave non-cyclists with the impression that cycling can actually be pretty bloody attractive and that somehow (heaven knows how), they’re missing the boat.

Anyway. Sermon over.

Once again, thanks to all those who attended, in particular our speakers for giving their time, Future Inns for the fine venue, Odoni-Elwell for sponsoring , Yogi Communications  for doing lots of running around, Welsh cycling and Sustrans for supporting, and Cycleopaedia for supplying props and advice. It was a fine evening. Stay tuned for more of the same.


To gain an understanding of Pedal Power’s excellent work, click here. Cardiff Cycle City manifesto can be found here. Future Inns – and their lovely rack 🙂 – can be found here. Information about Carlton’s new book can be found here. For more of my opinions, click ‘Cyclestuff’ at the top. 

Portland poster via ‘Know your city’. Image above, my former commute along the Taff Trail

P.S. I asked a question of Carlton. “Not including Cardiff, which is the most surprising – surprisingly good –  cycling city you have visited?” The answer was  pretty much what I expected. ‘Portland’. I’d just like to point out to anyone who shook their heads in resignation at the first part of my question, I was being ironic.



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