I got this email just over a week ago and because I was caught up in a family bereavement I lost track of my emails and didn't post this sooner. Check out the fashion cycle ride this weekend!
Fortunately for me, I live near Cambridge and for more than 15 years I have cycled at least 10 miles a day but do not consider cycling to be my sport - it's just my way of getting around in a way that I find convenient, enjoyable and environmentally-friendly (and very, very economical). I refuse to wear any of the silly and dehumanizing 'cycling' clothes or a helmet. I just wear my normal clothes, according to the weather (so bright clothes on dull days). And yes, I do take great care with my appearance. However, people who do the same in other cities in UK frequently describe the contempt shown to anyone who just wants to do the same. Cambridge is commonly cited as 'the cycling capital of the UK' and our cycling facilities are the envy of other cities. More people commute on their daily journeys here than anywhere else in the UK - Bravo! Yet that's still only 25% of the population. Room for improvement - wouldn't you say?
Actually, the reason why British Girls don’t cycle is that the mainly male-planned infrastructure of towns and cities deters them as the 'Bike & the Beauty' documentary illustrates perferctly. Sustrans discovered this with a survey they carried out last autumn. 79% of women in the UK never cycle. 67% of that number said they would cycle if safer and separate cycle paths existed. Sustrans then motioned a petition calling for safer cycling paths which was signed by 9000 women and was presented to the Minister for Transport in January of this year (also the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly). The startling statistics that Sustrans uncovered beg the question - 'given the role that the bicycle played in the emancipation of women, how did Sustrans' petition even come to be necessary in the first decade of the 21st century?'
The film made by Darlington Cycling Campaign 'Beauty & the Bike - Why British Girls Don’t Cycle’ shows how cycling actually gives girls self-reliance, self-confidence, independence and liberty so it really doesn't matter if 'looking good' is the entrance to that happy state. We wouldn’t say ‘Eating greens is good for you therefore they don’t need to taste nice’. In case further persuasion is needed, consider this:- health experts have found that it is essential for people to choose forms of exercise they enjoy in order to maintain their exercise. So let’s be realistic about the psychology that lies behind changing human behaviour. It is trite and uninsightful to dismiss the role that looking stylish plays in encouraging non-sporty girls (and women) to cycle. It is encouraging them to cycle in their daily lives where nothing else is so don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Looking good gets them cycling. Mission accomplished.
Another important aspect is that many of today's girls are likely to become the drivers and mothers of tomorrow. They will be better, more cycle-aware drivers if they are cyclists themselves. If they become cyclists first, they will be likely to choose their bikes over their cars where possible and they will be more likely to teach their children to choose cycling over driving. Look at Denmark and Holland. I myself am a car owner and a driver but I have cut my car use to less than 20% of my journeys. Imagine the wonderful consequences of large numbers of women doing that in the UK. Imagine the benefits to the NHS, to the environment and to employment creation (bike servicing, bike-related designs & accessories etc) as well as ensuring our girls are self-reliant , independent, confident, healthy and mobile.
No, looking good is not ALL girls care about but for many young girls it is an important and sensitive phase in their quest for self-discovery and self-knowledge. This is common to the daughters of top academics and professionals as much as it is to lower socio-economic groups and it would be foolish to dismiss it so lightly, especially in a world where so much marketing and branding targets them mercilessly at their most vulnerable age. The smartest and most responsible thing to do is to offer them the guidance and opportunities which allow them to turn it to their advantage instead of being the victims of the multi-billion pound industry. A limited number of women and girls will take up cycling as a sport but, potentially, the number who hopefully take up cycling as a normal method of transport in their daily lives will be infinitely greater. In creating such a number, we will be creating an even bigger demand for better, cycling-friendly infrastructures in our towns and cities.
You might like to check out www.camcycle.org/events/rideforjoy/ (copy & paste this link into your browser). Join the Fashion Cycle Ride on Sat 20th March 2010 - a discreet call to arms for those who currently do cycle in a non-sporty way in their daily lives. The ride is intended to illustrate that it's perfectly possible to cycle in your normal clothes as you get from A to B aka Copenhagen Cycling Chic and in doing so encourage more women and girls to do the same.
Looking forward to seeing you there. (You can hire decent bikes at Cambridge Station - http://www.stationcycles.co.uk/Services/Hire.html)Sally Guyer
Cambridge Cycling Campaign