Posts Tagged ‘conferences’

Building Cycling Culture/s – programme

April 15, 2011

How big can cycling get, and how do we get there? How might the size of cycling affect what cycling looks like?

As we work to make cycling bigger and better than it currently is, Building Cycling Culture/s aims to

  • celebrate cycling
  • explain and explore findings from two big recent research projects into cycling
  • invite reflection and discussion about how big cycling in Britain can get, what that cycling might look like, and how we can best get from here to there

On Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th June, Building Cycling Culture/s takes over Leicester’s Phoenix Square Media Centre for talk, debate, film, artwork, bike rides, children’s activities, networking and ideas for change.  The venue has all facilities including café, bar, and loads of meeting space

Whether you come for the day or choose to make a weekend of it, please join the urgent business of building cycling culture/s …

Pre-conference events

Saturday 4th June, 5pm ‘til late: Launch Event and Party

Join us for an evening of events, including relaxed discussion regarding progress towards building cycling culture/s on both sides of the Atlantic

  • In conversation – with special guests Jon Orcutt (New York Department of Transportation) and Karen Overton (Recycle-a-bicycle, New York)
  • Along with bike films, live music, bike photography exhibition & community media hub

Sunday 5th June, 9am to 12noon: Breakfast & Bike Rides

Including – Bike Recycling Projects Tour, Cycle-friendly Pedestrian Zone, Western Park MTB Trails & Connect2 Watermead Park Project

Conference schedule

Sunday 5th June

12noon to 12.30pm: Registration & buffet lunch

12.30pm to 1.30pm: Welcome & keynote speeches

  • Andy Salkeld (Leicester City Council)
  • Kevin Mayne (Chief Executive, CTC)
  • Dr Rachel Aldred (UniversityofEast London): Key findings from the Cycling Cultures project
  • Dr Dave Horton (Lancaster University): Key findings from the Understanding Walking & Cycling project
  • Jon Orcutt (New York Department of Transportation): Building Cycling Culture/s – Tales from New York

1.30pm to 2:15pm: Break for browsing and talking

  • A chance to look around stalls including: Bicycology, Bike It, Cyclemagic, Bikes 4 All, Future Cycles, Leicester Cycle Challenge, Bike Film Festival, and others to be confirmed (among them Bikeability, Cycle-Derby’s Scootability Project, Leicester Critical Mass, Beech Holme Tandem Club (Hull), Cambridge Cycling Campaign (Cambridge), and Bristol Bike Project)
  • A chance to participate in events taking place in and around the Phoenix: bike try-outs and much more …

2.15pm to 3.15pm: Workshops round 1

3.30pm to 4.30pm: Workshop round 2

Choose 2 from the following workshops:

A – ‘Recycling Communities’

Karen Overton (Recycle-a-bicycle – Bikes, Art & Social Enterprise): From bike recycling to bike art, sustainable environmental education, training and jobs

B – ‘Inclusive Cycling’

Elizabeth Barner (CTC Cycling Champions Project) & STA Bikes Hackney (tbc): How cycling cultures might address issues of inequality and exclusion

C – ‘Re-cycling Peak Car Cities’

Iain Jaques (Photofinale & Leicester Architecture Festival ): Re-imaging cities and neighbourhoods for walking, cycling and sustainable transport

D – ‘Cycling Networks & New Media’

Ian Nutt and Rob Martin (Leicester Forest Cycling Club & Critical Mass) & Cambridge Cycling Campaign (tbc): Using social media to build social cycling networks

E – ‘Building Cycling Culture/s – where do we put the car?’

Bicycology: Exploring the difficulties of tackling car culture head on

F – ‘Cycling Cultures’

Dr Rachel Aldred and Dr Kat Jungnickel (University of East London): Discussing and debating the project’s key findings

G – ‘Understanding Cycling’

Dr Dave Horton and Dr Griet Scheldeman (Lancaster University): What needs to change to get Britain on its bike? Discussing and debating the project’s key findings

H – ‘Bike Hire Schemes’

Jon Orcutt (New York Department of Transport): The future for ‘bike sharing as public transport’ in New York and elsewhere

4.30pm to 5:30pm: Question Time

5:30: Conference close


Phoenix Square is fully accessible for all abilities, see

Children welcome; a crèche is available

The cost is £10, including food. Prior registration is essential. To do so, please visit:

This event is being generously supported by CTC, Leicester City Council, Citizens’ Eye, the University of East London and Lancaster University

Building cycling culture/s – registration now open

March 2, 2011

Progress continues towards what I hope will be one of this year’s most exciting events for those of us concerned with making cycling an ordinary means of moving around, Building Cycling Culture/s. I’ve blogged about the event already; here I want to mention a couple of developments, and point anyone interested in registering for the event in the right direction – here.

There are many diverse energies contributing to the event, and I hope that will be one of its strengths. I assume like Rachel from the Cycling Cultures project, I want to talk about my current research, and particularly to discuss its main findings, and what those findings tell us about the task of building a broad and inclusive British cycling culture. But I also want the event to be a coming together of the many different constituencies with an interest in building such a cycling culture, and a joyous celebration of our shared love for cycling. I’d love for activists, academics, campaigners, students, policy-makers, local authority practitioners, cycling enthusiasts and anyone else to feel that there’s something for them, and to add their energies, convictions, insights and voices to the mix.

As locals to Leicester, Andy and John are especially committed to making the event appeal to individuals and groups from across the city. We hope that by holding it on a weekend, and putting on a range of activities, we’ll make it accessible to anyone who’d like to come along. I guess we’re all, albeit in slightly different ways, committed to Building Cycling Culture/s embodying our visions of the cycling culture/s we’re trying to build – in my case that’s big and broad, welcoming and inclusive, vibrant and tolerant, and loads of fun.

The event’s going to have much more than local appeal – Andy has managed to get two brilliant speakers from across the Atlantic. Jon Orcutt is the Director of Policy for New York City Department of Transportation, and so at the centre of exciting recent transport developments in the city. Karen Overton is the Director of Recycle-a-Bicycle, New York’s bike re-cycling project. Both will I’m sure have interesting and inspiring takes on the task of building cycling culture/s on both sides of the Atlantic.

There’ll be workshops, stalls, activities, rides – lots of stuff, something for everyone. And the venue is just great. Phoenix Square is big and bright, new and classy, and in the city’s centre. There are large spaces for the main talks, and lots of smaller spaces for workshops. There’s a cafe and bar – the food I’ve had there is delicious. I’m back there on Monday, for lunch and our next planning meeting. With just three months to go to the event itself, it’s probably about time we finalised the programme. Look out for details soon.

And if you’re thinking of coming, don’t forget to register. Although we’re aiming big, there’s a limit on numbers, and it’s only a tenner, food included.

Building Cycling Culture/s

January 14, 2011

As a sociologist, I’m aware that all of us, all of the time, are involved (indeed, inevitably and unavoidably implicated) in the production of culture – whether we’re watching live football or The X Factor on TV, buying a newspaper or reading one on-line, riding or refusing to ride a bike, we’re all the time contributing to cultural shifts in one direction or another; we’re all agents of change, if also simultaneously structured by wider forces which make us likely to act in some ways more than others. It’s at this most fundamental level – sociology’s simple but profound recognition that we’re all social actors being shaped by but also helping shape our world – that I love my discipline.

But sometimes we more actively commit to the production of culture, and that’s the case for me with an event I’m helping organise – Building Cycling Culture/s. I’m not entirely clear how the event was born. I’m involved in one project exploring cycling in England and Rachel Aldred, another of the event’s organisers, is involved in another. Between these two projects, over the last couple of  years intensive, unprecedented research into the current state of cycling has been taking place across eight English cities – the Understanding Walking and Cycling project on which I work has concentrated on Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester and Worcester; whilst Rachel’s Cycling Cultures work is focusing on Bristol, Cambridge, Hull and London (Hackney).

Given the convergences in subject matter, it makes sense to build conversations between the projects, and as they move into their final stages, to start thinking about what they’ve found and the implications of those findings. We sense that between them the projects have some useful things to say about how in England we could build a broad, inclusive cycling culture.

I tend to talk about ‘a cycling culture’, in the singular. But on the graphic below you’ll see we refer to ‘cycling cultures‘, and in the title of this post I’ve hedged my bets by introducing a slash, giving the option of both at the same time – ‘cycling culture/s’. Although it might look like it, this is not mere post-modern intellectual tom-foolery; it points to a tension in the debates behind the event, and which will hopefully be provoked by it. On the one hand we want to explore how in the UK we build a cycling culture in which everyone feels welcome, so that cycling becomes mainstream; wherever they live, whatever their journey, and whatever time of day, week, month or year, people of any age, class, gender, ethnicity and physical ability will find it perfectly acceptable, and feel able, to hop on a bike. But on the other hand, we recognise that within any culture there lies a plurality of (sub)cultures, and that people will ride bikes in different ways and for different reasons, and that’s something to welcome, indeed celebrate.

In other words, I think we want to find a route for English cycling promotion which aspires to the ‘mass cycling cultures’ found in places such as the Netherlands and Denmark, but without denying the vitality given to cycling by people embracing it in distinctive ways which make sense to them. This is perhaps having your cake and eating it too! Many people working for cycling in the Netherlands and Denmark seem so concerned to elevate cycling as ordinary and unthought that they deny it might have heightened meaning for particular groups of people. In societies such as the US and UK, meanwhile, the existence of distinctive cycling (sub)cultures seems sometimes to be regarded as a barrier by those who want to promote cycling as ordinary.

Most of all we want to promote debate and inspiration, in the belief both are necessary to the production of a healthy future for cycling. And we want the event to embody its main message, and the reason we do what we do; namely, that cycling is a wonderful practice, and its obvious potential to become both mainstream and inclusive is one which we work towards differently, but together.

We’re not designing it as a standard academic event, then, although we hope it will appeal to the many academics out there with interests in mobility, sustainable transport and cycling. We’re planning it to include campaigners, practitioners and cycling enthusiasts as well as academics (and we recognise that in cycling worlds such categories are anyway frequently blurred). And we’re planning for it not only to debate and collaboratively explore the prospects for building cycling culture/s, but also to recognise and celebrate those that already exist.

The event’s two other main organisers are crucial to how it’s taking shape – as genuinely inclusive, locally-relevant, highly vibrant. Andy Salkeld is Leicester City Council‘s Cycling Officer; the most imaginative, energised, enthusiastic, intelligent and ambitious local authority cycling officer I know, he’s worked for cycling in many ways for many years. Although he might not thank me for it, I’d call him a ‘cycling entrepreneur’. He’s been massively helpful in facilitating our recent research in Leicester (where we’ve worked across the city, but most intensively with south Asian communities in and around Belgrave), and is an important voice on the Understanding Walking and Cycling project’s Advisory Board.

John Coster is another hugely energetic Leicester-based cultural entrepreneur. He’s fiercely proud of the city, a  highly respected journalist, and Editor of Citizens’ Eye. John’s involvement will ensure real community engagement in the event, both locally, and also – via the use of digital technologies – further afield.

With the recent high-profile launch of the ‘Boris bikes’ scheme, and in the long run up to the 2012 London Olympics, the time is right to bring fresh ideas and energies to the cycling promotion table. In England, and the UK more generally, progress towards developing a cycling culture remains painfully slow. My hope is that in the current climate, a well orchestrated and inspiring event exploring the state of and prospects for cycling will develop insights into what needs to be done, and generate fresh energies to do it. Together, we can build cycling culture/s!

The event is taking place on Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th June 2011, at Phoenix Square, Leicester’s Film and Digital Arts Centre. Whether you live locally or far away, whether you’re simply curious, an academic, activist, practitioner, policy-maker or some combination of those, there will be something for you. Our intention is that, whoever you are, you’ll certainly feel welcome. Obviously we’re still in the process of planning the event, but to register your interest and receive further announcements, please go here.

Bicycle Politics workshop report

October 1, 2010

Centre for Mobilities Research, Lancaster University

16th and 17th September 2010

There were participants from across the planet – South Africa, India, Australia, the US, Spain, Denmark, Ireland and Italy – as well as from across the UK. And they came from many walks of life – activists, students and academics, transport planners, cycle trainers and bike co-op members. What united us was a passion for cycling, and a belief that cycling can change the world.

Aurora and I found it a pleasure and a privilege to host, who knows?, perhaps the world’s first ever gathering dedicated to thinking rigorously and politically about cycling and its potential. An event which brought together in space and time so many people, with so much experience, knowledge and commitment – how could it not be ace?

Day 1 kicked off with a paper from Andrew Millward, a cycling historian and Secretary of the Cycling History and Education Trust. Andrew reflected on the battles for recognition and justice which cyclists in Britain fought between the First and Second World Wars. Cycling groups resisted proposals to make the fitting and use of red rear lights on bicycles compulsory, just as they resisted proposals to push cycling off the roads. These proposals were viewed as governmental attempts to discipline, control and marginalise cycling, and to reduce the sense of responsibility speeding motorists felt towards the safety of cyclists; the analogies with the helmet debates of today are clear.

Robert Davis’ presentation elaborated on Andrew’s, demonstrating how contemporary discourses and practices of so-called ‘road safety’ in fact maintain and entrench the dominance of motorised traffic alongside the subjugation of walking, cycling and street life in general. Against the model of ‘road safety’ Robert posits one of ‘road danger reduction’, which would focus not on the control and discipline of people but instead of the motorised metal machines which so mundanely and regularly kill and maim them. For more details check out the Road Danger Reduction Forum, which Robert chairs;

Next up, Matt Wilson of Bicycology developed a careful argument as to why cyclists might in some circumstances wish to break the law. This argument feels increasingly necessary at a time when even people who claim to love and/or to promote cycling can be heard demonising such cycling as ‘deviant’. Matt’s analysis is part of an important move to understand rather than to judge such deviancy, and his account draws on anarchist political philosophy and in particular on conceptions of law-breaking (civil disobedience or non-violent direct action) as forming an important part of struggles for social change. For more on Bicycology, see

A delicious lunch was provided by the Sultan of Lancaster;

Gail Jennings, editor of Mobility magazine, kicked off the afternoon sessions. Gail spoke eloquently of the cycling situation in Cape Town in particular, and Africa more generally. Cycling, and particularly sports cycling, is viewed positively by politicians and policy-makers keen to portray themselves and their city as belonging to the ‘global elite’; but on the ground conditions for ‘ordinary’ cycling are miserable. The optimistic rhetoric which constructs Cape Town as a cycle-friendly place contrasts sharply with the negative experiences of people who try to cycle and/or who want more cycling. Check out Mobility at

Rutul Joshi from the Faculty of Planning and Public Policy at CEPT University in Ahmedabad built on our global understandings of cycling and the politics of cycling with his comprehensive account of current processes and trends in India. Like China, India is motorising fast; following the example of ‘the West’, many people aspire to and expect car ownership. Cycling and its magnificent potential to re-make the world as a saner, healthier and better place is in very real danger of being left behind. Rutul is quite rightly concerned about the inequitable implications of this elite-driven ‘rush to the car’; it is of course universally the case, but consideration of specific countries such as South Africa and India make it especially clear that, when it comes to thinking about driving cars and riding bicycles we are and should be wrestling with really important issues of social justice, equity and inclusion. Rutul is currently undertaking doctoral research in the Centre for Transport and Society at the University of West of England, Bristol. For more details of his work, see

After coffee, everyone walked over to Lancaster University Library’s video-conferencing suite, to hear John Stehlin from the University of California at Berkeley give a tremendously insightful paper exploring issues surrounding the formalisation of cycling in north American cities (and by extension, elsewhere), and the consequences of such formalising processes for inclusion and exclusion, including for who counts and doesn’t count as ‘a cyclist’. This was I think one of the recurrent themes of the workshop – although we rarely engaged in explicit critique of the currently dominant ways in which cycling is promoted, there seemed to be a succession of insights coalescing around the idea that cycling is undergoing processes of capture by particular discourses (in John’s presentation, to do with urban livability; in other presentations, to do more explicitly with competition amongst global cities, and/or new regimes of health and fitness), and is therefore being promoted to the benefit of some sets of interests (such as liberal, middle-class, white capital), to the exclusion of others (such as genuine social justice and sustainability). With John, we think this is a terrain we need to map and understand much better. If you want to find out more about John’s doctoral work, visit

We completed the formal part of day one with group discussions around the current constraints on cycling becoming more-than-it-is, and then met informally for the workshop dinner, held at The Gregson Community Centre; see:

Day two started with Jennifer Bonham of Adelaide University and Peter Cox of the University of Chester articulating a Foucauldian analysis of cycleways, as enabling the construction of cycling practice in particular ways, and concomitantly frustrating its articulation in other ways. Their paper illuminated two main strands of thinking across the workshop. First, echoing John’s analysis, to do with how the construction of cycling by particular legitimate discourses and interests as about mainly one thing (whether a leisure practice, a way of replacing car commuter journeys, a health practice, an environmental practice …) tends to render illegitimate alternative ways of understanding and doing cycling; we might almost say that in the act of creating cycling, cycling is destroyed. Second, we already know that the provision of off-road (aka segregated) cycling infrastructure is, however ‘good’ and/or useful, also in various ways problematic; and thinking across the workshop helped us to begin to see more precisely why – so that for as long as cycling provision is about separation from motorised modes, it remains importantly structured by impulses towards its displacement, constraint, control and punishment; so that cycling’s marginalisation within car-centric societies is (however inadvertently) perpetuated, and its radical potential thwarted.

Rachel Aldred from the University of East London presented a paper, co-authored with Katrina Jungnickel, coming out of their Cycling Cultures project. Rachel and Kat are conducting ethnographic fieldwork amongst people who cycle in four English cities; Bristol, Cambridge, Hull and London (Hackney). Their paper explores the tensions which people who cycle must negotiate, between being identified and/or seeking identification as ‘a (particular kind of) cyclist’, and seeking to resist or refuse such identities and their real and/or imagined consequences. There are clear connections here with Matt’s paper – if we can give legitimacy to cycling tactics which are currently framed as ‘deviant’, and/or challenge the structural conditions behind such cycling tactics, we shift the grounds out of which identities get constructed and contested. Check out Rachel and Kat’s exciting and ongoing Cycling Cultures project at:

Although she is far too modest to say so herself, I (Dave) believe that Aurora Trujillo’s paper is a very significant intervention in the politics of cycling. Aurora has just won her PhD from the University of Reading, with an attempt – within the discipline of political philosophy – to designate sets of practices associated with green or sustainable living as oppressed in ways similar to which specific groups of people – stratified for example by race, gender and class – are oppressed. Aurora’s paper directed this re-working of the political philosophy of difference to the practice of cycling, and to the use of the logic of oppression to explain the conditions which cyclists confront in car-centric societies. This re-working of cyclists and cycling enables a clearer conceptualisation of some key issues to do with bicycle politics; in ways which parallel debates within the politics of gender, class and race it refigures, for example, most of what currently passes for cycling promotion as accommodation of cycling in a system which remains monopolised by the car, rather than the transformation of that system by a genuine pro-cycling politics. Like Matt Wilson, Aurora is involved in Bicycology, which can be read as one attempt to instantiate empirically what this ‘genuine’ bicycle politics could look like; see Although we do not want unproblematically and uncritically to elevate and privilege subcultural and/or social movement approaches to cycling above those cycling projects which might be more embedded within dominant apparatuses of government, it is worth mentioning that other small-scale examples of what an alternative way of promoting cycling might look like come from the range of bike co-ops and other activist projects represented by some of the workshop’s participants. This list is illustrative, not exhaustive:

It’s also worth flagging up here that due to the large volume of abstract submissions, we had to narrow the focus of the workshop and therefore decided not to include quite a few exceptionally good-looking papers which took a social movement orientation to bicycle politics. We decided to focus on more general political and philosophical analyses of the barriers which prevent cycling from becoming more dominant, and on the illustration of these barriers through a series of empirical case studies. But we think there’s another very important workshop (or even workshops!) in there, and we would really like – and hope – to see such a workshop (or workshops) come about ….

Next up, Esther Anaya, a bicycle consultant from Barcelona, provided a critical analysis of public bike hire schemes. Although Esther focused on Spain, her insights provide food-for-thought for public bike hire schemes everywhere; they also take us back to the insight that in the race to keep up with innovations taking place in other ‘global cities’ things are being done to cycling which might not necessarily be in the best interests of a radical (inclusive, democratic, progressive) politics of the bicycle. This is not to say we should rule out public bike schemes; to the contrary, the ways in which they are re-working not only city streets and people’s everyday practices, but also notions of appropriate ownership, are very interesting and potentially very important, and as such they demand further critical inquiry.

Adopting a similar approach – of stepping back and thinking a bit more critically about developments which it is (quite understandably – we all want a good news story) too easy to feel happy and optimistic about – Robert Davis presented an empirical investigation of London’s recent so-called ‘cycling revolution’. Robert accepts that cycling really has increased in London, but he questions whether Transport for London’s (anyway none too ambitious) targets for further growth in cycling can actually be met, without radically exceeding those strategies (such as the public bike system and the cycling superhighways) which currently exist.

Friday’s delicious buffet lunch was provided by another local company, Bevington’s Catering,

The workshop’s final presentation came from Copenhagen, which is generally held up as a very fine example of a city which has made – and continues to make – cycling work. Some 35% of journeys in Copenhagen are made by bike, and the target is 50% (by contrast, the respective figures for London are 2% and 5%). Ezra Goldman and Trine Agervig Carstensen explained the changing ways in which cycling has been seen in Denmark in general and Copenhagen in particular, and how this has facilitated what we all want, modal shift away from the car and towards the bicycle. Ezra and Trine are part of a big Danish study, which has just kicked off, called Bike-ability:

Whilst we certainly do not wish to deny or denigrate Copenhagen’s achievements, by this point in the workshop it had become clearer to us (Aurora and Dave) what Copenhagen currently symbolises, and why it is held in such high – and relatively uncritical – regard: Copenhagen represents world best practice in actively promoting cycling within a society which remains structured by the car; Copenhagen is as good as cycling gets without de-centering the car. From the perspective of people pursuing a more radical bicycle politics, this might not be enough. We want a bicycle politics which produces gains far in excess of those made in Copenhagen, a bicycle politics in which car-centric societies do not accommodate the bicycle, but in which the car is replaced – and those societies are much more fundamentally transformed – by the bicycle.

The workshop was about far more than these 12 presentations. It was about living out our principles in our everyday lives, about embodying those changes which we want to see come more widely about; so that – as examples – anyone who wanted free accommodation in our houses and friends’ houses was provided with it, and all food was vegan, provided by local caterers, and – along with teas and coffees – kindly and enthusiastically served by Rory and Stacey, two workshop participants. Many agreed that this created a particularly relaxed, homely and friendly atmosphere which energised and facilitated the presentations and discussions.

The two days revolved around respectful, convivial and engaged discussion amongst everyone who took part. It was absolutely brilliant to see so many people, including a lot of young people who might not ordinarily be directly involved in higher education, looking very much at home at Lancaster University. As people who often wonder whether universities are perhaps part of the problem rather than part of the solution when it comes to working towards a socially just, environmentally sustainable planet, it was satisfying to see how the construction and elaboration of liberatory spaces, bringing together academic/activists of many different sorts for critical discussions, is nonetheless possible.

So a massive thank you to everyone who  participated – the people who presented, the people who chaired, the people who asked questions and engaged in discussion – everyone, for making the event work. Special thanks to Stacey and Rory, who for the two days kept smiling whilst they kept us all supplied with really great food and drink, to Nes from I Bike MCR, for so wonderfully facilitating the closing discussion before we all went our separate ways again, and to Griet for taking such great photos.

After developing intimacy at an event such as Bicycle Politics, we find it hard to return to ‘everyday life’, but we hope that – like us – many other people returned to their everyday lives at least a little touched by their experiences in Lancaster.

Finally, thanks to the Centre for Mobilities Research (CeMoRe), and especially John Urry and Pennie Drinkall, for hosting the event, to Colin Pooley and Sheila Constantine for helping to make it happen, and to both the Understanding Walking and Cycling project and the Cycle-Touring and Countryside Trust for contributing to its costs.

For information on CeMoRe, go to:

To see abstracts of all the papers we’ve mentioned here, visit the Bicycle Politics page at:

And stay tuned for the next phase of work around bicycle politics!

Dave Horton and Aurora Trujillo, September 2010

7th Cycling and Society Symposium, Oxford

September 10, 2010
  • Was it the venue – the prestigious University of Oxford?
  • Was it the marvellous organisation of Tim Jones?
  • Is it that research into cycling is really on the up?
  • Is it a reflection of cycling’s growing popularity?

Whatever the reasons, this year’s Cycling and Society Symposium, which took place earlier this week, was the biggest yet.

Far more paper abstracts were submitted than could possibly be squeezed into a one-day programme – which was the first sign that the event’s appeal had broadened. Tim invited me, along with Henrietta Sherwin from the University of the West of England and John Parkin (who I think we can call the UK’s first ‘Professor of Cycling’!) from London’s South Bank University, to help him review the abstracts. It was hard to turn down so many submissions, given that they all sounded interesting and covered important topics. But on the upside, I think we came up with a blistering programme, which included researchers at very different stages of their careers (including I think I’m right in saying our first ever presentation from an undergraduate – Samuel Johns’ excellent exploration of the fixie phenomenon), from varied backgrounds (with Andy Cope, head of Sustrans’ Research and Monitoring Unit, giving the day’s last paper – which I took as a call for us academics to try harder to make our research really count), from around the world (Jennifer Bonham is over from Australia, and Peter Pelzer came across from Amsterdam), and orienting to an eclectic mix of highly pertinent themes (interactions between cycling/cyclists and others; gender, and the lifecourse; cycling cultures and sub-cultures; theory into practice).

More people came than ever before too. Around 50 of us, crammed into a splendidly light and airy room at the University Club, overlooking the cricket pitch (I was last in this room for an advisory board meeting of the project I work on, which unfortunately coincided with the opening match of this year’s World Cup, between South Africa and Mexico – supporters of those teams had congregated to watch the match in the room below, and we upstairs valiantly struggled to make ourselves heard above the irrepressible cacophony of vuvuzelas). Although I am obviously favourably predisposed to say such a thing, I think the Cycling and Society Symposia have become – in my experience – among the more inclusive spaces within academia; cycle campaigners sit alongside university lecturers, local authority practitioners next to Masters and PhD students – and everyone seems to get along famously and to be able to make their voices heard. For a perspective from one first-time attendee, you can check out the account composed by Kevin Hickman, Chair of the Inclusive Cycling Forum, on the Sustainable Witney website.

Congratulations and thanks to Tim and his Oxford team for a really magnificent event. Here’s the lovely man himself – I can say that because we know each other pretty well, having first met at the event I organised in Lancaster back in 2004, having both stuck with research into cycling since then, and now finding ourselves working together on a ‘proper project’.

Although it’s far from cycle-friendly, Oxford is the most cycle-friendly city to so far host the Symposium (previous venues being Lancaster, Cardiff, Chester, Guildford, Bristol and Bolton), and I enjoyed pedalling between the train station, the Symposium venue and Tim’s house, where I stayed the night. It’s the second time I’ve cycled in and around Oxford this year, and I have two main, obvious and blunt observations.

First, the number of people on bikes is striking. Lancaster, where I live, is seen as a relatively good place to cycle, and it has been one of Cycling England’s ‘cycling (demonstration) towns’ for five years now; yet I never feel part of a steady stream of cyclists – and so I never feel ‘normal’ – in the way I do when riding around Oxford. The students aren’t back yet, but the number of people moving around by bike is staggeringly high relative to Lancaster. Of course, it could be much higher – all I want to note here is how the experience of cycling is so qualitatively different in such a place. I don’t feel out of place, I don’t feel like I’m trying to make a point. Much more than I ever do around Lancaster, I consciously feel like I’m simply riding a bike.

Second, the increased prevalence of cycling clearly translates into altered behaviour among drivers of motorised vehicles. I want to say much more about this in the context of our recent family cycle-touring holiday in south-west France when I get the chance, but … I think there’s a discernible difference in the way in which car drivers interact with cyclists between Oxford and Lancaster. I want to stress that it is a minor difference, but a minor difference which nonetheless translates into a major qualitative leap in my sense of cycling ease, comfort and security. Cycling in Oxford I was still vigilant; I still often felt hemmed in and threatened by cars; cycling with Tim two-abreast down a quiet and narrow one-way back street with a 20 mph limit, I still felt vaguely discomforted and harassed by cars approaching from behind – almost as if we were doing something wrong; I still felt cars had priority and that I was fitting in as best I could around the edges. But I also felt noticed; I felt that motorists recognised my presence; and I felt that motorists were prepared to – and did – alter their behaviour because of my presence. Of course motorists in Lancaster also do all these things, but sitting on my bike in Lancaster, it doesn’t feel like they do these things, whereas sitting on my bike in Oxford, it does feel like motorists there do. I suspect it comes down to very small changes – a few miles per hour knocked off the motorist’s speed as they approach you, a few extra centimetres clearance as they come past, a few extra seconds willingness to wait, rather than steer into your path – but, especially when they’re taken together, from the cyclist’s point-of-view these very small changes really matter.

I’m sure cyclists in Oxford take this extra little recognition and courtesy for granted, which of course they should. And they should also be expecting much, much more. But for me the lesson of this little comparative study between Lancaster and Oxford is clear, and it pretty much follows CTC’s Safety in Numbers campaign – our road environment can be civilised, and every little step we take in civilising our road environment will result in a noticeable improvement in the quality of the cycling experience. There’s a chicken-and-egg here; the number of cyclists in Oxford has over time altered the behaviours of motorists, but how do you alter the behaviours of motorists when you don’t have the cyclists to help? To me, it looks like we need a few more rules and regulations in advance, to legislate for the kinds of behaviours which have emerged more organically, more culturally in a place like Oxford. It could be a failure of my imagination, but I can’t see how we can make the behaviour of motorists more generous and civilised towards cyclists without, for example, introducing urban wide speed limits of 20 mph, and without changing liability rules to put greater responsibilities on motorists in the event of collisions with more vulnerable others. Introduce those things and I’m fairly confident we’d need the quantity of cycle parking in Lancaster which they currently enjoy in Oxford, and in Oxford they’d need the quantity of cycle parking which the citizens of Dutch cities currently enjoy; in other words, we’d see a step-change in levels of cycling across the UK.

Bicycle Politics: symposium and workshop

April 12, 2010

Bicycle Politics

Symposium and workshop

Thursday 16th – Friday 17th September 2010

Centre for Mobilities Research, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK

The major role and relevance of bicycles and cycling to future life seems increasingly unquestionable. On the ground, projects across the world are committed to promoting cycling and/or cycling-oriented subcultures. In both theory and practice, there’s a real energy and vitality to think about cycling differently, to carve out alternative possibilities around the bicycle.

But if cycling is enjoying a renaissance, it is also under fire. Whilst almost everywhere people are pushing for cycling, it also seems that almost everywhere cycling is deeply problematic – contentious, oppressed, discriminated against.

Bicycles, cycling and cyclists seem to invoke love and hate in equal measure …

Bicycle Politics, a two day event hosted by the Centre for Mobilities Research (CeMoRe) at Lancaster University, UK, aims to explore bicycles and cycling politically. By thinking creatively and critically, its political project is to help push bicycles and cycling further into the hearts of our cities and societies, to improve the possibilities for cycling to re-make our world, to assist cycling’s obvious potential to contribute to alternative, sustainable mobility futures.

To this end, we are calling for critical explorations of the political, social, cultural and economic barriers to current and future cycling, as well as for critical investigations of the ways in which bicycles, cycling and cyclists are currently framed.

We welcome all proposals for papers which fit under the broad heading of Bicycle Politics. Such contributions might examine:

•     Cycling and political economies and ideologies

•     The politics of cycling ‘promotion’

•     Critiques of cycling

•     Cycling and discriminations

•     Cycling and inequalities

•     Cycling, social control, freedom and deviance

•     Cycling, space and the politics of space

•     Cycling, social movements and social change

•     Cycling and identity

•     Cycling and the politics of representation

•     Feminist perspectives on cycling

•     Cycling and the law

The precise structure of the event will be decided later. But we anticipate the first day comprising paper presentations, with the second day given over to deeper explorations of the papers and ideas presented the previous day. Our intention is to produce an edited collection, Bicycle Politics, from the event.

If you wish to present a paper, please send title and abstract, by Wednesday 5th May 2010, to both:

Dave Horton – and Aurora Trujillo –

We aim for the symposium and workshop to be free and open to all. However, spaces could be limited. So if you would like to participate, but do not plan to present a paper, please email us to reserve a place.

Cycling and Society Research Group

September 9, 2009

I’ve spent the last couple of days in Bolton, at the 6th Cycling and Society Research Group symposium and annual meeting. The organiser, John Parkin, bravely managed to cram 14 papers into Monday’s schedule. This would be a big mistake at many academic meetings, but it worked wonderfully well in Bolton, because of the participants’ shared enthusiasm for the topic and the fantastic diversity within that topic – in terms both of the content of the papers (to give a taste – cycling and citizenship, bike-sharing schemes, shared space …), and the backgrounds of those presenting (sociologists, geographers, transport planners, NGO activists, engineers, consultants …). It was the kind of day that from time-to-time I need in order to keep faith in the importance of thinking, sharing and developing ideas, and working collectively towards a more cycle-friendly, better world.

I think it’s fair to say that over the last 6 years the Cycling and Society Research Group has pioneered and championed the importance of more cultural approaches to cycling. Of course, many disciplines can make important contributions to our understandings of cycling, and it’s wonderful now to see sociologists, cultural geographers and anthropologists talking and thinking with planners and engineers, as well as policy-makers, activists, consultants and other cycling practitioners, at our annual gatherings.

Marie Kastrup, who is involved in organising the programme for next year’s Velo city conference in Copenhagen, was in Bolton, and she gave a great paper on the role of national identities in producing and reproducing cycling cultures, paying particular attention to the Danish case. I’m hopeful that her involvement in the proceedings, and her own clear cultural orientation to cycling, mean that ‘the cultural turn in cycling studies’ will have a somewhat higher profile at Velo-city 2010 Copenhagen than it did at Velo-city 2009 Brussels. Cycling, non-cycling, perceptions of cycling, attitudes to cycling – all these things are always cultural; and it’s only by getting stuck into and trying to get to grips with culture, that we can hope to understand more about cycling, including who cycles and how, who doesn’t, why, with what effects …

Royal Geographical Society conference

September 1, 2009

Last week I went to the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). It’d be an understatement to say I’m not a fan of big academic conferences, but this year the RGS was in Manchester, which is almost my back-yard, and there was a full day session on ‘alternative travel futures’, which is pretty much my thing.

Colin Pooley was giving a presentation about the project on which I’m working, Understanding Walking and Cycling. And it looked as though the other presentations would give a really good overview of much of what’s currently happening in UK academia, in terms of thinking about modal shift and the possibilities for our world to be organised very differently.

What astonished me the most at the RGS conference was how, quite suddenly it seems, almost everybody’s swallowed the climate change pill.  Most people at the session seemed to feel a real urgency in cutting car use and increasing walking and cycling, because the future of the planet depends on it. Given I tend to agree, I suppose I should really be pleased about this, and certainly, I think it’s encouraging that so many academics are now so serious about tackling climate change, and are elaborating and proposing fairly radical visions of how things might be otherwise (and in this, they’re obviously far, far ahead of policy-makers and politicians). It was wonderful to hear established academics, including people who don’t strike me as obvious activists, talking about 40% of all urban journeys potentially being made by bike (well, they’ve got to start somewhere!).

But the RGS discussions also made me feel quite uncomfortable.

Why? Well, if we concentrate only on cycling’s contribution to carbon reduction, we lose sight of all the other fantastic reasons to cycle, and to promote cycling. If the push to cut car use and promote walking and cycling is animated by threat and fear, it becomes much harder to talk about joy, satisfaction and pleasure – all things which walking and cycling futures will produce. I want to hear about the many ways in which more cycling (and walking) will create a better society, not just one which might survive the twenty first century. So, whilst of course it’s critical, I think we should be careful not to frame the reason to promote cycling only in terms of tackling climate change, or any other policy goal (such as tackling congestion, or obesity) for that matter. Such moves tend to reduce and strangle cycling.

Also, some of the contributors did elaborate the kind of urban vision which anarchist thinkers have been talking about for years, decades, centuries – convivial, face-to-face neighbourhoods, in which everyday life is much closer to home, and with streets full of people hanging out, chatting, strolling, walking, cycling. There’s nothing new about such visions, but widespread fears of climate chaos have given them increased legitimacy and respectability. Except, in these most recent formulations, the politics gets left out. I got no sense, during the RGS, that we’ll have to struggle to produce sustainable urban futures. Rather, it felt as though people expect Government, through enlightened policy, to deliver it. It’s as if politics begins to evaporate under pressure from the new world of climate-friendly, post-carbon policy which is perceived to be just around the corner. Hmmm …

One thing which can happen when everyone in a room is convinced of the problem (climate change) and the need to tackle it (here, cutting car use), is a kind of communal frustration with other people’s ‘irrationality’. Why can’t everyone else see the problem, see the solution, and just stop driving so much? In this way of thinking, other people become ‘a problem’ – if they accept climate change is happening, why don’t they start to change their behaviours? Why do they act ‘green’ in some aspects of their lives (maybe walking and cycling instead of driving around town) but then go and ‘blow it’ by flying to an overseas holiday?

I’d suggest that none of us act consistently across all areas of our lives. We’re all responsive to situations, their complexities and contingencies. None of us is ‘perfect’, thank goodness. So our political job is to govern one another’s, and our own, behaviour within acceptable limits. In this context, we are free to choose in ways which don’t harm the planet. So we should worry less about people driving and flying, and fight harder to figure out and implement ways which prevent them from doing those things.