Infographic from Lonely Planet travel guide to the Netherlands.
Basically the Dutch love bikes.
I’ve read something I quite like that demonstrates the extent to which cycling is integrated into the Dutch cultural psyche- they have 2 distinct terms for ‘cyclists’. As I understand it there are:
Fietser- which is generally the persona of the everyday cyclist who uses their bike for getting around, for fun, doesn’t wear any specialist clothing, etc. (As the graphic shows- this is vast majority of the population riding about on city bikes.)
Wielrenner- (wheel runner) which is a cyclist who undertakes the activity as a sporting pursuit- road racing, track cycling, cyclo-cross, etc- and therefore probably wears adapted clothing, uses a specialist bike, undertakes specific training.
Like in the UK, where pretty much most people would probably describe themselves as a ‘pedestrian’ (at least at times)- less people might call themselves a ‘walker’ (or hiker/trekker/rambler). We acknowledge that many of us regularly perform the action of ‘walking’ to get about our environments in our everyday lives- but less of us would say we undertake the activity as a specialist recreational or sporting pursuit.
It seems that as the concept of people cycling in the Netherlands is so mainstream, the Dutch understand that while pretty much everyone is a ‘fietser’, less people are ‘wielrenners’. In fact, some people might swap between these personae depending on the cycling activity they are undertaking- and is a sign of ‘focal vocabulary’ (as per the ‘Eskimo words for snow’ adage)- acknowledging the range within a common concept or issue in a culture.
Beating the opposition and the traffic by bike
With the city traffic making her fear she would not make it to her match on time, Serena Williams took the decision to jump on a bike to get to her tie at the Miami Masters tennis tournament- subsequently going on to win her match easily.
Afterwards she said “Riding to the match was probably one of my best memories ever.”
That’s from a 15 times tennis Grand Slam winner.
Any more advocacy needed for cycling as one of the most appropriate forms of personal transport in 21st century cities?
Photo and story via bbc.co.uk
I am loving this design by Dutch group NL Architects of a bike rental shop and cafe in southern China- with a miniature cycle track on the roof. Currently under construction, it demonstrates an innovative and multi-functional use of space and design.
Across Loch Long from the west side of Rosneath Peninsula, West Coast of Scotland- taken while out on a cycle on a rare relatively mild mid December day.
‘To be (worn), or not to be (worn), that is the question’
The debate around enforcing/encouraging the use of cycle helmets is one that has rumbled on in the cycling world- both involving external groups (such as policy makers and road safety campaigners), and internal bodies (e.g. cycling charities and advocacy groups). While actually more complex, and less ‘black and white’ than it first seems, (interlinking with human and social psychology, risk perception and reaction, and behavioural change) there are 2 quite general, and clear, overarching issues associated with helmet wearing (furthermore summarised in the article from The Times ‘Should bike helmets be compulsory?’):
- A bike helmet can prevent a life threatening head injury to an individual
- Bike helmet wearing, in a wider societal sense, does not improve safety- and can actually have negative health consequences.
It is this second point, which seems a bit illogical in the first instance, that a number of anti compulsory helmet wearing groups point towards to justify their stance on the issue. Empirical studies of helmet wearing in a real life contexts (e.g. in a city) shows that it changes other road users (motorists) reaction to cyclists (being less cautious towards), fosters a higher ‘risk taking demographic’ of those that cycle (to being more aggressive), discourages cycling levels amongst the general population, and reduces the opportunity of realising the wider societal and environmental benefits associated with active travel.
This wider discussion is presented in an article in this this week’s New York Times: ‘To Encourage biking, cities lose the helmets’- which elaborates on many of the issues presented above.
However, while I agree with much of what is discussed in the article, I think it is important to take into account the context, and specific situations, in which people use their bike- and understand that their individual behaviour, and the effects of the wider environment in which they cycle, subjects them to varying levels of risk. Not all journeys, and individuals, are at danger of the same levels of risk- which is something that varies according to a multiple of variables- and consequently, rather than enforcing individuals to wear bike helmets in all situations, individuals should be encouraged to be aware, and make judgements of the potential risk of their individual cycle trips and experiences to then decide if helmet wearing is appropriate.
As such, I have my own self imposed ‘rules’ when cycling- taking into account my own abilities, and the wider context of my environment. As a relatively competent and confident cyclist, who rides everyday as a general commuting/lifestyle method of personal mobility; but also as a more recreational cyclist who, on occasion undertakes longer touring cycling trips, I adapt my helmet wearing to suit the different journeys I take. Furthermore, I have to take into account and understand the environments in which I cycle- my home city of Glasgow in Scotland, in which cycling levels are relatively low, with a predominately motorised vehicle-centric mobility culture (both cars and public transport), is no ‘Amsterdam’ or ‘Copenhagen’- but is, nonetheless, experiencing apparently increasing levels of both cyclists and dedicated infrastructure (from interconnected paths to advance stop lines at traffic lights); as well as the country roads around the city, and furthermore in more remote areas of Scotland, in which I cycle.
As such, I choose to wear my helmet, or not, around the following general ‘rules’:
- Long cycle for numerous days around remote parts of Scotland- potentially high speeds and dangerous traffic over a prolonged period: definitely wear helmet at all times.
- Day cycle in and around Glasgow- potentially high speeds and city traffic for a full day’s cycle: again, definitely wear helmet.
- Commute type cycle in Glasgow- relatively short distance, lowish speeds, but amongst city traffic. Pretty much always wear helmet. However, will make judgements based on time of day (rush hour, whether I’ll use a cycle path or busy roads, etc)- and therefore, at times, not wear a helmet.
- Cycling into city centre for a social reason- to meet friends, go to pub, to connect with a train, etc: Unlikely to wear helmet, though, again, will make judgements based on external conditions (time of day- are roads quiet or busy?, is it dark or light?, how am I travelling, and what route do I intend to take?)
- Cycling to local shops or bigger supermarket, or to local sports centre: short distance (between less than 1km to 5km, residential streets or bike path, relatively low speeds or within controlled environment: I do not wear a helmet.
In general, I try to take an approach to helmet wearing which accounts for the level or magnitude of potential risk involved in my journey- both emanating from my behaviour, and also as a result of people/conditions in which I encounter. The higher the risk- the more likely I am to wear a helmet.However, some people might argue that there is never no risk cycling trip I undertake- and why, on that basis, wouldn’t I always wear a helmet? But I do tend to agree with the individual psychological, and wider sociological issues, around this- that cycling, at controlled low speeds, is not an intrinsically dangerous activity, and the flexibility and freedom of a jumping on a bike as a means of personal mobility is one of its fundamental attractions of it (to me, and people in general). Furthermore, it does detract from the wider issues around where cycling is placed in the ‘hierarchy of mobility’- and furthermore, could be argued, is like the analogy of blaming passive smokers who were to develop negative health effects of smoke inhalation for not having taken precautionary measures to alter their behaviour and lifestyles, and avoid public spaces where smoking was being carried out…
While not detracting from the need for cyclists to act in a responsible and law abiding fashion when on roads- when it comes to public/shared spaces, the onus should be on the smoker (the driver), not on the non-smoker (the cyclist) to alter their behaviour which is (often) at the fundamental root of the negative consequences (injuries between large heavy objects of metal- ie cars- and soft and relatively fragile humans- ie cyclists). To assist drivers in bearing this responsibility, the government should do as much as it can to facilitate and devise a suitable environment and system (through planning and legislation) that goes some way to mitigate the risks involved.
In general, taking such a ‘risk acknowledging’ approach to cycling, understanding the pros and cons of helmet use in different contexts, and the impact it has on behaviour, is important for any policy makers wanting to encourage cycling. There are many possibilities that could be considered- maybe to enforce/encourage helmet wearing on major/busy roads, but not on quieter roads/cycle paths? To highlight to cyclists that they need to make ‘risk judgements’ before they take each cycle trip- and to consider wearing a helmet as such? To develop enforcement/responsibility/clarity around liability for accidents on roads between cyclists and motorists (particularly in areas such as cycle lanes, advanced stop lines, etc). To make it clear to road users- both cyclists and motorists- their rights and obligations, respective concerns and perceptions, when sharing road space…
This beautifully shot little video captures cycling in a different light…
If cycling is to be promoted as a key lifestyle choice, particularly in the case of young and urban populations, then attention should be given to how successful services/products are targeted as such groups. As such, the way in which a product is ‘packaged’ and marketed is vital- and, as such, developing an appealing ‘brand’ is often key to its success.
The lighting, the camera shots, the slick editing, the music score, the fit and athletic individuals, the location… this video utilises so many of the techniques that modern adverts and promotional campaigns so cleverly use to emotively engage with, and appeal to, an audience.
In a way, if you were to remove the bikes in this video, and replace them with a couple of sports cars- you would have an advert that bears resemblance to something that many of us see every day on our televisions. If cycling is to be in the mainstream, then it needs to appeal to the mainstream. If cycling is to rival the car as an urban mobility solution, then maybe it needs to match it at its own game: how it sells itself…