Britain has invested £150 million to promote cycling as the smart way to travel. Taking to the bicycle offers the chance to get fit, show off ones green credentials and save money. Despite the increase in cycle lanes and the success of the London cycle network, cyclists remain in the minority. Now a new three year study conducted by the universities of Oxford, Leeds and Lancaster and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
, has explained the obvious reasons why mass cycling has not taken off: it’s all down to image.
According to Lancaster University News
, the big barrier is that cycling simply does not appear as normal. The perception that cycling is not the normal thing to do simply acts as a deterrent to taking to the saddle. Despite the British having the cycling role model of Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to emulate, there remain issues over ones hair being squashed by helmets, with not everyone confident that their locks will remain as lively as the Mayor’s.
Arriving hot and sweaty at ones destination, and generally sticking out like a sore thumb in a nation which prefers the convenience of cars, all contribute to a body of people remaining unresponsive to persuasions to cycle.
Researchers revealed the surprising social issue that some may feel like second class citizens if they opt for bicycles instead of cars. Bikeradar
quotes Professor Colin Pooley from Lancaster University saying:
“Most people prefer not to stand out as different and tend to adopt norms of behaviour that fit in and reflect the majority experience.”
Women are half as likely to cycle as men, and elderly people are also less inclined to use a bicycle as their preferred mode of transport. The study reveals that cycling is far more popular in other European countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, where cycling is generally perceived as normal behaviour.
Britain on the other hand has its weather to contend with in addition to the dangers on the roads, where one is likely to cycle into an open car door or find pedestrians ambling down the cycle paths. The conclusion formed from three years of study is that if cycling can be made to appear more normal then more people would do it.
If it was seen as an exciting and cool thing to do then more people would hasten to follow the trend. In the meantime it looks as though cycling to work in a sweaty business suit and arriving with squashed hair and sweat stained make-up, will continue to put the majority of the population off.