Sport Success = Active Travel?

One of the themes of the recent Wales a Cycling Nation conference was how do we convert our success in cycle sport to getting bums on saddles.

There is no doubt that Wales has much to be proud of, both in people and facilities. There are successful stars like Geraint Thomas, Nicole Cooke, Becky James and Simon Richardson, facilities like the velodrome in Newport and great mountain biking trails particularly in North and Mid Wales but can we convert these to getting people to use their bikes for transport? Can we convert this:-

Imageto this?:-

ImagePhoto courtesy of http://departmentfortransport.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/cycling-in-the-netherlands-picture-post-4-children/

It’s an interesting conundrum. Would you use Mo Farah to persuade people to walk to the shops or Lewis Hamilton to promote safe driving or to sell a Toyota Prius? There is a view that utility cycling has as much to do with cycle sport as a mum on the school run has to F1  motor sport .Yes I know some drivers think they are on the track at Silverstone but some cyclists think they are climbing l’ Alpe d’ Huez when in reality they are climbing one of the land bridges on The Millennium Coast Path – both parties have a reality disconnect and that isn’t what concerns me here!

In the last year we have had a couple of “own goals” from pro cyclists; Sir Bradley Wiggins got caught out with an off hand comment re bike helmets shortly after his Tour De France win. More recently Laura Trott said that cyclists should behave themselves on the road and wear crash hats. Now, I have no doubt there are many bad, dangerous law breaking cyclists out there and maybe (to be fair) they should be lumped in with the 2 million uninsured drivers, the drivers who park illegally, those who speed and those who use their mobiles while driving – they are all road users who break the law. But, the problem here is that the comments made by Laura Trott and Sir Brad were both picked up by the national media and of course gleefully used by on-line commentators to criticise cyclists further. I can’t see that their forays off the bike have done much to help the cause of mass cycling.

Chris Boardman on the other hand has used his position as a retired elite athlete and more recently TV commentator to plug for better cycling facilities and has been much more considered in his approach to dealing with the media:-

but has he increased the appeal of utility cycling to the average teenaged schoolkid? Probably not.

I think there is a way to use our success in sport to boost everyday cycling but I think it needs more than our sports people riding fast. We need cycling to be cool and relevant:-

  • Lets have some pictures of our rugby stars on bikes. Most Welsh people will find it much easier to identify with Adam Jones or Lee Halfpenny than Geraint Thomas – sorry Geraint but Rugby is the Welsh national obsession for at least eight months of the year. Can we get Jonathan Davies back on a bike here in Wales?
  • Let’s not limit it to sports people – how about getting Katherine Jenkins on a Dutch style bike or The Manics riding down the Taff Trail. There are loads more Welsh people in the media that could be approached.
  • If we use our elite athletes let’s get them on ordinary bikes going to the shops or schools. Let them show that you don’t need £4000 of carbon fibre and titanium to travel on – ordinary bikes are cool, and more important you can use them as transport.

So yes, we can use our sport success to promote the Wales Cycling Nation message (but please ensure that there are no Daily mail reporters around when they speak!). However. don’t think that super fit people riding fast round and round in circles or that the infrastructure they use will get mothers riding to school with their children. No, they need to see cycling as normal, they need to see that you can do it in normal clothes, they need to see that it is safe and secure and that the safe, secure routes get them directly where they need to go.

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