Bicycles, Baskets and Baby Seats - change is in the air or how to be a cycling ambassador

[img_assist|nid=2135|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=240|height=192]I can’t quite remember how this all started, but at some point, a little over two years ago, I was filled with the urge to start writing a bicycle blog. Obviously I’m not alone, the internet is filled with people all over the world writing about their experiences of riding a bike. No, that’s not the odd thing, it was why then, after years of reading other people’s blogs did I feel that I had a story to tell? Looking back I think I sensed a change in the air. Something was happening and hints were beginning to emerge.

[img_assist|nid=2138|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=192|height=240]To add a bit of context, Sheffield has for a long time had a strong outdoorsy type culture, close proximity to the Peak District meant a large climbing/mountain biking community emerged and many mountain bikers took their hobby seriously enough to use their bike to commute. When I first started cycling in Sheffield 8 years ago, the cycling culture was dominated by these outdoor types of (mostly male thirtysomething) confident riders on their expensive mountain bikes, dressed in sensible high performance goretex, combat shorts, walking boot type trainers, rucksack wearing, etc. ready to dismount and climb a mountain at any moment (it seemed). I’d just moved back to Sheffield from London and most of my colleagues cycled to work there, but I’d been too scared by the traffic in London.

[img_assist|nid=2136|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=240|height=192] Sheffield by comparison seemed like a piece of cake, so it was time to give it a go. I needed a new bike, my brother had trashed my old racing bike and I assumed my parents had got rid of it, so that wasn’t an option. I heard about hybrid bikes, which were supposed to be good for commuting, so I went to the bike shop looking for one of those. No chance! Apart from a couple of Dawes bikes which were way too big for me the option was a mountain bike or a kids mountain bike. So I bought a mountain bike, a big D-lock and a helmet because everyone was wearing one, I assumed that was what you did…

[img_assist|nid=2139|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=192|height=240]Fast forward a few years and I was lugging two children around on a mamafiets, but I was still something of a novelty. I got shouts and stares everywhere I went. People thought I had an electric bike. Female, carrying kids, shopping on a heavy Dutch bike was I mad? Clearly most people thought so, but things were changing.

[img_assist|nid=2143|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=192|height=240]First the signs were all but invisible, there were the beat up old racing bikes that started to appear chained up next to mine, next the ladies hybrid bikes, but it was the appearance of the Dutch bikes that were the real hint something was changing. Yes, big heavy traditional Omafiets, in hilly Sheffield!

[img_assist|nid=2137|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=192|height=240]Somewhere out there in the real world away from the bike blogs and the forums, a quiet revolution was happening. Ordinary people started to dig out their bikes and just start riding. In their ordinary clothes. Just doing ordinary things, like popping to the shops or dropping the kids off at school. Bikes with baskets, vintage Raleigh shoppers, homemade crates, fixies, xtracycles, the variety and speed of change in the space of a couple of years was amazing.[img_assist|nid=2140|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=240|height=180] But it wasn’t just the bikes, it was who was on them. First it was the lecturers and students, then elderly gentlemen, men commuting in suits, middle aged women, children. Teenagers on BMXs, kids on balance bikes riding through town. But the change that has been the most amazing is the mums with kids in baby seats. The hardest demographic to persuade to cycle are now out there taking their kids to school by bike.

[img_assist|nid=2141|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=192|height=240][img_assist|nid=2142|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=240|height=192]So how has this happened? I have no idea! It’s not fantastic infrastructure, it’s not favourable weather, it’s not flat, and numbers are still tiny. But day by day, little by little ordinary people of all ages are rediscovering the bicycle. Change is in the air.