|Chris Froome dominating the 2013 Tour de France.|
What then is to be gained from the massive rise in 'sports cyclists' (for want of a better term) following successive British victories both at the Olympics and in road racing? Will this make it any easier to cycle from A to B, or simply increase congestion as TfL lays on extra vans to transport contestant's bicycles between Stratford and Pall Mall for RideLondon this weekend? (Presumably this is at least partly because TfL are concerned that even people willing to do 100 miles on a bike will be too scared to cycle on their deadly road system connecting East London and Westminster).
One thing I noticed when staying with friends in Zurich and then Heidelberg earlier this month (two big cycling cities) was the extremely large amount of 'sports cyclists' I saw all over the city. I've become more accustomed to seeing people stacked up in gear in London over the last few years, but they were really going for it in Switzerland and Germany, even the over 65s! When a friend and I rented bikes and went into the hills above Heidelberg we even passed 40 lycra-clad men bombing down in what must have been a semi-professional mid-week mountainous bike race.
When you think about it more, there's a definite link between countries where it is safe to cycle and countries that are seriously interested in sports cycling. It's not really a surprise, then, that Dutch people are so heavily represented among Tour de France spectators; nor that Paris is a far safer city to cycle in than London (given that it does just happen to host the world's biggest cycle race every year). If we want to watch the Tour de France in the UK we need to somehow find ITV4, but in Germany it is screened on their equivalent to the BBC, and to a much wider (and more captivated) audience. Similarly, Copenhagen is one of the world's safest cities to cycle in, and when one browses the Wikipedia page, Sport in Denmark, on quickly finds that, "in recent years, Denmark has made a mark as a strong cycling nation".
Does correlation equal causation? One could certainly argue that these countries are only interested in sports cycling because so many of their citizens travel by bike. However, I would argue that it certainly goes the other way too. After all, the Tour de France was created 104 years before the Paris' Vélib's or their inner-city HGV movement restrictions. One cannot, therefore, argue that the French are interested in sports cycling because so many people cycle in Paris. On the contrary, there is strong evidence to suggest the French cycle to work because they host the Tour de France. Utility/transport cycling and sports cycling are two (almost opposite) sides of the same coin; however, they do symbiotically feed and grow off each other.
|Wiggins taking a ride along the Champs Élysées with his son Ben.|
We should embrace RideLondon this weekend. And... we should embrace an extremely famous politician like Boris Johnson getting involved (and creating the bloody thing in the first place!).
Certainly, Boris's time would be much, much better spent ripping up Holborn gyrators so that no one has to be killed like Alan Neve was, or sorting out his Cycle "Superhighway" 2 so that no one has to be killed like Philippine De Gerin-Ricard was. It's unacceptable that these aren't top priorities for a Mayor when 69 of inhabitants of his city have been killed on a bike since he took office in 2008.
However, by actively and very publicly associating himself with sports cycling through the RideLondon events, Boris Johnson can't help also attaching himself to transport/utility cycling. The two are inextricably linked. What follows from this is even more political pressure on the Mayor to deliver what he has promised in his Cycling Vision earlier this year. It might not be the best use of Boris's time, but it is still, I would maintain, a step forward.
|A typical bike crossing in Heidelberg, a city with strong and long-standing sports cycling links. Note the sheer number of cyclists and the fact they are safely separated from pedestrians. None of this 'shared space' guff here thank you very much.|
|And here's a shot of someone trying to cycle to work along Whitehall, in the heart of London, a city that has only recently embraced sports cycling.|