Discussing the themes

Normalising Cycling workshop

On 19 January, I joined a number of people at the Normalising Cycling workshop at the always pleasant Popup Bikes. Seriously, if you’ve not already been to Popup Bikes, and you like cycling and coffee, you should definitely stop by for a visit.

The workshop was a collaboration between CycleHack Manchester and Dr. Paul Wilson (Salford University, School of Health Sciences) and organised by the Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign (GMCC).

Quoting the Facebook event details “The aim is to produce a collection of practical things to help campaigners and go on to create a ‘Normalising Cycling’ Infographic for display and press use.”

Dr. Paul Wilson presenting
Dr. Paul Wilson presenting

It started with an introduction from Dr. Paul Wilson, discussing whether we can make cycling a normal activity. Paul started by talking about the new cycle hub at MediaCityUK, which is pretty empty, while the Sheffield stands outside are quite busy. He went on to look what an outsider’s view of cycling is (Lycra, hi-vis etc.), against notions of normal cycling. At this point, I was surprised to see one of my own tweets on screen:

In response to the week, Paul asked me what I thought a normal bike was. Still being surprised at seeing my tweet, I gave slightly less than brilliant answer. Paul then tried to guess people’s ideal bike by asking three unrelated questions and went on to an entertaining game of match the person to the bike.

Following this, Paul presented some social psychology concepts such as in-groups and out-groups and social practice in relation to cycling. Looking at how people identify themselves and how that applies to cycling, particularly at how things associated with cycling, such as helmets, hi-vis and Lycra can put people off.

Next, the video Cyclists behaving badly – Understanding cyclist disobedience in Amsterdam was shown to the group. You can watch this video below, and I’d recommend doing so.

The video gives examples of non-conformist behaviour of cyclists in The Netherlands, such as riding after a few beers or without working lights, which on the whole ignored by the police. This actually helps to foster a healthy cycling culture, whereas places with stricter cycling laws, strictly enforced in the name of safety, have much less cycling.

After the video, the following questions were put to the group:

  1. One thing you think would influence a friend/family member/colleague to think differently about cycling?
  2. One thing you think would influence a friend/family member/colleague to try cycling for something other than a leisure pursuit?
  3. If we are going to make cycling normal, how do we make driving ‘not normal’?
Writing post-it notes
Writing post-it notes

Over drinks and snacks, we were invited to write answers to these questions on post-it notes. The organisers then took the post-it notes and grouped them into themes, such as convenience, change perception and small acts. We then formed into small round table groups, each taking one of the themes and developing.

Post-it notes grouped by themes
Post-it notes grouped by themes

I joined the small acts group, looking at small acts we could do to change the perception of cycling and encourage others. We discussed a number of ideas that mainly revolved around ideas of communities or groups, based around where you live, work or commute. From here, we discussed ideas around how as more experienced cyclists, we pass on some of that experience to new cyclists, such as knowledge about the best routes to ride.

After some time, each group presented a summary of ideas to everyone. With ideas ranging from ways of improving bike parking in apartment blocks, to ditching the Lycra, wearing your normal clothes and going a bit slower.

Presenting group ideas
Presenting group ideas

Overall, I’d say the workshop did provide some food for thought. When thinking about normalising cycling, it’s easy to focus on the obvious and more costly solutions, such as better cycle infrastructure and parking. But actually, there’s many things we could all do to make cycling a more normal activity and encourage more to take it up.

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