Thursday 30 August 2012

London's Olympic Legacy: why is Utility Cycling being ignored?

With the Olympic Games already over, and the Paralympic Games coming to a close on 9 September, everyone is talking about London's Olympic 'Legacy'. What absolutely baffles me is that so many people seem to be ignoring the place that Utility Cycling (also known as 'transport cycling') should logically have in this 'Legacy'.

Yes, I know that cycling to work/meet friends/etc. isn't exactly a 'sport'. But isn't Olympic Sport about more than just competition?

It's about getting the physical benefits of regular exercise. It's about getting the mental benefits of regular exercise. It's about combatting obesity which is the single fastest growing health risk in this country. It's about getting out of your car/tube/train/office/home and getting into some open space and getting some fresh air. It's about putting some real effort into doing something yourself (sometimes even where it's raining).

Cycling as a method of transport encompasses all of these things. Moreover, you don't need to pay anything for the privilege. With so many commentators correctly identifying the problems associated with successfully funding an Olympic Sporting Legacy during a recession, it seems idiotic for these same commentators not to see a parallel promotion of Utility Cycling as something worth writing about.

Moreover, given that Team GB's greatest successes at both the Olympics and Paralympics have been on bicycles it seems even more ridiculous for Utility Cycling not be given the press coverage it deserves in relation to London's Olympic Legacy. In The Times today (30/8/12) there was a double page spread on GB's Paralympic Cyclists, but Utility Cycling was not mentioned once in a 'Legacy' opinion piece written by LOCOG's official lawyer. And, let's not forget, The Times is the same newspaper which has launched the 'Cities fit for cycling campaign'. Who knows what The Telegraph think our Olympic Legacy should consist of...

Scottish cycling group Pedal On Parliament have successfully used the Olympics as a political springboard from which to gain cross-party council support for a 'Sir Chris Hoy-Way' cycle path on Leith Walk, Edinburgh, which will now go ahead.  By contrast, London, the city which hosted the 2012 Games, has zero Olympic Legacy cycle infrastructure projects on the horizon.

In a relatively flat city like London it is just completely unacceptable that our road system is seen by the majority of the population to be so inhospitable and dangerous that many people, 'inspired' by our glorious Olympics, are deciding to drive to Richmond Park in order to get on a road bike there, to drive to the gym in order to go on a stationary bike there, and to drive to a velodrome in order to do some track racing there.

We came 3rd in the Olympic medal table. We are widely tipped to come 2nd/3rd in the Paralympic medal table. Our competitive cyclists are the best in the world. We're clearly not that bad at encouraging top athletes to get involved in sport, especially on two wheels.

However, our levels of Utility Cycling over the whole population are some of the lowest in Europe.

Therefore, raising the percentage of journeys made everyday in London on a bicycle from 2% to 20% over the next few years would be a real Olympic Legacy. It would be a real Change. It would be a real Challenge.

It is an ambitious goal that will require money, time, and effort to achieve. It will also entail difficult decisions with regard to restricting motorist space (including car parking) on London's roads and creating cyclist-only routes in London's parks. But our Olympic successes required money, time, and effort. And they required difficult decisions like dropping Sir Chris Hoy from the individual sprint race in favour of Jason Kenny. And they paid off.

Moreover, raising Utility Cycling rates would be a long-term Legacy which the Government and London could reap the economic benefits of for years and years to come, and - just as they have done with Olympic medal results - jingoistically flaunt in the faces of other large Western nations like America, France, and Germany.

With this in mind I'd like to see a much greater focus from our press on the place of Utility Cycling in the government's Legacy plans. I'd like to see more difficult decisions by the government (both local and national) going in favour of cyclists. Lastly, as well as RideLondon promoting competitive cycling in the capital, I'd like to see an 'Olympic' Cycle Superhighway promoting Utility Cycling.

Despite plenty of parking and TfL repeatedly telling us to, no one cycled to the Olympic Park because cycle routes in East London are mostly crap and dangerous. We therefore learnt something. Olympic Legacy: radically improve cycle routes in East London. Simple.

It seems completely moronic that local and national authorities cannot see the very real political capital involved in making these kinds of difficult decisions to promote Utility Cycling, especially at a time when Olympic cycling successes are inspiring voters to cycle while a national recession is simultaneously forcing them to forgo more expensive methods of transport. Boris can see the political potential. Perhaps that's one reason why he's been so popular lately. Perhaps that's one reason why he's been tipped to become the next leader of the Conservative Party.

After all, we're already world-class at competitive cycling on a professional level. This hardly needs more investment or exposure.

We should be using the Olympic 'Legacy' as an opportunity to improve cycling levels on the part of the whole population, making us a greener, cleaner, fitter, and more prosperous country to live in.

You, the reader, can make a positive impact yourself by contacting your politicians over this issue through the following steps:

1. Writing to your local MPs and Councillors (
2. Writing to your MP through this contact detail too, some of them can be very reticent (
3. Writing to TfL at
4.. Writing to Cameron, Osbourne and Clegg (

(comments welcomed)


  1. I can’t actually imagine how anyone could seriously believe that our Olympics and Paralympics cycling successes, delightful and worthy of celebration as they are, could generate any form of “legacy” for transport cycling. Actually, I can’t see them generating much of a legacy for sports cycling either.

    Why? Because the focus is entirely on elite, professional athleticism. Professional in the sense that cyclists, unlike, say, rowers or canoeists, will probably acquire sponsorship and endorsement contracts which will make them rich. Wiggins and Trott certainly are predicted to do very nicely, even if the number bandied about for Wiggins is 10 x the size of that for Trott. Elite in the sense that they are a vanishingly small group on which literally millions will be spent over the next four years, as it has been spent over the last 4. Jeremy Hunt is talking about £500m for Team GB overall between now and Rio.

    Our elite cyclists, with the notable and noble exception of Chris Boardman and perhaps Victoria Pendleton, are not connected with transport cycling and are not role models for it. They ride on velodromes, or closed road circuits protected by marshals, officials and police. They occasionally make silly remarks about helmets. They wear funny clothes and funny hats, they have improbably big thighs and improbably concave chests. Really, do you imagine that the average man or woman in the street wants to look like THAT?

    The only meaningful legacy would be an exponential increase in expenditure on infrastructure, following careful consideration of how that money can be wisely spent, and coupled with root and branch reform of the law on road incident liability – civil and criminal. None of that seems, currently, likely, and if it came about I can see no evident link to our medal tally anyway.

    I’m glad British Cycling is lobbying for a change. I wrote along the lines they suggested to my MP, who just happens to be our Sec of State for Culture Media and Sport, but I added that those £500m would be put to better use making ground level physical activity, including transport cycling, more appealing to millions of people.

  2. Hi Paul,

    I think you cynicism is well-founded, but I would argue that it is in this case too severe. Our elite cyclists could certainly be far more supportive of utility cycling. Goes without saying. However, they aren't quite as bad as you suggest; Mark Cavendish, for instance, has called for tougher sentences on drivers that hit cyclists (something British Cycling themselves are now taking up 6 months later).

    Moreover, even if our elite cyclists themselves did absolutely nothing deliberately and publicly for utility cycling, they would still have a positive effect on overall cycling levels. This is because they act as 'brand-reminders' for the general idea of getting on your bike. They put 'cycling' as a concept, an option, a possibility, into the heads of ten million Londoners. And even if only 0.1% of those Londoners actually follow through with the (sub)conscious impetus to 'be-like-Brad' in their own tiny way, that's still 10,000 more people cycling around London and 10,000 more voters asking for the infrastructure and road incident liability you rightly point out that we need. (Given how low cycling levels currently are that's a pretty significant increase).

    So I would argue that some sort of Legacy will be created whatever the government do. What I suggest in this article is if the government, the press, and indeed all of us, really push for it, the legacy for Utility Cycling could be so much greater than it otherwise will be. It's just people in power and people in the press seem to be slightly missing a beat with regards to this opportunity and the way that Utility Cycling can meet so many of the goals encompassed in LOCOG's tagline: 'inspire a generation'.

    I think essentially we're completely in agreement. It's just that I'm looking at the glass half-full while you're looking at the glass-half empty.

    Yes, British Cycling haven't done much lobbying before. But at least, as you point out, they're doing something now. And that's better than nothing (don't look a gift horse in the mouth). Moreover, given that they were getting 150 new people joining a day during the Olympics, with their support we might just see some of the meaningful legacy actions which you described.