Posts Tagged ‘Lancaster University’

Mainroading Cycling

March 21, 2013

Below is a sequence of photos I took yesterday as I rode three miles south from Lancaster city centre along the A6 to Lancaster University. The journey took about ten minutes. I know they’re boring, but please indulge me. We need to discuss the future of cycling on main roads, yet such discussions – much like cycling on main roads itself – remain repressed. Cycling is still expected to take the long route, via back roads. This must change. It’s time to mainroad cycling.

The cycle lane ends

A6 southbound

What's going on here?

Is this good enough?

Worn away by cars

Enough space?

A good place to ride?

Plenty of space for who?

Adequate provision?

Pulling out?

Clear road

Leaving the city

Speeding up

Fast road

Still with me?

The joys of the open road?

Almost there

How much road do you want?

Lancaster University

Let’s look at this specific case, the A6 between Lancaster city centre and Lancaster University.

It’s a stretch I know well. It’s a key route linking two of the district’s biggest ‘trip attractors’. In the city centre are shops, businesses and key services, including the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and many schools. Lancaster University has over 12,000 students and 2,500 staff; it’s supposedly committed to reducing car use to its campus but for the 17 years my life has been connected to this institution it has struggled in half-hearted ways to encourage cycling.

For the first two miles of the three mile route, the A6 runs through residential areas – there are three shopping parades, several pubs, a primary school and a supermarket. Beyond them the speed limit increases from 30 to 40 mph. The road is straight and climbs gently over the first mile before flattening out until the University’s driveway.

As a cycling corridor the A6 has been generally ignored. Much more effort has gone into creating alternatives to it than in improving cycling conditions along it. Although it’s the most obvious route to make cycle-friendly, it’s not been seen that way (for reasons you might know, but which I’ll not explore here).

Dynamo, the local cycle campaign, recently decided to challenge this institutional indifference to cycling on the A6, and specifically to push for high-quality, continuous, dedicated cycling infrastructure along the entire stretch I rode yesterday. As cycling’s relevance becomes more widely understood and its profile rises, it’s time to mainroad – and so mainstream – cycling here.

Dynamo anticipated key individuals to be intransigent and require persuading, but not the County Council’s former Senior Cycling Officer and current Sustainable Travel Officer; he believes dedicated space for cycling along the A6 is impossible, because of lack of space (i.e. width) along some sections, and because residents would oppose the removal of on-road car parking along others. In other words consideration of improving conditions for cycling along the A6 is in danger of falling at the first hurdle due to a dismal (especially coming from the County Council’s Sustainable Travel office) failure of imagination (that the road can look otherwise) and will (that priorities can be changed).

The road clearly has room for dedicated cycling space along this entire stretch; and it’s equally obvious that cycling should trump residents’ car parking – what’s more important, a few parked cars or many moving bikes? So I find both excuses pathetic, and infuriating. I’m sure there are nooks and crannies in government offices everywhere similarly stubbornly resisting an enlightened approach to everyday travel, so I can’t be the only one who gets angry about this sort of thing, can I?

So, what’s it like to cycle these three miles?

For me as a fit and assertive cyclist, it’s OK. I’m used to the strange sensation of a stream of speeding traffic sweeping past my shoulder; and I’m generally trusting in other people’s good intentions and capabilities not to run me down. As we know, however (and this is probably a good thing!), I’m in a minority. And I’m not so daft that I can’t imagine, as I ride, what the experience would be like for others  less like me.

The cars, buses and trucks come thick, fast and often close. You are moving through an environment utterly dominated by motorised modes, with no protection whatsoever. The driver has a metal shell, the pedestrian has the pavement, but the cyclist is exposed and vulnerable. People don’t know this so much as feel it, if only vicariously. Of course they’re not going to cycle here.

Short stretches of red painted tarmac come and quickly go, but it’s not really clear what they’re for; certainly they offer no protection. They’re also very narrow, far too close to the kerb, and usually full of debris. Cyclists are given the option of coming off the road to negotiate a big roundabout just south of the city centre, which wrongly presupposes people would be happy riding on the road to begin with. The changes which have been made on the A6 have nothing to do with building a mass culture of ordinary cycling; they’re about providing enough to keep us quiet (even though these changes are often useless and/or dangerous).

With the hindsight afforded by the Understanding Walking and Cycling research, I was extremely naïve to once believe ordinary cycling might ever grow under such conditions. It’s an insanely hostile environment to cycling. That naivety was of course a (sub)cultural attribute and many cycling advocates have similarly swallowed and become deluded by their own rhetoric.

So people won’t cycle here. But we want people to cycle here. It is on the most direct, flattest routes, with the most services, that they’re most likely to cycle.

So what are we to do?

For this stretch of road, my own proposal is as radical as it is obvious and sensible. It entails twin changes. First, reduce the speed limit to 20 mph. This will civilise the road, returning it from cars to people, and ensuring it’s a fitting gateway to a fine city. Most important slower speeds enable motorised modes to be squeezed closer together; cycling has been squeezed long enough and it’s re-prioritisation time. This will facilitate the second change, of inserting a high-quality, continuous, dedicated cycling route. Because even with motorised modes limited to 20 mph most people won’t want to mix with the volume of traffic that’s likely to remain for the foreseeable future on this road. Also, unless cycling is allocated clear space of its own it’ll continue to be pushed around by transport’s heavyweights.

How do we get these changes?

By believing in them, sharing them, and arguing for them. The fulfilment of cycling’s potential to change our world depends on it.


Who should be squeezed?

Parked cars or moving bikes?

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

Bike Politics, across time …

September 8, 2010

With Aurora Trujillo I’m busy working towards next week’s Bicycle Politics workshop, which we’re holding at the Centre for Mobilities Research, Lancaster University. And this morning I’ve received a timely reminder of the significance of bicycle politics, in the form of a lovely little article in the latest edition of Huck, which is a cool lifestyle magazine, focusing in this issue on counter-cultural stuff. (The illustration above, by Stevie Gee, comes from the article.) Olly Zanetti interviewed me for his piece, which is why I know about it, but he writes much better than me, and in remarkably few words crafts a beautiful story of the bicycle’s ongoing contribution to re-making our world for the better. Some of the things which across much of the world we now take pretty much for granted, from women’s ability to dress as they see fit to the good sense of public bike hire schemes, were once fiercely fought for by people, using bikes. I like to think that next week’s workshop will play its own little part in continuing that process, so that – for example – one day we might take almost completely for granted cities devoid of cars but full of bikes and life and love and laughter …

(Just in case anyone out there likes the look of it, I should say that I’m afraid the workshop is now full and registration closed, but I’ll report on it here in due course …)

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.

Ethnographies of Cycling

February 19, 2010

Here are three of the UK’s foremost cycling thinkers – Dr Justin Spinney from the University of Surrey, Dr Katrina Brown from the Macaulay Institute in Aberdeen, and Dr Ben Fincham from the University of Sussex. They’re pictured during the Ethnographies of Cycling workshop which we ran here at Lancaster University just before Christmas.

My colleague Griet Scheldeman and I weren’t at all sure how the day would go. CeMoRe (the Centre for Mobilities Research) here at Lancaster asked whether we wanted to organise an event around cycling, so – not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth – Griet put on her anthropological hat and I put on my cycling cap, and we tried to conceive an event which would both speak to our current qualitative research into cycling (and non-cycling), and have wider resonance, appeal and value.

It struck us that, over the last few years, quite a few people have started to investigate cycling from social and cultural perspectives, and – more specifically – to explore cycling ethnographically. Put very simply, ethnography is a scientific research method, aimed at understanding people’s ordinary (and extraordinary) practices, using whatever means make sense, but generally involving ‘hanging out’ with those people whose lives and practices you are seeking to understand. If you’re curious to know more, the wikipedia entry on ethnography is probably as good a place to start as any.

Griet is an anthropologist, and ethnography is the anthropological method. I’m a sociologist who favours the ethnographic method, mainly because I love hanging out with people, seeing how things are for them, and simply dwelling in everyday life. So we’re both fans of the method, and we felt we could help to consolidate what ethnographic research into cycling has so far taken place in the UK by pulling people together to discuss ethnographies of cycling.

We also knew we wanted to run the event as a workshop – designed to share, collectively think about, and produce knowledge – rather than have a largely passive audience trying to stay awake long enough to soak up the knowledge of a few active ‘experts’.

But we didn’t know how popular the idea would be. So we were really pleased that, so soon before Christmas (though, luckily for us, before the really icy weather which disabled so many people’s travel plans), well over 40 people made the trip to Lancaster. Perhaps more pleasing was the mix of people who made the effort to participate – not only academics from across the UK (everywhere from Aberdeen to Plymouth, Edinburgh to Sussex) and further afield (Damien O’Tuama made the trip over from Dublin), but also Local Authority Cycling Officers, cycle campaigners, independent consultants and people from British Cycling.

As you can see, we organised the room in a way designed to encourage people to talk, and to get to know one another. Doing this can be risky, but what I love about cycling, and this includes thinking about cycling, is how people always so want to talk about it. I don’t know if it’s because people who are interested in cycling tend to be natural participants, or if there’s something specifically about cycling which promotes participation, but in my experience when cycling’s on the menu it’s very rarely quiet!

The morning comprised the best set of presentations I’ve ever seen and heard anywhere. OK, I might be a little biased, but we asked all the speakers to give particular attention to the methodological aspects of their research, and – in very different ways – they all did a really marvellous job at that. Ben Fincham started the day brilliantly, speaking with real verve, energy and incisiveness of his ethnographic fieldwork with cycle messengers. Robin Parker gave us a great (graphic!) and entertaining insight into his ethnography of a naked bike ride. Katrina Brown presented a carefully crafted analysis of some of the issues and difficulties involved in doing video-based fieldwork among mountain bikers. Justin Spinney gave us a bold and authoritative conceptual argument, calling for ethnographic work which contextualises bicycles and cycling as aspects of complex everyday lives. And Rachel Aldred presented a massively compelling series of sociological insights arising in connection with her ongoing investigations into cycling cultures in English cities.

Impressed is an understatement. We are very fortunate, at present in the UK, to have so many brilliant people applying themselves to thinking about cycling. I’m both incredibly glad and rather amazed to suggest that the new dawn for cycling studies which Paul Rosen, Peter Cox and I called for in our Introduction to Cycling and Society in 2007 seems to be breaking! That’s not to say I’m satisfied – I won’t, personally, be satisfied until more than half of all urban journeys in Britain are made by bike, and I believe that sociology – similarly to most other disciplines – has an important part to play in achieving such a vision.

Not only was the content of the presentations absolutely first class, but all the presenters were so damn good at sticking to time that I had no opportunity to ding my bike bell – my time-keeper’s device – at them! Here I am, finally getting the chance to bring order out of chaos via my little black bell later in the day …

Before a super lunch, Elizabeth Shove, Professor of Sociology here at Lancaster and someone with a strong theoretical and empirical interest in practices (and of course, although it is also and always much else, cycling is very clearly a practice, or set of practices), gave her thoughts on the morning, which – I think it’s fair to say – ruffled a few feathers. I’d like to think that was a good thing – Elizabeth’s comments and criticisms certainly gave many of us something to talk about, and – speaking only for myself now – will I hope prod me into being both more strident and more rigorous in arguing the value of ethnographic research into cycling.

We were very fortunate to have Jo Vergunst, an anthropologist from Aberdeen University, come down to run the afternoon’s ethnographic exercises with Griet. Here’s Jo, later in the day, getting to grips with a Brompton – the anthropologists in particular seemed to find the Brompton a very fascinating thing. What to many of us has become an ‘ordinary’ machine was to them a whole world waiting to be explored, folded, unfolded and understood … I know that Griet’s explorations are ongoing …

We planned the afternoon as a break out of the office. We wanted everyone to have a go at ‘doing ethnographies of cycling’, no matter how contrived and limited – in so short a space of time – that would inevitably be. Although it wasn’t compulsory, we were keen for people to go outside, out – so to speak – ‘into the field’. First, Jo and Griet provided a quick overview of ethnography, and some top tips and suggestions. Then, we split into groups and headed out to get our hand’s dirty – people needed no prompting, seizing the initiative and tackling the exercise with gusto. As you can see, some people headed straight for the bike sheds …

Many people commented on the amount of stuff which people in Lancaster leave on their bikes when parked. Panniers, lights, pumps – all these kinds of things are often left with the bike – it’s normal to do so here. It’s a basic observation, but one which goes to show that you can never take things for granted, and even within the UK there’ll be significant variations in how people cycle, use bikes, park bikes, talk about bikes … you get the idea. Other groups wandered over to the main entrance to the University campus, looking for people on bikes. Alas, the weather was a bit miserable and all the students and lots of staff had already packed up for Christmas, so conditions were far from fertile for really fruitful ethnography. But hopefully everyone got the basic idea, that by really looking, concentrating on looking, you get to see all kinds of things which would otherwise probably pass you by.

With few bikes around, one group focussed on ‘traces’ of bikes and cycling – D-locks left attached to railings, cycling logos painted on the ground … Another group explored the potential meanings of cycling’s absence (weather, time of year, time of day, lack of infrastructure, lack of cultural messages announcing cycling as ‘normal’ and expected …). Another lot jumped in a car, to explore car users’ perspectives on cycling at Lancaster University (and among other things concluded, I think importantly, that there’s nothing to suggest to those inside cars that they should watch out for, or expect to negotiate space with, people cycling, let alone that they might actually be interacting with a ‘cycling environment’). One group observed a traffic island, and thought about – and with a Brompton experimented with – the different cycling lines it’s possible to take around such a piece of infrastructure, and why and how different people might take different lines, and with what consequences. Perhaps Andy Salkeld and Peter Cox had the best idea – proving that you don’t need to look for bikes or cyclists to do ethnography of cycling, they headed straight to the nearest bar! I don’t think they were motivated purely by the prospect of a pint, and certainly they garnered some good insights into experiences and perceptions of cycling from those they met.

And we even managed to see how many ethnographers it takes to unfold a Brompton …

There was an ‘expert’ in there somewhere …!

Huge thanks to everyone for coming along and making such an enjoyable and stimulating day. I hope the workshop helped to sustain the energies of people already involved in research into cycling, encouraged a few more, perhaps initiated a few new friendships, created a few more conversations, and generally acted as another small step on the road to thinking cycling into a place of greater centrality, both inside and outside of higher education. People tend to say nice things (to your face, at least!) about a workshop they know you’ve been involved in organising, but I really hope that all those who made the effort to come along got something from the day.

And how great, until late into the night, to catch up and share a few beers with some of the people I first met back in 2004, at the Cycling and the Social Sciences Symposium, also hosted by CeMoRe and held here at Lancaster. There are more parents among us now than there were back then, but it was great to see that we still know how to party, and that we’ve gained quite a few more friends along the way!

With thanks to CeMoRe and the Understanding Walking and Cycling project for hosting and financially supporting the event, and particularly to the Project’s administrator Sheila Constantine for organising it all so efficiently, and ensuring the day itself went off so smoothly, and to our boss, Professor Colin Pooley, for letting Griet and I get on with it but then showing up on the day and being a model participant. And special thanks to my long-suffering colleague Griet Scheldeman, who not only organised the workshop with me, but is once again letting me nick her quality photos for my own questionable ends …