My housemate recently moved from London to Amsterdam. The first time we met was at a picnic in the park – looking at my bike, there was a clear sign of worry on her face –“I haven’t ridden a bike since I was a kid… I can’t do it”. Obviously, this was the wrong thing to tell me – 2 minutes later; she’s riding round the park on my town-bike after some encouragement and realization that it’s not as hard to get peddling again as she thought. A few weeks later we bought her a bike – and now if we go out anywhere, the bike has to come too – no excuses, rain or shine!
The hardest thing about getting back on wheels in Amsterdam, is the sheer number of other cyclists, a complete contrast to the UK! The Dutch have grown up on bikes (I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a bike involved in the conception!). They’ve somehow learnt to ride, one hand on handle bars, the other holding a phone/umbrella, balancing bags of groceries, computer/handbag on the front and a friend on the back… it’s an art! They dart in and out of other cyclists, ding their bell at you as they pass and don’t bother looking to make a turn – if anything – they’re a hazard!
This makes a big difference to riding in the UK – and I’m not shy to admit that the reason I didn’t ride a bike in London was the sheer amount of vehicular traffic. I was fortunate enough to have decent quiet roads around me growing up, riding a bike regularly and encouraged to ride on the road. At the age of 11, I did a cycling proficiency course, now known as Bikeability – which of course not only encouraged regular biking but provided the confidence to ride on the road without feeling intimidated. This, in my opinion, is the key to feeling comfortable sharing a road with cars.
Recently, Cycletta announced that due to a lack of sign-ups (a shame in itself), the woman’s 40km cycling events will unfortunately no longer take place on closed roads. I’ve noticed quite a number of participants upset by this on the premise that this was the reason they were taking part, many of whom haven’t been on a bike in a number of years and are using the events to find the confidence again. Although I can understand the disappointment and anxiety of the event not being closed-road – I actually think it’s a good thing in the long run, after all – a network of bike lanes aren’t going to appear overnight. Obviously Cycletta aren’t going to release a group of woman on their bikes to a busy A-road – they’ll be doing what they can to ensure the participants have a safe and fun ride; discouraging local residents to use their cars at the time the group will be passing through and marshals along the route. I can only urge the participants to see this as an introduction to confident riding – which I hope in time will encourage future use of the bike in their own time, in and around their home towns… confident road cycling only comes from regular experience, and the Cycletta events will provide a good introduction to sharing the road safely and confidently. And, if you’re still not sure, there are plenty of websites providing advice on sharing the road, including TfL’s guide, the Highway Code for cyclists and tips and course information from Bikeability
I think my housemate will also agree – the more she gets on her bike and the more she shares the road with cars, and the crazy Dutchies, the more confident and happy she is to do so!