Democratizing Cycling


Sally Guyer founded the Cambridge Raincoat company, bringing stylish rainwear to the UK that can be worn on and off the bike. She has been a strong supporter of the Embassy from the outset and here she explains why:

Cambridge raincoats  - not for 'cyclists' ... but perfect for people on bikes

I won a year’s worth of marketing services in a competition recently in which each of the 13 businesses shortlisted had to pitch to an audience of marketing agencies who could then ask questions about the pitcher’s business.  If more than one marketing agency liked the idea, the marketing agencies then had to pitch for our business.  It was all very exciting and not a little stressful so I can’t remember too much of what was said – by me or the representatives of the marketing agencies – but one phrase sticks in my mind.  Laurence, from the agency I chose to work with, used an expression which still resonates soundly with me – the Democratization of Cycling.

Why I am so pleased to support the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is that it is about the Democratization of Cycling.  I live in Cambridge, a city often referred to as the UK’s number one city of cycling and I have to tell you folks, it is not ideal.  In fact, I know Dutch people who have cycled here and found it scary.  So, if this is the UK’s number one city of cycling, it must be pretty bad in the rest of the UK.  My daily route is not bad at all and consists of a great number of cycle paths but it also includes half a mile of unlit country road which has no pavement and is generally considered a rat run.  People drive particularly badly when they are late for work in the morning or rushing to get home in the late afternoon/early evening and, in bringing my children up to cycle from a young age, one of the factors I had to come to terms with was that giving them independence involved leaving them to negotiate this bit of road alone.

This is why the UK is in sore need of the Cycling Embassy of GB.  Although we have heard that the mayor of London has recently pledged to invest a good deal more money into expanding the public bikeshare scheme in London known as Boris Bikes, we see no such scheme in most other cities around the UK.  Indeed, many Londoners don’t cycle as they consider it too dangerous.  When I tell them I often use the Boris Bikes, they look at me in horror – completely unaware that the TfL website has a mapping facility which allows you to avoid busy routes (while fairly fearless in Cambridge, I am ultra-cautious in London traffic).  How strange, I think to myself, that this brilliant facility should be so little publicised.  Even stranger that other cities in the UK, on the whole, are copying Cambridge rather than London by promoting cycling and providing cycle routes but offering no public bikeshare scheme. 

In the UK, the public’s addiction to the internal combustion engine is going strong; the car is still king. Although we live just outside Cambridge with good cycle paths, a railway station and bus routes all available, most families round here rush to get their children behind the wheel as soon as they turn 17 putting yet more drivers on these crowded roads.  And the roads round here, like most urban areas in this overcrowded island, get congested pretty easily.  The lack of imagination in addressing transport problems in the UK is staggering.

Those who follow our Facebook page will be familiar with the range of topics covered in the material I post daily here.  As I’ve been concerned with the normalization of the image of cycling from the start, my posts cover serious topics related to encouraging bikes as a means of transport but also art, fashion, environmental issues, humanitarian issues and sometimes, just good old fashioned humour. Pictures like this one I came across recently on Twitter illustrate beautifully all that is wrong with the image of cycling in the UK and all that is right with how its seen in the Netherlands:- 

Which says 'safe' to you? Image via Parimal Kumar on Twitter

The average journey made in the UK is 2-3 miles long – easily done by bicycle. We live in an age when obesity has become endemic nationwide, commonly found in all generations and all social groups.  Costly diseases related to obesity are on the increase although we hear endless accounts of the NHS being broke.  It is grotesque, isn’t it, that it is predicted a significant number of children are growing up obese and unlikely to live as long as their parents?  There are those who want to make wearing helmets compulsory but say nothing against the sale of processed food and drinks which clearly do far more harm.  As long as councils in the UK persist in promoting images of cycling with the ghastly hi-vis and helmets, cycling will continue to be seen as a dangerous activity requiring nerdy gear and, unsurprisingly, the majority of people will continue to avoid looking like this and avoid cycling with it.  And that is why I started The Cambridge Raincoat Company – to normalize &  democratize cycling in the UK.  After all, Cambridge has been the home of bright ideas for 800 years.

(Sorry about the pun – Cambridge Raincoats – bright colours, bright ideas . . .)

If you’d like to get your hands on one of Sally’s raincoats – and help raise funds for the Cycling Embassy to boot – then please take part in our Christmas silent auction - details on the news page.


...the crazy thing is that the UK picture might be typical of something like a "Sky Ride", when all the roads are closed, but helmets are mandatory and hi-viz tops are handed out.  It would be exceedingly rare to see a family out like that on normal British roads even with all the safety gear. :(

Of course in the Netherlands it's just a normal day...

Thanks for your involvement.



While I agree with most of the points in this post, I feel it should be pointed out that there are public bike share schemes outwith London. Off the top of my head there are schemes in Dumfries, Blackpool and Newcastle, no doubt Google could easily turn up more.