Worthing council is famous for being unwilling to do anything to encourage cycling (aside from literally encouraging it). This is a special post for the powers that be over there. The definitive guide for getting people cycling in Worthing for the lowest possible price: free.
1. Introduce bicycle hire (including electric bike option) with docks everywhere. The Donkey bikes are good but no where near enough.
2. Introduce car free weekends.
3. When people realise the town is better without cars, ban private cars all the time.
I remember watching that famous ending to the COP21 when Laurent Fabius hit his leaf shaped wooden mallet on the desk to signify the deal being accepted.
Al Gore was happy, and I was happy. I remember feeling emotional in that moment. Maybe this really would be the start of huge change to the way we live. But it wasn’t. Anyone who follows the up-to-date science knew that 1.5c was a fantasy, but we could forgive that because it showed real ambition. But it turned out that no one cared to live up to that. It was for show on that day, and nothing more.
COP26 however, is almost certain to be far worse. It will be a political affair, not a scientific one. The only job of the UK negotiators will be to get every country to agree on Net Zero 2050. A target that requires basically no government action for the next 20 years. It’s just a nice round date far off in the future. And you can be sure that the net zero target everyone agrees to will have all the loopholes you’ve come to expect. Wood burning? Of course. Shipping and aviation? You bet.
If you still have your hopes up for COP26, I would politely suggest that it’s time to lower them. All the way down. At least then you will be somewhat prepared for the bullshit that’s coming. You’ll still be angry when it happens. Such is the nature of being human. You can never fully prepare, but you can at least lessen the blow.
I’ve been thinking this way about COP26 for a while, but recently reading the book “A Chicken Can’t Lay A Duck Egg” really helped me to relax more. The realisation that nothing you do in the neoliberal political and economic system can save us from climate disaster really helps focus the mind. We have to change the system. That’s all.
Rich people buying electric yachts, electric helicopters, electric sports cars, electric private jets, eco mansions etc is not sustainable. The only way for them to be truly sustainable is to live small and live local like everyone else. We’ve all enjoyed the little things in life during the pandemic, and we have to make that a permanent lifestyle change if we’re to have any chance of having a future to look forward to.
COP26 has no intention of going in this direction. It’s up to the rest of us to make sure we do.
I’ve written about cheap bikes before several times, but today I want to talk about why it makes no sense to build bikes down to a price which compromises quality.
One of the reasons I love companies such as Riese & Muller is because they build the bikes they themselves want to ride. They use the best components they can find that will create the best bike possible, and whatever that amounts to, that’s the price you pay. That’s not to say you can’t make quality bikes for an affordable amount, but what people consider affordable needs to change.
For example, my Dutch bike from Batavus cost me about £600. For that amount of money, you get a workhorse of a bike that you can ride every day, and you don’t have to worry about it. Barely any maintenance is required and it’s the perfect short distance commuter for a flat area. You can get bikes that look similar for around half the price, and they come with derailleurs, lower quality metal components that will rust quickly, and things like tyres will be cheaper and more puncture prone.
You will be a slave to your local bike shop if you buy one of those type of imitation Dutch bikes, and you won’t enjoy your riding as much either. In the grand scheme of things, that extra £300 is not much, and most likely you will save yourself at least that amount because you probably won’t get punctures and you won’t need to replace drivetrain parts. I certainly haven’t done any maintenance on my Batavus in the 2 years I’ve owned it, and I’m not expecting to do much any time soon.
But beyond just the financial and ownership aspects, simply put, cheap bikes are not sustainable. The bike industry, and society would be so much better off if we increase the minimum cost of a bike significantly. You could still sell single speed bikes for less, because they’re so simple. But other types of bikes should really start at around that £600 mark if we’re going to have a sustainable cycling system.
It would also be very helpful for shops to have less cheap bikes coming back for parts and service. We have lost a lot of bike shops in the last several years and more quality bikes going out the door will help give these businesses a bit of extra breathing room to cope with the increased demand we need to see. It would also allow time to scale bike retail up to the kind of levels we see in The Netherlands and Denmark.
Eventually, we’ll get to where the Dutch are now. Average bike sale prices in The Netherlands are about 3 times higher than countries like the UK, and that’s no coincidence. It’s a result of treating bicycles as vehicles. The more respect is shown for cycling, the more money people spend on bikes. That’s the future we want, but we have to start by cutting out the unsustainable junk.
I generally hate the car industry. I’m sure it began with good intentions, but it has evolved to be so underhanded and evil that they no longer have the ability to think about the greater good.
But even I have to admit that the car industry does a couple of things right. And one of them is that they sell people cars that have practical uses. They don’t focus their entire industry on selling people sports cars when they need family cars. That’s obvious, you might say. And I would agree. But then walk into any standard British bike shop and look at what they sell.
95% or more of what they sell is the equivalent of car dealerships selling sports cars. The sports part of cycling is totally dominant in this country and most others around the world.
I get that when urban designers first began trying to push out the bike from towns and cities, bike shops probably were trying to fight back and sell bikes for daily use. But they must have realised it wasn’t going to keep them in business and switched to the now standard road and mountain bike sectors. But the real issue I have now is that times are clearly changing. People are realising the mistakes (to put it politely) of the past and that cycling is the key to our sustainable future.
But almost nothing is changing. The bike shops aren’t pushing in that direction. They’re just happy for cycling to continue being this tiny niche of selling leisure toys to mostly wealthy middle-aged white men, so they can keep driving their SUV to the hills or the trails to enjoy their hobby. No need to do anything about our car-ravaged towns and cities. No need to integrate bicycles into the public transport system. No need to build proper infrastructure or secure parking. No need to restrict car use whatsoever.
A great example of the problem is the YouTube channel EMBN (Electric Mountain Bike Network). It’s part of the GCN group of channels under the umbrella of Play Sports Network. It’s the only channel in the group to focus on e-Bikes. But 99% of the time they’re only talking about electric mountain bikes. There is no dedicated channel for urban e-Bikes. Just the occasional feature on the racing focused GCN. And even then, most e-Bike content is regarding electric road or gravel models. Not surprising for a British based channel, but they broadcast to the world and are very influential, which is a big problem.
Cycling is a sport. But like motorsport, it’s a form of transportation first and a sport second. And it’s about time the cycling industry got it the right way round. Our future on this planet is dependant on it.