Cycling struggles, 7

This is a post in defence of vulnerability. First, it defends the vulnerability many cyclists feel, and which sees them taking to the pavement. Second, it defends the vulnerability many pedestrians feel when confronted by the pavement cyclist.

Both directly and indirectly it’s also about disability. Directly, I examine how people with disabilities experience pavement cycling. Indirectly, I suggest we’ve all become disabled by the car.


The last two posts examined the (intersecting) relevance of class and ethnicity to attitudes to and practices of cycling. By doing so, we’ve moved away from the ‘dominant model’ of the cyclist. This model prevails across contemporary British cycling discourses, permeating much thinking, writing (including policy documents) and advocacy around cycling. It assumes the cyclist as middle-class, middle-aged, male, white, able-bodied, competitive, and fit. Within policy discourses especially, it also often assumes the cyclist travels alone, and is probably commuting. One danger of this model’s dominance is that it begins to define what cycling is and can be. It can influence what we see, think, know, even dream.

As we move away from the dominant conception of ‘the cyclist’ we become more likely to encounter the pavement cyclist. Whilst many British cyclists are – through force of circumstance – pavement cyclists from time to time, the most committed pavement cyclists tend not to fit the dominant model of ‘the cyclist’. The male pavement cyclist is much more likely than the model cyclist to be working-class, young, and/or non-white; whether male or female, the pavement cyclist is less likely than the model cyclist to be competitive and fit; and the pavement cyclist might be accompanying children.

For the benefit of readers outside the UK, by ‘pavement’ I mean ‘sidewalk’ – space conventionally regarded in many (but by no means all) cultures as the preserve of pedestrians.

Pavement cycling

7. A pavement cycling story

This story comprises two stories. It starts by examining why people cycle on pavements. It then explores pavement cycling from a pedestrian perspective, looking specifically at the experiences of people with various disabilities. Finally it offers thoughts on a pro-cycling but anti-pavement cycling strategy.

Pavement cycling

A cyclist perspective

Cycling on pavements is a normal way for many people to cycle. This normality is obfuscated by a dominant representation of the urban cyclist as a white, middle-aged, male, geared-up, and competent commuter.

People cycle on the pavement when they feel unable to cycle on the road. If we want cycling on roads, we must make roads cycle-able. Or, if we want cycling off pavements, we either make roads cycle-able, and/or give cycling its own space.

Cycling on pavements isn’t restricted to novice cyclists. Even long-time, regular cyclists do it. But it’s perceived as ‘the wrong way to cycle’ because of the ideological and discursive dominance of ‘the model (if still highly problematic) cyclist’ and ‘the right way to cycle’.

The following quotes show how different people, all of whom would generally be considered respectable and respectful, talk about their pavement cycling.

Hazel’s in her fifties. Cycling is her main means of transport:

“I cycle everywhere! … I don’t like the main roads – far too dangerous … You can get most places by using side roads. Occasionally I resort to the pavements if they’re not too busy, but I think you have to be sensible about this. But I will go on the pavement.”

Dev’s a British Asian man in his forties, and a professional. He’s very enthusiastic about cycling, but rides only occasionally for health and pleasure, and to accompany his young daughter on trips to the park:

“I only choose routes where there are not many pedestrians. And if there’s a lot of people coming walking towards me I’ll get off my bike. I never go through little gaps or cause any distress to pedestrians.

“Nobody’s ever said anything … I don’t know whether they understand or not [why I’m riding on the pavement]. I hope they do.

“I see a lot of people riding on the pavements, a lot. They are riding on the pavements for the same reason, they are conscious of the safety issues.

“I think there should probably be a proper lane for cyclists .. Sometimes I do go on the roads, provided it’s quiet and there are not many cars. But I would definitely not ride on [the local main road]; any road like that is no good – the cars come too close and you’ve got to get out of the way. It’s a bit risky.”

Dick is in his fifties. He rides mainly for pleasure, particularly in summertime after a day’s work which involves a lot of driving:

“Some roads I’m comfortable riding on, yeah. But others, you know, with the speed of the traffic and the state of some of the driving I wouldn’t be happy riding on some roads. I wouldn’t … I do have a tendency to ride on the pavement I must admit, but what I do is, you’ve got to understand, I’ll be very polite, people let me by and I say ‘thank you very much’.”

Ruby is an experienced cyclist in her late forties. She’s ridden all her life and cycles to work every day:

“I ride probably 60% on the road, 40% on the pavement. It depends on the time of day. Before 7 in the morning there’s very little traffic so I’m quite happy on the road, because I can be in the middle of the road and I’m not holding up the traffic. When I come home at 3:30pm then I’m more likely to be on the pavement because the traffic just gets too cross and silly.“

“I think it probably is fear of the traffic [which explains my pavement cycling] because people don’t seem to take any account of the fact that you’re going to wobble around a pothole. And I would say I’m a fairly confident cyclist. I kind of think ‘well sorry, you’ve got to wait for me, I’m here, I’m a road user’, you know, ‘tough’ kind of thing. But some drivers are not very happy with that point of view. I wouldn’t ever be bolshie about that, but some drivers don’t seem to like the fact that cyclists are on the road. On the other hand of course they don’t like the fact that cyclists are on the pavement either. You can’t win, can you? It doesn’t matter where you are, someone is going to moan about it.”

Ruby goes on to talk about her sons’ cycling:

“I suspect they all ride on the pavement rather more than I do. I think our youngest, certainly, rides on the pavement – probably 90% of the time … I’m pretty sure he’s on the pavement more than he is on the roads. I do tell him that he needs to make allowances for pedestrians. And when I’m a pedestrian I don’t like cyclists whizzing by, because you kind of jump don’t you? So as a cyclist I try to, you know, you’re kind of working out which way is the pedestrian going, and I’m aware that I’m on the pavement and I didn’t really ought to be.”

I’ve spoken to many people who ride on the pavement because they feel they’ve no choice, if they’re to keep cycling. It’s strange that people see pavement cycling as so reprehensible when it’s also so clearly comprehensible. But that’s not to say it’s unproblematic.

Pavement cycling

A pedestrian perspective

Pavement cycling has consequences. Its consequences for cycling are dire. Most people don’t want to cycle on pavements but they don’t want to ride on roads either, so they just don’t cycle. Those that do cycle are individually stigmatised and vilified for doing so, and cycling as a whole is constructed as a problematic, anti-social practice. As someone who passionately believes quite the opposite, I find this hard to swallow.

But what about pavement cycling’s consequences for pedestrians? Pavement cycling jeopardises the independent mobility of the most vulnerable people. Evan is blind. He says simply, “pavement cycling is the main problem for blind people. Well, for most disabled people”. People with disabilities struggle to move around cities more than most. The conversation below takes place amongst a group of people with various disabilities. Fred is profoundly deaf (and communicates with the rest of the group via a British Sign Language interpreter); Sheila has balance problems; both Tony and Janet are partially sighted.

Fred: “I don’t really understand why people cycle on the pavements because it’s really dangerous, especially for deaf people as obviously we can’t hear them.”

Sheila: “This is a big issue. I was actually knocked over yesterday. I’ve got a balance problem … [Pavement cycling] impacts on where you can go and how you feel about walking. It becomes less of a pleasure. [Pavement cycling] is certainly a major problem.”

Tony: “I’m blind in one eye and partially sighted in the other. Cyclists for me on a pavement suddenly appear on my blind side. I find that difficult.”

Janet: “There’s just a few of us [here], but we have got so many friends that have been knocked over and then told ‘why didn’t you look where you were walking?’ And they’ve got things like this [waving her cane], ‘oh a cane! Does that not indicate that there is a problem?’ But we are at wrong. And [incensed] we’re not at wrong! We’re walking perfectly sensible, because we have to. And then we get told we’re in the wrong. But it’s the cyclists that are in the wrong when they do create problems.”

(Incidentally, the call – which I’d never really understood – for registration of bicycles arises here; it’s based on a desire to be able to report and identify people whose cycling causes harm to others, in much the same way as I want, as a cyclist, to be able to identify and report bad driving.)

Pavement cycling is problematic not only because of the proximity between pedestrian and cyclist, but also because of the cyclists’ unpredictability. Because the cyclist is out of place there are no rules for his or her correct behaviour. Pedestrians can’t guess what he or she will do next. This unpredictability of movement also makes ‘shared space’ problematic. Talking about her city’s centre which works on the principle of shared space, Sheila says:

“Now, when you get bicycles coming down there, it’s such a wide area and they’re going anywhere and you’ve no idea where they’re going. Even if you can see them coming towards you, you don’t know whether they’re going to the left of you, the right of you. And that’s what I find impossible. I’ve just stopped using it” [my emphasis].

Although people with disabilities have real problems with cars parking on pavements, they tend generally to see bicycles as more problematic than cars. Why?

First, it’s true that many people with disabilities are hugely car dependent. So maybe they have an ideological blind-spot. But of course, they’re partly so car dependent because walking and cycling are currently so difficult for them, even more so than for other people, to do.

But second, as Fred says, “you know where the cars are … it’s having unexpected things happen that’s such a problem, and that’s why cyclists are a problem”.

If people with disabilities seem overly concerned about relatively ‘minor’ incidents such as a collision with a cyclist consider that the impact of a fall varies according to who you are. If you’re already frail, both the risks and consequences of falling are greater, so fear of falling will be greater too. For someone who’s already vulnerable, a fall (or fear of a fall) can spell the beginning of being house-bound.

We can try to relativize these risks and fears by comparing them to the risks imposed on pedestrians (and cyclists) by motorised traffic, but doing so won’t make the problems go away, and nor – by failing to empathise – will it win cycling friends.

Sharing space responsibly

The difficulty of responsible cycling

How do you know how much space to give someone if you don’t know what their tolerances are? How loudly do you ring your bell for the person who’s deaf? How much time to move do you give the person who can’t see? How slow is slow enough? Tony, who’s partially sighted, provides a sense of the potential for difference in perspective between pedestrian and cyclist:

“I crossed over from one side of the road to the other, and two cyclists were coming along and I had to jump out of the way. And the gentleman in front is going ‘ha, ha’, you know, all very jolly. But it wasn’t so jolly to me.”

‘Responsible cycling’ to us could be ‘irresponsible cycling’ to others, and good citizenship requires such recognition. When I’m cycling on roads, some motorists give me insufficient space to feel safe. How can I justify, then, imposing the emotional discomfort I feel about that onto others when I’m cycling and they’re walking? Based on my own experiences shouldn’t I be empathising with them, rather than (mindlessly?) repeating the discomfort I experience at the hands of others?

There are structural reasons why considerate cycling’s hard to do. I don’t want to excuse cyclists completely, but it’d be just as wrong to expect cyclists to behave in ways which are very difficult to achieve. The currently dominant transport order almost enforces styles of cycling which are antithetical to the calm, unhurried orientation towards pedestrians which would in a civilised society be normal. To survive, city cyclists often need to hurry. I doubt I’m alone in sometimes feeling almost primed to fight by my experience of city cycling. A refusal to engage in such ‘fighting’ is of course one of the reasons people take to cycling on pavements; but the fight remains, only the terrain and actors change.

Cycling’s in a fix. Mixing with cars pushes us to ‘hurry up’; mixing with pedestrians compels us to ‘slow down’. There’s work to do here; and in making cities fit for cycling we must also ensure cycling becomes fit for cities.

Sharing space responsibly

Towards a pro-cycling but anti-pavement cycling strategy

A big majority of people who cycle, as well as the (very, very many) people who don’t currently cycle, and most pedestrians (but especially pedestrians with disabilities of various kinds) need the same thing – much more dedicated space for cycling. This is mainly the case along busy main roads where pavement cycling is concentrated; these roads feel difficult and dangerous to ride, so many cyclists get pushed onto pavements which are often narrow and crowded with pedestrians (as well as street furniture and other ‘obstacles’).

Rather than feel uncomfortable and guilty about what they’re doing, people who ride on pavements should voice demands for the sort of space through which they’d actually like to ride;

Rather than suffer in silence or demonise the pavement cyclist, pedestrians should voice demands for cycling to have its own space off their pavements;

Rather than simply not ride in cities, non-cyclists and sometime-cyclists should stand up for their right to city cycling, and voice demands for the kind of urban space they require in order to ride;

Disputes between pedestrians and cyclists result from deep and continuing institutional discrimination against both modes. Rather than us their advocates facing towards each other and bickering amongst ourselves, we must learn to face outwards in solidarity against the monster still devouring far too much urban space, the car.

And rather than – whether deliberately or inadvertently – continuing to throw cycling and walking together, those people most responsible for ordering and re-ordering our cities should start mainstreaming these sustainable modes whilst marginalising the car.

Pavement cycling

Sharing space

A couple of final points to ponder, particularly for advocates of cycling.

First, completely pure space for either walking or cycling is of course unrealistic and undesirable. Cycling and walking sometimes have to mix. A good society is about brushing up against each other in respectful and tolerant ways more than it is about pretending other kinds of people and modes of mobility don’t exist by separating ourselves from them altogether.

Second, following from the first, cycling needs to change. If the world is starting to move around cycling, so too – inevitably and necessarily – must cycling move.

Here’s a suggestion for how people with cycles might move, from members of the group whose views we heard earlier.

Fred: “One idea would be, if it’s a pedestrianized area, then for people to actually get off their bike and walk it through the street instead of dodging in and out between people and knocking people down. I think if a cyclist actually got off their bike and walked with their bike … it’s only for a little time. And then they get back on their bike and cycle away … when there are not so many pedestrians, then get back on your bike and cycle.”

Paul: “I think on that last point, teaching people to push a bike should be part of cyclist training. Because lots of cyclists find it very difficult to push a bike.”

Fred is articulating a common sense strategy which we all probably use. But does he perhaps sound a bit extreme, a bit ‘anti-cyclist’? My instinct, at least, is to react against what he says, perhaps partly because I’m accustomed to defending a generally beleaguered cycling, and partly because I see myself as responsible and best able to judge when and where to dismount and remount – ‘I don’t need to be told’.

But in a sense, cycling moves below us, and we can’t afford to be fixed in what cycling means, whether that’s our own cycling, ‘good cycling’, or cycling in general. To be radically pro-cycling today is to know that cycling must change, and be part of that change. Our cycling repertoires need to broaden.

Challenges lie ahead for people who’ve kept riding through the time of the car. Speaking for myself, I’ve become used to riding fast and assertively, but such riding will become less and less appropriate. I need to broaden my repertoire of styles of riding in the city, learning to enjoy slow and sedate as much as fast and furious!

At the individual level the requirement is for ‘flexible cyclists’ able to cycle slowly, or even get off and push, when conditions (and not simply our own reading of those conditions) require it. At the societal level, new forms of governance of cycling must inevitably emerge, and – although of course we’ll negotiate them – we must be careful not automatically to oppose them.

Too fixed an idea of what cycling means is antithetical to a healthy future for cycling. To become established and better integrated into the fabric of the city, to become normal and democratic, cycling must change. New opportunities for the governance of cycling will emerge. So going back to Fred’s suggestion, for example, it should become possible for city centre pedestrian flows to be measured in real time, and signs indicating the appropriate behaviour of cyclists (to ride below a certain speed, or to dismount and push) to be adjusted accordingly. A paradigm shift requires everyone to think differently, everyone’s behaviour to change; those of us who cycle now aren’t immune, and if we think we are, I fear we become part of the problem, rather than its solution.

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39 Responses to “Cycling struggles, 7”

  1. samsaundersbristol Says:

    There is uncomfortable stuff for everyone here and it’s probably the best in the series (for me at any rate) . I would like to think that this kind of analysis becomes, sooner rather than later, the accepted wisdom for cycling advocates.

    Sadly, we have all become (at some level) subject to individualism and carcentricity even when we claim allegiance to co-operation and active travel.

  2. Sue Holden Says:

    excellent post matey, well done!

  3. Luv 2 Cycle Says:

    I pavement cycle on our fast A roads. I very seldom pass a pedestrian but when I do I slow to 3 mph (walking speed), wait until the pedestrian has seen me and with smiles and pleasantries from both of us I then overtake with a thank you.

    There is no excuse for startling a pedestrian when sharing their area be it on legal shared paths and pavements or illegally on a pavement.

    I will continue to pavement cycle until the government and councils make cycling a heck of a lot safer.

    I have noticed in my area that more and more of us are pavement cycling along side the fast main roads where pedestrians are scarce.

  4. Rob Inbucks Says:

    The discrimination in favour of car users is rightly identified. We need a culture change against drivers ‘abandoning’ their car as near as they can to their destination – whether on bends, too close to junctions or with two or more wheels on the footway.

    There is something perverse about drivers selfishly obstructing the footway forcing all pedestrians (and many other drivers) to walk in the carriageway.

  5. David Says:

    Great post in a compulsive series, thanks very much. A couple of points:

    i) I’m white, male, middle aged, not particularly fit or geared up but my cycling is solitary commuting, 12km each way, about half on roads (30mph limit with regular traffic lights etc so not too fast) and half on a shared path alongside a dual carriageway. I like to think I obey the Highway Code rigorously and don’t find it stressful either to share the road with cars or the path with pedestrians. At one point, about a quarter of the way into my commute, I get off and push on the pavement about a very busy roundabout (which I could ride around, Roadcraft style, but prefer not to). I never see another cyclist pushing, they always ride on the pavement and across the roads leading onto the roundabout. (That roundabout is also very hostile for pedestrians.) At another point approaching a roundabout on the route the “official” cycle path takes a detour of about 50 metres to avoid the hazard. I have never seen another cyclist take that detour, they all just jump on the pavement and ride over two pedestrian crossings instead. I know that in the Netherlands these compromises would probably be designed out and I know that dismounting or even giving way can be a nuisance if you lose momentum. But I don’t expect to be able to drive across my city at 30mph or even to walk down its main shopping street the week before Christmas at 3.5mph without ever stopping, giving way, changing speed or negotiating priority, so why should i expect to ride my bike at 18mph across the city without any change of speed or direction? That’s how it is, but cyclists do seem to find it hard to accept.

    ii) You say that we are annoyed by pavement cycling because

    “it’s perceived as ‘the wrong way to cycle’ because of the ideological and discursive dominance of ‘the model (if still highly problematic) cyclist’ and ‘the right way to cycle’.”

    But I’m annoyed by it because it’s against the rules, as represented by the Highway Code. Seeing people cycle on the pavement annoys me in the same way as seeing people drop litter, jump queues, park on the pavement or use their phones in the quiet compartment of the train. I’m sure that’s very petty bourgeois and Capt Mainwaring of me, and I’m a victim of the dominant discourse which is deeply problematic, but it also seems an abandonment of the basic civility which allows us to rub along in large numbers in close proximity.

    iii) And to hypothesise, I think the reason for cyclists behaving like this is that most young people’s introduction to cycling is through BMX or jump bikes (you touch on this in the dealer-cyclists in a previous post), and the coolest model for cycling is the hipster courier, and both of these self-define as out-groups of marginal rebels. And that’s why cycling is “constructed as a problematic, anti-social practice” – cyclists construct themselves like that, because it’s cool, and they perceive the fun of cycling being the ability to swap modes (between acting like a vehicle and acting like a pedestrian) at will, and pick and choose which rules suit them.

    • Judy Says:

      I agree – cyclists (like everyone else)should obey the law. When I see a cyclist one the pavement or cycling through a red light or cycling across a pedestrian crossing or otherwise behaving as if the highway code does not apply to them, my immmediate thought is that it will be that little bit more difficult for me on my bike because of the increased number of pedestrians and car drivers who will have an excuse for thinking that cyclicts are a menace and do not deserve respect.

      I have noticed a marked improvement in the attitude of drivers towards cyclists in recent years and it is unusual for me to feel unsafe on the road. Cyclists who break the rules endanger us all by making it less likely that drivers will see us a legitimate road-users.

      • Dave Horton Says:

        Thanks for reading and commenting Judy.

        Personally, I hope that the current growing profile of cycling will lead to growing recognition of how difficult it is to cycle in most places across urban Britain, and that might lead to increased understanding about why sometimes people on bikes break (car-centric) rules. As ‘fonant’ says, we need to change conditions so that people can ride without either feeling as though they’re taking their lives in their hands or risk being labelled as anti-social rule-breakers.

        I guess I’d rather cycling advocates invest their (understandably limited) energies in pushing for civilized conditions for cycling than in policing and/or judging the behaviours of those people who – against the odds – are cycling. Those behaviours, after all, are symptoms of a problem, and we should tackle the problem rather than its symptoms, shouldn’t we?

        Very best wishes

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks for your very thoughtful comments David, and for describing your commuting experience.

      I deliberately avoided discussing pavement cycling in terms of whether or not it’s rule-breaking in my post, because I think it confuses, from my perspective, the main issue a bit. (Personally I have no problem at all with cyclists breaking rules as they struggle to negotiate a transport environment which has effectively exterminated the possibilities for ‘cycling as normal’. Riding on pavements is clearly a sane and sensible strategy for some people some of the time; but that people feel the need to do so shows how much needs to change, for cycling to become ‘normal’. And I wanted to remind people of the vulnerabilities of others which riding in pedestrian-oriented space should force us as cyclists to confront and negotiate.)

      I think you could argue that BMXs are fairly inappropriate for riding on main roads (as main roads currently are) at all. The combination of scrunched-up riding position and lack of gears makes the possibilities of ‘merging with the traffic’ in the ways which on-road cyclists need to do quite remote. But then shouldn’t we celebrate that these ‘lads’ (for it is lads, mainly) ride at all, rather than join the vast majority of people who simply don’t ride? My intention with the post was to blur the ordinary distinctions which are sometimes made between ‘anti-social’ and ‘social’ cyclists (i.e. the focus on identity), and look instead at ‘anti-social’/’social’ cycling (i.e. a focus on practice).

      Thanks again, for taking the time to read, and comment
      Very best wishes

  6. Anthony Cartmell Says:

    Sadly people are selfish, and will always to break society’s rules if the benefit to them is greater than the risk and consequences of being caught.

    So people cycle on pavements, against the rules, because the benefit is great (they can get around efficiently without risk of being hit by a car) and the consequences are minor (perhaps being shouted at by an annoyed pedestrian, worst-case a £30 FPN from a policeman).

    And so people break the speed limit in their cars, because they get to where they’re going quicker, they get less hassle from the cars behind, and the likelihood of being caught is pretty-well zero. They’ll also squeeze past cyclists because, again, the benefit is greater than the risk to themselves.

    Health and Safety practitioners know this very well, and so in the workplace things are organised so that people just physically cannot take dangerous risks. Machines have guards with interlocks so they can’t be operated without the guards in place. People are kept well away from dangerous machinery at all times. The result is safety even with human beings being involved.

    The Dutch also know this, and have designed their roads and streets with the principles of “Sustainable Safety” []. This means that cyclists and pedestrians and cars each have their own spaces, and are kept separate as much as possible so if someone makes a mistake the danger to others is minimised. Dutch car drivers are no less impatient or careless or well-trained as British car drivers, but they pose almost zero threat to cyclists because their paths are kept apart.

    We simply have to re-think what our roads and streets are for. We need to move away from the current thinking that roads are just for cars, and consider them as places that people use to travel around. This is an ideal time to do this, as car usage is starting to fall and cycling is becoming increasingly popular. Politicians investing in Dutch-style cycle facilities would be pushing against an open door of public opinion, and would solve other issues (pollution, obesity, loss of community) at the same time too! I’m hopeful that in 10 years’ time we’ll look back in amazement at what people put up with in that old car-dominated society.

    • Don Says:

      “I’m hopeful that in 100 years’ time we’ll look back in amazement at what people put up with in that old car-dominated society.”

      Fixed that for you… 😉

      • Dave Horton Says:

        I’ll go for twenty 😉 (With luck, that’ll give me a bit of time to enjoy post-car society – sitting outdoors at street-corner cafes in the towns and cities of northern England!)

  7. Enough is enough | As Easy As Riding A Bike Says:

    […] has been created between two user groups that really should co-exist quite harmoniously. I urge you to read it (indeed, read the whole set, if you’ve got time over Christmas), because it is highly […]

  8. Abandon TV Says:

    Great post (looking forward to reading the whole series).

    I must say it surprised me that the deaf person experienced difficulties with pavement cyclists. In a weird way I would have thought being deaf almost made you safer on the pavement precisely because you WON’T react to an oncoming cycle (at least not from behind anyway). This non-reaction makes you far more predictable for the cyclist which makes you easier to negotiate without a collision ……. but they will likely pass at great speed and proximity which will be *very unsettling* for the deaf person (which is bang out of order for that reason).

    IME the kind of city cyclist who rides fast enough to really hurt someone if they hit them is the kind of cyclist who wants (and often expects) everyone and everything to be totally predictable.

    These cyclists are more than happy to do ALL the distance/ speed/ position adjustments – they just want you to be a *predictable* object (moving or stationary it doesn’t matter). This allows them to judge all oncoming obstacles down to the nearest inch – which is probably how close they will pass by you.

    The perception of precision (and thus the feeling of security) of the cyclist is FAR greater than that of the pedestrian. Most fast pavement riders (often the lycra clad kind who like to ‘hop on and hop off’) do not take into account how totally out of control they appear to be to pedestrians. In the cyclist’s mind he is totally in control – and to be fair this is *usually* the case. But that is beside the point. Pavement cycling is SO MUCH about people’s perceptions and their feelings….. as well as taking into account the unexpected.

    I actually think the cyclist’s desire to have pedestrians act predictably is part of the reason why some cyclists choose the ‘fast buzz’ approach. As long as they ride fast enough to have already passed people by BEFORE they even have time to react (ie panic) they remain predictable and thus easy to avoid. In this sense riding insanely fast and weaving in and out of pedestrians probably IS more safe than reducing their speed to ‘moderately fast’. I mean ‘safe’ in a totally twisted kind of way…….. it’s safe until someone swings an arm out, or reacts/ panics quicker than expects, or until a small child runs out unpredictably……

    As a cyclist in London (… er … yay!) I know I am *perfectly capable* of riding the pavement safely, and adjusting my speed right down to walking pace (or standstill) wherever necessary – not just for an adequate safety margin but also to put pedestrians AT EASE (even when I know I could actually be riding faster and still be riding safely).

    However, I *never actually* ride the pavement because of the negative public perception and the risk of fines. Also in some areas I get the feeling a lot of pedestrians fear cycle muggings. I wear a mask/ helmet etc and I’m sure that slowing down/ stopping around some pedestrians could potentially cause MORE stress than just arrogantly whizzing by them. I just decided to stay on the roads.

    I don’t ever jump a red light either, not even when you feel silly stopping for them (such as a crossing with no one crossing). I decided long ago to just follow the same rules as the traffic.

    I’m fit enough to out-accelerate pretty much anything on the road and so I can do the whole ‘keeping up with the traffic’ thing. Although I’m totally NOT one of those competitive, maniac riders who regards being overtaken as a challenge to race.

    Being a bone fide part of the traffic (effectively like a motorbike) seems to work best for me overall………. but I do feel I’ve been pushed into riding this way. I’d say it probably wears out the bike at least twice as fast with all the constant braking and accelerating, and I usually get off well before my destination and walk the last bit so my legs aren’t all pumped up and I’m not all hyped. So that offsets the high (but sporadic) speed when keeping up with traffic. I’d rather just do the whole journey on a cycle track at more constant speed if I could.

    One random thought that just came to me…… when I travelled to India I spent quite a while figuring out how to walk down busy streets with cows, people, rickshaws, scooters, cars, carts, bicycles, motor rickshaws all sharing the same space. Then I noticed that anyone on foot used an almost imperceptible system of hand signals to prompt oncoming vehicles to pass them on one side or another.

    It is just a quick flick of the hand to say “You go this side of me”. It worked really well and made walking through the hectic streets much more relaxing. You kind of just ‘flicked’ the oncoming vehicles to one side or another, while veering in the other direction yourself.

    Sorry for rambling thoughts… 🙂

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Please don’t apologise! That’s a fantastic, very insightful and interesting, set of thoughts – cheers!

      I’ve worked (a bit) as a bike messenger, I race, I can ride fast, and I get a buzz out of city centre cycling. But then I get upset when taxi-drivers seem to treat the city as ‘their territory’; as though they have the right to drive just how they want. And there’s an inconsistency there, isn’t there? And one which we should perhaps get better at recognising.

      I don’t think I’m reckless but then I also don’t think I’m necessarily the best judge. I’d like a world in which most people are cyclists, and ‘good cyclists’. Those ‘good cyclists’ might be perfectly able to cycle very far and fast, but it’s more important, actually, that they can cycle near and slow. And always considerately, because only by doing so can the bicycle fulfill its potential as vehicle for a sustainable, just planet. Unrealistic expectations?

      Thanks for taking the time to read, and comment. Much appreciated.
      Best wishes

  9. Tim Says:

    You mention how a lack of dedicated cycle paths adversely affects some disabled people, because cyclists ride on pavements, but it goes so much further.

    You reminded me again how often I cycle past mobility-scooter-type vehicles on fast busy roads, travelling at their restricted 8mph, and I feel so sorry for the occupants having to brave the same road as me at even slower speeds.

    This is NOT how any reasonable society should treat its more vulnerable citizens. Cycle paths could hugely benefit these people. I think everyone should watch the video here and appreciate how far we are in the UK from being truly civilised.

  10. Tim Says:

    I used to commute on the bike everyday. I abided by the rules of the road. It frustrated me to see others on footpaths ‘giving the rest of us a bad name’. And then I lost my bottle.

    My daily commute had become a frantic battle with cars and trams, ignoring my fragility to exert some sort of dominance on the street. I was becoming the very person I deplore. I was becoming just like those car drivers who recklessly aim to put me in harms way. I was putting myself in harms way.

    I now rarely ride my bikes. I pop to the market to fill my panniers on a weekend, and pootle around my suburb, but I don’t really go anywhere. I still stick to the roads, but even when meandering, I’m likely to encounter aggressive driving. Drivers’ behaviour must change.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks very much for commenting Tim, although sorry to hear of your own ‘cycling story’, which is – tragically – far too common a tale.

      There’s quite a strong cycling advocacy lobby and cycling promotion ‘industry’, which between them – and combined with lots of institutional (including governmental) pro-cycling rhetoric, can easily give the impression that more and more people are jumping onto bikes, and of course, to some (but not a sufficiently great) extent, they are.

      But there’s an almost complete general neglect and ignorance about ‘the other side of the coin’, which is full of people with experiences such as your own, as well – of course – of stories of lots of people feeling much more interested in the idea of cycling, but nonetheless steadfastly refusing to ride in the conditions which they see on their own doorsteps.

      In other words, we’ve got so good at ‘promoting cycling’, and in believing our own rhetoric, that we have repressed the profound ways in which we (I mean societies in general) are simultaneously ‘deterring cycling’.

      And personally I fear that this strengthens, rather more than undermines, what so many of us are so keen to change – ‘motoring-as-usual’. Because it *looks* like cycling is getting every chance, when really it’s not.

      This is the main reason why I think we need to break beyond ‘small-scale’, ‘piece-meal’ claims for cycling, and demand wholesale, radical, deep-seated reform.

      I absolutely agree with your last point, that drivers’ behaviour must change, but I think more importantly, expectations of appropriate cycling conditions must change, and our towns and cities must be fundamentally re-made away from the car’s convenience, and towards the bicycle.

      Hey, hope it’s a sunny Christmas down under, and have a good one!

      Thanks loads for reading, and sharing your experiences, and please, keep enjoying the cycling you do do.
      Very best wishes

  11. Neil Jones Says:

    I have some difficulty with the view that’People cycle on the pavement when they feel unable to cycle on the road’. I’m sure that this is true in some cases, and I sometimes do it myself – in particular where there is a fast rural or semi-rural road with a pavement used by very few pedestrians, and vehicles traveling at 40 mph plus. In such a case using the pavement may be illegal, if it is not designated as a shared-use path (as some are), but it simply seems to me to be sensible. This is a situation in which I ride on the pavement, not because I feel ‘unable’ to cycle on the road, but at least because I think it’s safer. (I’m usually riding a folding bicycle in ordinary clothes for travel purposes.)

    On the other hand, in many instances, in particular in towns, it seems to me that people cycle on the pavement merely because it’s convenient. For example, on my daily commute to work there is a narrow section of town-centre street with one-way priority. I either wait on my bike in the road in the line of traffic waiting to move on when traffic in the other direction stops, or I get off and walk on the pavement. But many cyclists simply ride onto the pavement and carry on, thus bypassing the queue. They do this on a narrow pavement, with a number of shop doors and other entrances out of which people might walk at any moment, not expecting a bicycle to be coming past. This pavement riding seems to me to have nothing to do with feeling unable to cycle on the road, and I regard it as entirely without justification. In other words, while I’m sure some pavement cycling is to do with feeling unable to cycle on the road, some of it is more to do with mere convenience.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Yep, I think I probably agree with you Neil (though would need to see the particular scenario you mention, in order to be sure). It sounds like the right ‘pro-cycling solution’ would be the introduction of a cycling lane which would enable cyclists to bypass the queueing motorised traffic without feeling the need to mount the pavement? (I’m sure people would argue there’s insufficient space for that ‘solution’, but I’ve learnt to be very wary of such arguments, which tend to be an excuse for not messing around with the existing ‘rights’ of cars and motorists to precious urban space.) But I have no local knowledge, and bow to that. Thanks for reading and sharing. Best wishes, Dave

  12. John Says:

    I am a cyclist, motor cyclist, car driver and pedestrian. Musing on the comments so far, it looks like underlying wishes might be: to be safe, not to be inconvenienced, for life to be predictable, to have someone listen to how we feel, to change the way the society around us is organised. Are some of these wishes more important than others? If we would like others to listen to our wish for safety then surely we should listen to theirs? Which means understanding pedestrians desire to be safe too. I know two sizeable blokes who suffered broken bones after cyclists rode into them on shared paths. Regarding a wish for predictability, we have rules on the road to try and achieve that. Everyone breaks rules sometimes and in doing so we infringe others desire to feel safe, surely disregarding the feelings of pedestrians is just another version of motorists disregarding cyclists? Do two wrongs…etc? You may want to get away from rights and wrongs but turning a blind eye risks alienating many people. Better to pursue significant acts of protest like critical mass rides – trade union strikes, demonstrations and mass trespass of the moors led to more significant change than niggling at the edges. But then mass protest would require the cycling community to show it really is a community and not just a bunch of self interested individuals wanting not to be inconvenienced. A bit of a challenge perhaps but if you want to influence a government that isn’t listening then it would be better than piecemeal law breaking that just ends up annoying others.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks very much for your thoughts John, and my apologies for being so slow in responding.

      For many years I’ve had a question nagging away at the back of my mind. It’s a question which I generally suppress, but which occasionally surfaces, and still less occasionally agitates me to the point of rushing for books, making notes, and trying to find a way of articulating a set of inchoate and ill-disciplined thoughts. The question, approximately, is ‘why has there not yet been a (global, potentially) social movement for cycling?’.

      Now of course, as soon as you ask this question, you can find ways of negating it (‘silly question’, ‘what about Critical Mass?’) or of making it more complex (‘what does social movement mean?’). In my past I’ve been a bit of a scholar of social movements (I once had the privilege of teaching a Masters Course at Lancaster University with my good mates Tom Cahill and Graeme Chesters with the wonderful title, ‘New Social Movements, the Environment and Local Resistance’), and my sense is that cycling (and this is one of its problems) is still what’s seen as an ‘old social movement’, and so still needs to become a ‘new social movement’.

      I’d be the first to admit that it doesn’t matter what it’s called, it’s using cycling to transform the world for the better which matters, but the resources which theoretically-informed studies of social movements – and in particular the distinctions which such studies make between ‘old’ and ‘new’ social movements – can make available to us are here valuable, I think.

      This all probably seems a bit irrelevant, but I guess the long-and-short of it is that those organisations which form part of an ‘old social movement’ paradigm seem to me to concentrate on ‘making the world better for cyclists’ (perhaps in the way which Trade Unions might to make the world better for their members?), whereas a new social movement for cycling would concentrate more on ‘how cycling can make the world a better place’; in this there is more onus on us as cyclists, too, to change.

      Without any doubt in my mind, Critical Mass is the movement which has come closest to articulating and executing such a cycling social movement in my lifetime but, with a few notable exceptions (such as its ‘birthplace’ of San Francisco) it seems not to have become a broad, democratic, mass movement able to shift conventional understandings and expectations.

      I’ve nothing against piece-meal law breaking particularly, and would tend to advocate ‘direct action’, but I guess one problem with the piece-meal law breaking you’re probably talking about is that it’s not a *political* strategy, but rather it just forms part of an attempt to get about by bike. Now some trendy French social and cultural theorists might suggest we could re-articulate these attempts simply to cycle as somehow political, and of course there is a politics to them, but I would tend to agree that by themselves they don’t amount to a coherent and compelling call for change; for that to happen there needs to be organisation, which is where a politics able to contest established and entrenched power might start to happen.

      Mmm, maybe I should get around to writing that paper I’ve always meant to write, about why we need a new social movement for cycling? (Or maybe not!) Whatever, thanks again for commenting, and sorry not only the response was delayed, but also so verbose!


  13. nottheoutdoorstype Says:

    I really like this article! Not much more to say, I’m new to ‘blogging’ and look forward to reading more.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks! Please do keep coming back, and good luck with your own blog (and adventures)! (It gets easier with time and experience.) All the best, Dave

  14. Fred Robbins Says:

    Across the pond veteran rider here for a different take. Confidence and ability can take you only so far.
    I was hit head-on by a Mercedes SUV (passenger friendly bumper) and it was only quick reflexes that saved me. She was sweeping around a curve like Mario Andretti talking on her cell and watching her two children and never saw me. At the last i jumped on the pedals and picked up the front and threw the bike to the side, actually thought I was clear until the smash, snapping my steel frame and tossing me 15 yards.
    Nicest lady in the world, called the police and an ambulance and gave me water. The best person to be hit by! JUST WAS NOT PAYING ATTENTION.

    On the road I’m aggressive pushing the big gears tuned to the approaching cars behind, listening to their engines getting louder and veering over at the last.

    Most drivers are very considerate and patient, especially the big rigs. They have blocked or slowed traffic for me or waited exceedingly patient for me to catch-up and cross. Older people too. The young, in fast small cars are the ones that keep you awake.

    Off the roadway. on a bike path that goes on for miles, (20 or so)
    is heaven. I can breath and pace, take in the scenery give thanks.
    In Miami once, I was pounding down Collins ave heading to South Beach, 25 mph, when an impatient driver turned straight in front of me, I gave him the finger and shouted so loud he looked up in his rear view mirror and crashed into the car in front who had stopped.
    I went to Aaron Cohen’s memorial in Key Biscayne. Met his family and riding companion Enda Walsh (who’s from the UK). Very sad time
    Drunk punk with smashed caved in window kept going to try and escape
    Don’t put me on that trial he would never get out
    Thanks for listening/airing out

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks Fred for sharing your experiences. I guess I already knew, but it sounds like a similar picture over there to the situation here. Certainly those of us who ride a lot are I’m afraid all too familiar with the kinds of experiences and stories you tell (though that we ride a lot also suggests that they are not enough to put us off, and the pleasures still far outweigh the perils and pitfalls – though that’s not quite the point when it comes to promoting cycling to the unconverted).

      Philosophically and politically, I guess the key issue is how you govern against the kind of things which currently happen from happening. I wonder whether currently we place too much emphasis on penalising (the small minority of offenders who are ever caught and prosecuted) individuals (though that’s obviously important), and too little emphasis on governing the environments in which such ‘accidents’ or ‘incidents’ happen? Personally I’d rather the guy who passes me on the country roads near here too close and at 80 mph was stopped, prosecuted and banned from driving *before* he hits me or someone else, rather than wait for him to hit someone before anything (however ineffectually) is done.

      I hope you’ll keep reading, and please feel free to contribute any time you want!
      All the best

  15. Mark Reilly Says:

    Another interesting post, for me I think the key thought in this was

    “At the individual level the requirement is for ‘flexible cyclists’ able to cycle slowly, or even get off and push, when conditions (and not simply our own reading of those conditions) require it.”

    Personally I think the blanked ban on pavement cycling is inappropriate, but I can see that the polar opposite would also be inappropriate, and that pedestrians in crowded spaces have legitimate concerns. I’m not daft enough to think that all cyclists are angels and that a sudden shift to pedestrian friendly behaviour by the small minority that cause a problem will happen overnight (if ever!). We use regulations in all other areas, so I would propose we lift the blanket ban on pavement cycling, but keep restrictions in busy areas where they are needed. Having allowed pavement cycling we could also manage it better, one contributor in the article complains about uncertainty even thought the pavement is wide enough, well local authorities are happy enough to paint mile upon mile of white lines on the road, why not segregate the pavement where necessary and practical (even better build a small curb between the areas, I know there would be infringements from both sides but it would be a step in the right direction).

    Having identified the areas where pavement cycling is not appropriate (or is seen by pedestrians in the area as a problem), we could then use these areas as a starting point for other cycling infrastructure, if cyclists are taking to the pavement it must make the area a priority. The other areas of pavements, the miles and miles beside busy main roads where you hardly ever see a pedestrian, both in the town and semi rural arreas, could be used as shared paths – although they aren’t ideal.

    Another thought is that Pavement Cycling is often seen as a type of anti social behaviour and as with other instances, tends to cause anxiety in those encountering it, a bit like kids hanging around and making too much noise, who will genuinely not see the “problem” they are causing. At the minute a cyclists taking to the pavement, however considerate they are is someone flouting the law and this will cause anxiety or even anger in some who see it. But if it is not illegal and accepted then it becomes less of a problem.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks for those great thoughts Mark, and my apologies in being rather tardy in responding – I’ve only just stopped feeling like I’m in ‘catch-up’ mode after the Christmas and New Year.

      I think you’re absolutely right that one of the key reasons people get so irritated, currently, by pavement cycling is that it’s rule-breaking. So if we changed the rules, that irritation would to some extent subside.

      But I also think there’s a question here about in which direction the current inadequacies should push us. My own view is that motorists remain too dominant (and feel too entitled to urban space), whereas *both* pedestrians and cyclists remain marginalised (and are generally under-politicised, and so under-concerned about this). So we must take space from the car rather than push pedestrians and cyclists closer together. And the kinds of fairly stringent expectations of cyclists when they’re moving through areas with pedestrians should similarly apply to motorists when they’re moving through areas with cyclists, i.e. much slower speeds, much greater awareness of cyclists’ (differential) vulnerabilities, and much greater care and courtesy. Cars taking up far too much urban space and travelling much too fast, with far too great a degree of entitlement, remains the fundamental problem here, and only solutions which tackle that deserve to be called ‘solutions’.

      Busy main roads everywhere are *ripe* for quality dedicated cycling infrastructure. I’m not sure how we get from where we are now (terrible conditions for cycling along the majority of such roads, with improved facilities for cycling seen as ‘a good idea’ whenever it’s mooted, but not as far as I know one which is being acted upon in any co-ordinated way; although the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is doing great work in related areas) to where we want to be on this. I can see an argument for re-allocation of major transport funding away from new roads (unfortunately now happening again) and towards a national programme of such cycle-path development, if only a high-profile and well-resourced organisation would champion it.

      Thanks for continuing to read, and for again taking time to comment, and all the best

  16. Ben Says:

    Thank you for this insightful series of articles, I’ve seen plenty of statistics and quantitative studies on cycling but this series really has given me pause to think about my own feelings about cycling.
    I’ve only been cycle commuting for just over 6 months having not really cycled since being a child. My original route was a quiet back road. Quiet mostly because of the unmade sections and massive potholes, but despite the occasional car trying to do the 60mph speed limit and stupidly steep hills was nice for the most part. Unfortunately winter has forced me on to the main road, a stream of 60mph (it’s a 40mph road) lorries isn’t particularly nice, I can’t really remember the last journey I had where I haven’t felt myself in peril in some way, statistically I know I’m unlikely to be run over and that 99% of drivers behave properly, but then you realise that over 100 drivers pass you on a daily commute and the statistics don’t look so comforting. It’s sad in a way if I ask myself why I cycle now, it’s more lack of other choices or stubbornness at not wanting to be pushed off the road than anything positive. I know cycling ‘can’ be nice, relaxing and laid back but that option isn’t available right now.
    Your case studies on Holly and Fabian regarding (as a motorist) encountering cyclists really speaks to me. I wouldn’t have said I was a bad or fast driver before cycling but now I am incredibly aware that I am in charge of a multi tonne vehicle hurtling along at 20,30,40 mph, I definitely drive a lot slower now and I cringe when I see a cyclist, not so much because I am a risk to them (although I am) but because the vast majority of motorists don’t appreciate how much of a risk they pose.

    Regarding pavement cyclists, in many ways I am envious of them, I have my bike lit up like a christmas tree, wear hi viz and a helmet. I look at pavement cyclists, who by and large don’t have any of these and feel that’s how cycling should be. Not that I condone it, It’s just the (lack of?) culture in pavement cycling seems healthier than that of road cyclists dressed for battle on the road.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Dear Ben, two things:

      First, thanks very much for reading, and for taking the time to comment – it’s mainly through hearing thoughts and experiences such as yours that I persist with this.

      Second, thanks for the brave honesty of your comments. I get very angry when I hear people who are supposedly concerned to boost cycling insisting how safe cycling is. As you very ably demonstrate, such ‘naive promotion’ of cycling does nothing to change things, and only perpetuates the anti-cycling status quo. It’s not *just* that (though I know this is vitally important) that if only 1% of drivers are ‘dodgy’ around cyclists, then you’ll meet one in every hundred, which might equate (I’m speaking casually) to one every ride; it’s also that to have 100 even wonderfully considerate motorists passing you at 60 mph does not make cycling feel safe, let alone attractive. We must perhaps start with safety, but getting conditions right for cycling in the UK is *not* just about safety; it’s about comfort, enjoyment, transforming cycling into a mode of transport ‘ordinary’ people might actually *want to do* because it (wait for it!) LOOKS NICE!

      So thank you. I really value your comments, and I very much hope that you’ll keep riding, and keep reading.

      My best wishes

  17. Mabel Stafford Says:

    The government must realise that fines are not enough to stop pavement cycling, conditions for cyclists, pedestrians and other vulnerable road users must be improved.

    • Abandon TV Says:

      This is an interesting point. The government’s main (and in many case only) tool to provide solutions is to initiate force against the public (fines, laws, regulations, penalties). In other words a government works mainly by providing NEGATIVE incentives and these negative incentives are imposed on us by FORCE (fail to comply and they might even kidnap you and put you inside a cage).

      Unfortunately this has the knock on effect of encouraging the public to form ‘waring camps’ (the cycling camp, the pedestrian camp, the motoring camp etc) and for these camps to then try to use this ‘government force’ as a ‘weapon’ to clobber all the other camps with.

      This mindset of solving all social challenges / problems through state force only divides society and pits us against each other. It also trains us to imagine that all human activities and interactions must be based on a ‘win-lose’ equation (not true).

      It can also make us think in terms of ‘laws’ and ‘regulations’ rather than common sense, even morality or ‘decency’ (courteousness).

      For example, having to obey the letter of the law needlessly (in a particular situation, such as a completely deserted road late at night) for fear of being pulled over/ photographed or fined.

      Or the other extreme example of the driver/ cyclist who endangers life (or simply acts like a PITA) simply because he knows he has right of way (by law) …. when in reality he should give up his right of way to accommodate some unusual occurrence (a learner driver, or old man on a bike or woman laden down with shopping and young kids etc).

      And, to be frank, the government is only to happy for us to all have this ‘us vs them’ mindset because it means they can justify creating yet MORE departments, more laws, more fines, a bigger government and in the long run more taxation and debt to pay for it all (debt being essentially deferred taxation).

      In other words governments themselves THRIVE on social problems and social dysfunction. It’s what pays their salaries and keeps them in employment!

      If the public is ever able to actually SOLVE (rather than merely treat) social problems this immediately puts government out of business (in this area) and reduces their revenue from taxes and fines relating to this problem (which has now been solved).

      As a thought experiment, imagine there was no government we could run to and complain about the other camps, and use as a weapon against them. Imagine there is no government to impose coercive and authoritarian rules and penalties on us all …..

      …..if we are unable to turn to government for coercive treatments, we might have to turn to each other for peaceful corporative/ collaborative solutions instead.

      I’m NOT advocating some kind of ‘free for all’ system without rules – as per some third world countries. Although I do think they can provide some valuable lessons on how to solve traffic problems (a whole other subject).

      I’m just suggesting we examine our basic mindset (‘us vs them’), and understand perhaps where this mindset has originated from (ie state coercion as the ‘go to’ method to organise society).

  18. Kevin Hickman Says:

    Hi Dave. Been meaning to come back and respond to this post since Christmas…

    I do a fair amount of pavement cycling and quite a lot of riding along streets where cycling is restricted. The primary reason being that I’m disabled – walking is at best a chore and can be at worst painful. My bike is my mobility aid.

    Outside of the Paralympics, discussions about disability and cycling always seem to be constructed in the same way; intimidating able bodied cyclist vs vulnerable disabled pedestrian. The idea that a disabled person could be using a cycle rather than a mobility scooter to get around these days is apparently ridiculous. Forty years ago that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t unusual to see disabled people using trikes as their main form of transport and for getting stuff from A to B. Some used bikes as well, but they were less obvious than the trike with a basket on the back.

    My own experience is that disabled people using cycles as mobility aids are discriminated against in a way that is deemed acceptable by our society. Cycling trumps disability when it comes to discrimination. Demonising cycling by making it illegal in some places makes those places a target for clamp downs by neighbourhood action groups finding an outlet for their near impotence in influencing the things that really matter when improving a community’s environment.

    Every now and then I meet a model citizen doing a star jump in front of me – almost always white, female, 60+ and upper middle class. When presented with my dilemma of whether to ride or call my wife to collect me they invariably wish they’d stayed at home with a gin, pruning the roses. I think for the sake of their deeply felt, almost crippling embarrassment, society has to find a better solution.

    Someone earlier suggested repealing the law on pavement cycling. That certainly beats trying to come up with schemes for registering disabled cycles or cyclists, and I expect a natural norm of what society deems to be acceptable cycling will take its place. I hope so.

    I find I have a great affinity with kids trying to negotiate their surroundings – they face the same kind of discrimination. I remember being chased and caught by a couple of coppers in a panda car for doing two-up on my mate’s Raleigh Chopper as a kid. Things haven’t changed much, except perhaps faster squad cars and hi viz.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks very much Kev, a great set of insights and I absolutely agree with you.

      I’ve been surprised, talking to people about cycling, how many people cycle because for various reasons they struggle to walk; clearly for many of these people cycling is – quite literally – freedom (of a sort).

      We need to promote cycling as part of a broader move towards a more considerate, tolerant society; not as somehow antithetical to it. I’m loathe to always personalise the political, but I guess at some level that means effective, appealing cycling advocacy has to start with us, cycling’s most enthusiastic advocates, doesn’t it? But then how do we be considerate and tolerant whilst also pushing a practice towards which society is currently still so inconsiderate and intolerant?! I think that’s a dilemma, and one which I often personally feel, experience, embody.

      Any thoughts? (No pressure, though, of course.)
      Thanks for reading and commenting, much appreciated
      Best wishes

      • Kevin Hickman Says:

        By exposing the ridiculous.

        I’ll come back and expand on that when I’ve got a little more time and have my thoughts in order. You’re doing a pretty good job of it by telling people’s stories btw 🙂

      • Dave Horton Says:

        Yes. I might read you wrong here, in which case apologies, but we spent Easter in Edinburgh. I was quite excited. I’d heard some ‘good news stories’ about cycling in Edinburgh – about how it’s on the up there; things are beginning to happen, and more people are riding, especially commuting. But you know what? As we moved around the city (mainly on foot, sometimes by bus) I felt like I was almost permanently gawping at people cycling their ways through the most ridiculous cycling conditions – people on bikes just being quite literally swamped by buses, and appearing as though they were barely tolerated by the cars and other vehicles. This is Scotland’s capital, a(n otherwise) beautiful city, a tourist honey-pot, a place in which car’s shouldn’t – except for exceptional circumstances – be, a place which should be seething with bikes. I watched and saw clearly how easily it could all be otherwise; I only hope that we’re ‘pioneers’ rather than deluded! (Though of course it partly depends on what we ourselves do as to which camp we ultimately will be put!)

        I plan to finish off the Cycling Struggles series this month, and then I’ll have a think as to whether there’s scope to edit and re-package that set of stories into an alternative form.

        Cheers for now

  19. Cycling Struggles – a summary | Thinking About Cycling Says:

    […] cycling (Cycling Struggles, 7) is extremely easy to comprehend but highly problematic to the future of cycling. It indicates a […]

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  21. Hannah C Says:

    Hi Dave,

    I’m a bit late to the party here (found your study from an old post on CycleLondonCity), but thought I’d leave a comment.

    I think your research is incredibly important, especially the ethnographic approach. It’s impossible to have a coherent cycling strategy if we think all cyclists are the same. Lycra commuters can cope (unhappily, mind, but they can cope) with our current road system, it is the people with a rusting bike in the shed that hasn’t been used in five years whose needs are not served.

    I’ve come round in a way of thinking. I’m a reasonably aggressive and confident commuter in London. I don’t skip lights (anymore!), but I’ll happily merge across lanes of fast-moving heavy-vehicle traffic, or negotiate a roundabout with a 50 mph limit. I used to think that, frankly, anyone who wanted to be a cyclist could and should be prepared to do this (or get off and cross at the lights, and stop complaining about it). Separated Dutch-style infrastructure would be incredibly expensive, when you could cycle perfectly well on the road as it was, and would do nothing for cyclists like me.

    I grew up in Dublin from the age of 10, and cycled all throughout school and university. The cycling infrastructure is, actually, pretty good. In my neighbourhood, the route to the city centre is along a fairly busy road (30 mph), with a ‘paint only’ cycle lane, but there are no parked cars and it is wide enough for the cars to pass you comfortable (street view here: If you do have to merge with the lanes of traffic, it is usually at fairly congested retail stretches where cars are going slowly. It was on a bus route, but with only 1 every 20 minutes, and there were very few heavy goods vehicles or delivery vans. Back then I would skip lights, so you would be a fair ways ahead of the traffic once it got moving anyway.

    London is different. London is *horrible* on a bicycle. I quite enjoy it – racing taxis, dodging clueless tourists through Covent Garden, doing the sprint over Waterloo bridge – but after moving here I suddenly appreciated how intimidating it must be for someone who rarely cycles. There are so many buses and HGVs, and you have to spend so much of your time under/overtaking these huge vehicles that occupy 95% of the lane ahead of you. And I realised that the present provision for cyclists, such as ‘cycle lanes’ that occupy a third of the road, and are mostly used as parking spaces or sit under lorries, and lead you on the inside of left-turning traffic (with both of you going so much faster than you’d be in Dublin), is wholly unacceptable.

    What helped bring me round to this way of thinking was also affordable and implementable proposals such as semi-segregated cycle lanes (, where you are not so much separated from traffic as traffic is separated from you. In Dublin, ‘segregated’ lanes are mostly on-pavement, and pretty dreadful, but seeing things which I could imagine myself cycling down changed my mind.

    And finally, in reference to the topic of your post (sorry about being a bit longwinded!), I have realised that I will have to cycle more slowly, or continue with my happy bus dodging. There is no way that a cycling infrastructure (separated lanes in a sensibly linked-up network) can accommodate a MAMIL going at 20 mph, and someone not as used to a bike going at 8 mph. But we *need* a proper infrastructure – us “semi-feral” cyclists can look after ourselves, and we can’t dictate that, unless you want to be like us, you have no right to be on a bike.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Welcome Hannah! And thanks very much for sharing your experiences and thoughts. Your trajectory/’conversion’ sounds much like my own (though I guess mine was ‘fast-tracked’ by seemingly endless conversations, during research encounters between 2008 and 2011, with obviously well-intentioned people (who would very much like to cycle) who were crystal clear that they would not cycle in cities as they are). I think and hope more and more people are appreciating that ‘a cycling society’ won’t come about by incremental ‘improvements’ to the current transport system, and that a more fundamental overhaul is required. I know debate is very much ‘live’ in London right now, and I see that as a very good thing – the processes of figuring out how much needs to change, how fast, why, for who etc cannot simply be disappeared; they’re an inevitable part of the process of moving from car-centric to cycle-centric urban space.
      I’m glad you stumbled across my blog, and hope you keep reading!
      All the best

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