Drop your preconceptions about cyclists

It’s always good to know at least one sentence in a foreign language; a sort of cultural or linguistic party piece. Here’s my sentence in Dutch: “Fiets is iets, maar bijna niets.” This translates into English as “the bicycle is something, but almost nothing”. I saw this a few years ago printed on a cycling plan that was issued on a manifesto by the counterculture group Provo. Provo was based in Amsterdam in the 1960s, and it was ahead of its time in appreciating the environmental costs of unfettered car access to its city. They saw the clean, cheap, and easy-to-park bicycle as the antidote to the polluting, dominating, and consumerist car. The bicycle was “almost nothing”— no fumes, no noise, no fuel costs.

I’ve often thought that this sentence would also ring true if it stated that “the bicycle is just one thing, but it is also many things.” A bicycle is a form of transport, a way to get fit, a pathway to exploring town and county, a leisure activity, and a work vehicle. The fact that the bicycle is just one thing, but also many things, goes a long way to explain why the Irish Examiner has handed over a column dedicated
exclusively to all things bike-related for the summer.

If you are wondering what qualifies me to take on this undertaking, then that makes two of us. I’ve never lined up at the start of a bike race, and I’ve never introduced myself as a cyclist to anyone in my life. I haven’t watched the Vuelta a Espaa for at least the last three years. I can’t fix a broken chain. I work as a primary school teacher. I own two bikes, one car, and three Leap cards.

Like tens of thousands of other people in Ireland, I cycle to work most days. And, like tens of thousands of other people in Ireland, I’ve
participated in a good deal of charity and sportive rides over the past 15 years. Like hundreds of other people in Ireland, I advocate for improved cycle conditions in my locality in the hope that this will not only make my trips safer but also other people in my area may be enabled to cycle too.

In this respect, it’s a huge privilege for me to pen these columns over the coming weeks. Our agenda will be
varied. We will explore what climate action means for how we travel, what types of bikes are being sold in Ireland, how the public bike share schemes are faring in Ireland, and what role did the bicycle play in Irish society during the 20th Century. We’ll consider best practice from home and abroad that gets people onto bikes and more importantly, keeps them on bikes. We’ll take a peek into the world of professional cycling and meet some up-and-coming athletes. We’ll try to bring insight and common sense to longstanding questions from friends and family such as ‘aren’t the roads lethal?’ and ‘did you forget your helmet?’

I should make two points very clear from the outlet. Number one: this is not just a column for people who cycle. I’m going to let you in on a big secret: the Government wants to get you non-cyclist folk onto bicycles in the coming years. Hundreds of thousands of more people are going to be cycling in this country every day by the end of this decade. Cycling as a form of transport was almost eradicated in this country but in recent years, it’s re-emerging as a viable option for people across all demographics. The Government is pumping significant sums of public money into walking and cycling infrastructure in every county in
Ireland. For good reason too, as we are facing an existential crisis as a society to reduce carbon emissions and limit our impact on natural ecosystems. We’ve known for some time now that the bicycle is “almost nothing”.

Number two: nobody is coming to take your car away from you in the middle of the night and force you to cycle against your will. More people cycling does not mean everybody will be cycling. Driving will become more expensive, more cumbersome, less attractive, and less viable for many people in the coming years, not in the least because of climate change.

If the environment isn’t your cup of tea, then maybe your personal health is closer to home? Without getting into too much detail, the consensus on driving and cycling from the public health community is as follows; driving = bad, cycling = good.

If you find this column an ​​affront to your existence as the proud owner of a motor vehicle, the next twenty years are going to be uncomfortable for you. Cycling is a rolling stone at the moment,; it’s coming to your town, city, parish, or townland. You’re going to see more bikes on new paths in your city, you’re going to hear the faint buzz of e-bikes in your village in the
mornings, and you’re going to read more and more about bicycles in your newspaper. My advice: drop your preconceptions and feelings about cyclists. Chances are the next people you see cycling might be your child’s teacher, the local farmer, a
a compassionate nurse, a young student, or a pensioner. Not everyone can cycle or wants to cycle, but plenty to do, and plenty more to want. Let’s go on a journey together into the world of cycling and see where we end up.

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