I always used to be sceptical about the adverts I saw on buses; I never thought that a particular brand of deodorant would make me more desirable or that buying a particular car would make me more desirable or that Bran Flakes were actually very, very tasty and would make me more desirable.
The bicycle as a mode of transport has never really been advertised to the British public in a sexual or sensual way which is one of the plethora of reasons levels of bicycle usage are very low. Those in the bicycling world, be it campaigner, journalist or policy maker, when trying to push the bicycle as a mode of transport sadly let themselves down by using boring old proven facts, demonstrable knowledge and verified statistics in their messages to the wider world.
Recently an advert was put on the side of a bus that many Britons bought into. The claim was that £350 million a week paid to the EU could be diverted to the NHS. It was proved to be an outrageous lie, but it got a job done. However, it started me thinking how much the NHS could save each week if the bicycle was more integrated into the nations policies. Probably an eye-watering amount worthy of the side of a bus.
Another thing that I couldn’t help but notice over the last couple of years is that the Second World War has been bandied about even more than usual as the de facto sign of British grit and stoicism. Bandied, often by people whose biggest interaction with this event is watching ‘Dad’s Army’. A small point that’s often overlooked, setting aside the fact that it was a truly horrific period of history that no one else in Europe wishes to repeat and no one that did have an involvement is that the humble bicycle was a vital mode of transport and faithful servant during this period and the years immediately afterwards. The Spitfire was always going to nab the headlines.
In times of adversity, the bicycle was the people’s transport either on the front line or in peacetime. The 1973 oil crisis, when Saudi Arabia and other Arab oil exporters imposed an embargo on the US, Britain, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands for supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur war caused a surge in the price of oil. In a televised address, the Dutch prime minister informed the people of the Netherlands that changes had to be made in energy conservation. The Dutch knew a national crossroads when they saw one and over the following decades gradually re-engineered the crossroads with red bicycle paths as a National Insurance policy. There are Dutch people alive today that might not have been had the nation taken a wrong turn, like the UK did.
However, the UK has reached a national crossroads of its own, albeit one of its own construction. This perversely could be the bicycle’s time to shine again as it is the answer to many of the problems predicted by experts; it protects against oil shocks, it is the antidote against the increasing need for medicines and healthcare. It is a social, friendly, egalitarian mode of transport for all ages, genders, creeds, colours and abilities that cares not if you are a part of a disaffected community or the establishment elite.
The problem is that, in these very un-British fractious, polarised times, the people that keep invoking the ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ as ‘us versus them’ whilst deftly airbrushing out the French troops that gallantly gave their lives defending the retreat, usually think the same way about the bicycle and those that use them. The humble bicycle user is also a ‘them’; decades of begging for the scraps at the transport table have led to a group of people using their bicycles in spite of the conditions as opposed to because of them, with all the specialist kit, body armour and surveillance equipment that this mitigation involves.
Decent infrastructure is helping to bridge our nations disconnect, despite the froth and vitriol of those that see the removal of a car lane as an act of terrorism. The seeds have thankfully been planted in time through protected Superhighways and ‘Mini Hollands’. These schemes help remove the need for specialist kit, body armour and surveillance equipment and make the act of riding a bicycle for transport simple, even a bit boring – as it should be. There will always be people wearing specialist kit of course. The bicycle offers a very wide palette for a very broad canvas.
Above all, positive data is already emerging and will continue to emerge from these schemes in turns of usage, efficiency and even money spent in local businesses affected by the schemes. Still no lying necessary. The bicycle is from our nations past and can easily be a productive part of our nation’s future. Stick that on the side of a bus.