Like my resolve to try and go plastic free in 2017 – yes, I know good luck with that one in the veg isle – I have promised myself to blog once a week, because it’s got to be easier and more pleasant than flossing; apologies to all the dentists reading, I promise to try and floss too.
Topics to blog on abound but this one was a gift, as recently I bumped into someone who applied to join the Bicycle Ambassador movement and who was disappointed that she hadn’t got her badge, pen, membership and calling cards yet. I explained that we have had a few problems with the website but that they should have been resolved by now, so it was strange that she was still waiting to get going. So we talked a bit more about work and kids and new bicycles and from what she was saying I began to wonder if she really got the whole BA concept.
She told me how she was thinking about getting another bike – something I always love to hear as I think bicycles are just like shoes and you don’t just have one pair of those. Then she went into detail about gears and tyres and carbon frames and how she couldn’t decide between brands I’d never heard of and what new gear she would need and that’s when I nodded off, well nearly. Trying politely to stay interested, I asked where she was going to ride this dream machine and who was she going share her journey with. ‘Ride with? I don’t cycle with anyone, I’m just trying to get to work faster’, she responded, in a way that made me wonder if I was still speaking English. Apart from her 20k daily commute she wasn’t quite so sure about where she was going to cycle, but knew that she wasn’t cycling anywhere less than 30k because, ‘it’s not worth getting your bike out for’. I began to wonder how far my 20 minute pootle was and wondered what it would be like if I didn’t bother.
It was then that I realised what had happened, so I asked her which of the Bicycle Ambassadors in the videos on the website she thought was most like her. ‘Videos? ’ she asked, as if trying desperately to recall some vague memory ,’Oh, no, I didn’t have time to watch those, but we have to do more to make people change their mode of transport, I really think there should be more cyclists and people should stop whinging and get out of their cars and cycle more. That’s why I applied to be an ambassador’. Oh dear, I wish I hadn’t asked. How was I going to leave her happy if all I could say was probably not an ambassador for the bicycle?
Recently a magistrate blurted out what we are told many people think but what some don’t want to say for fear of being rounded upon, as you can see from the comments. If we stop and think about it for just few minutes it is neither a secret nor news. Can you imagine an advert for a car that showed it stuck in traffic, with a flat on the hard shoulder, the rising price of petrol or at a road traffic incident site? What the BA scheme tries to do is thank, show and tell the stories of all the ordinary, almost invisible, people who have been riding their bicycles for their everyday local journeys for years, regardless of debates and campaigns and to welcome new riders who just want to get back to bike. As one of the commentators says, ‘People are cyclists and cyclists are people’, but a combination of factors, including the language used in these debates – a topic maybe for another blog – have combined to obscure this obvious fact.
What the Bicycle Ambassador movement is trying to do is learn some lessons from Portland and Seattle and engage with other people on their daily journeys. Bicycle Ambassadors don’t rush; they make time to talk quietly to anyone they meet along the way; young and old, women and men. They are not super fit and don’t wear special clothes, they simply ride their bicycles and want to help other people to do the same. Working with people where I live I have found that people who would like to return to two wheels are put off doing so as a consequence of the constant arguing, moaning and selective coverage that sells newsprint and its obviously not unique to my city, http://www.cycling-embassy.org.uk/wiki/barriers-cycling
Bicycle Ambassadors ‘work’ where they live and ride, to show the reality of riding a bicycle – it’s not always a joy ride but it’s not a death ride either. By using the Dutch word for everyday rider, fietser, we are pointing to a difference between cyclists and bicycle riders not making a judgement that one is better than the other but being honest about the impact of behaviour and appearance on other people. So, if you want to be a Bicycle Ambassador you might want to ask yourself some questions first; you may want to help people to see things from another perspective and to rediscover their bicycle but can you help make Britain’s road space a better place for everyone to enjoy the Bicycle Ambassador way. Good luck with your resolutions.