Y'know there's the people that talk about stuff, and the people that talk about stuff AND do it? Jon's the latter: forever tinkering with a garage of two-wheeled wonders; always engaging in cycling conversation, always fielding my endless questions - this is a guy up before the sparrows, and one time had cycled to Shaftesbury, up Zig Zag hill, down again and was back home before I'd had a slurp of my late-morning coffee.
El: I see you as someone rejecting mainstream cycle culture - you are a cyclist, but enjoy building Frankenstein and klunker bikes, and just getting out there. What do you think?
J: Well yes and no. I’m not necessarily rejecting mainstream cycle culture, it’s more I’m rejecting societies perception of cycling as non mainstream and sports cyclists propensity for elitism and exclusivity. Those two together are essentially what’s keeping cycling from becoming mainstream. This could become a very big piece now if we went into every argument or reason that cycling should and could be a part of the majority of the U.K’s daily life, so we will save that for a bit later! But hey things are a changing!
Yes I love to make do and mend. Build a bike from bits, and ride it like I stole it! It’s a form of therapy (or maybe a coping mechanism!) or escape. I’m not one for succumbing to new tech for new techs sake, things really have to take a leap forward for me to jump onboard. Let’s face it bikes are simple pieces of kit and they haven’t really changed in the last 30 years, you still sit on them and pedal. Yes there’s been refinements but you can still mix and match bikes from 30 years ago with modern parts. It’s easy to build a great bike to jump on the latest cycling hype for little money. This is my favourite approach, building a retro steed into a big budget bike beater. Then showing they perform just as well as the top money bikes.
El: How do we make cycling more accessible?
J: This is a big question, that needs many approaches to solve. In the U.K. cycling is perceived as being a hobbyists venture or mode of transport of the poor (it does seem that being chronically backward in our thinking is a national pastime in the U.K.) and therefore any change towards it is met with fear and anger etc. but change is happening. We can see it around us with government investment in active travel and cycle infrastructure being built at a rate not seen before.
I will say that this is, in general, not being helped by the work of big cycle giants like specialized etc whose main interests lay in chasing the latest new model releases, profit margins, and keeping the technology confusing and inaccessible to people new to cycling. Seemingly chasing the top spot of the race podium to sell bikes over educating from school age up into the benefits of their products (and cycling) to the user and the world. In my opinion a change of tact, or addition, in the marketing and sales approach from big cycling corps would add cycling to the daily life of all and sell a hell of a lot more bikes. After all sales are all they are interested in, but it can be for good!
Making cycling accessible is possible, and I think we need to do it in the following ways:
Make it safer. Cycling infrastructure, segregated cycleways and preferential priorities for cycles over cars in existing and new developments. More low traffic neighbourhoods and reduced ability for car rat running. Lower speed limits where cars and cycles are together.
Educate. We have superb opportunities for education on cycling, every child goes to school and I propose making inclusive active travel a subject. We then have opportunity to educate every vehicle driver at time of test that active travel should be a preferred method of transport where possible.
Make it financially beneficial. There should be tax breaks for those who choose to cycle over driving and grants for those on low incomes to buy bikes. We need to make bikes available to all, money should not be blocker. Businesses should be encouraged and rewarded to change to cycle commutes where possible, and where delivery vehicles are used encouraged to change to cargo bikes.
Prescribe it! Yes, active travel should be available on the NHS. Whether it be subscriptions to bike rental schemes or in the form of bike vouchers.
Make it social. Make it easy for people to use a bike day to day. Rip out parking spaces for cars and put in secure covered cycle bays with pumps and tools. Town centres should have one every mile.
Support grass roots sporting activity. Cycle sport in the U.K. needs a big shake up. We need to improve cycle sports accessibility to all backgrounds no matter how diverse. It’s far too white male dominated.
Incentivise cycle brands. Give business benefits to cycle manufacturers for producing high quality affordable cycling product that enables people to switch from car to bike and actively work with people to do so.
There you go, my cycling manifesto! It’s not complete by any means but it’s a good start. The only other thing I would add that would make cycling more accessible would be attitude. You can give it a go, even if you have never done it before there are plenty of people out there that would help you. Often it’s our own minds that hold us back. Try cycling, you might just like it!
El: What has cycling enabled you in life?
J: This is difficult to put a finger on. I can’t pluck any definite moments and say that cycling has “enabled” for me. It’s always been with me, and for that I’m ultimately fortunate. I have a big thanks to give to my parents for that. They weren’t keen cyclists, just people who used bicycles as transport when sensible. My mum never learnt to drive so active travel was the norm and with three kids we walked and cycled a lot! My dad did drive but still always used a bike for short trips for financial benefits. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up but I never really wanted for anything and remember getting some of my first bikes as presents. They were big moments, and looking back now on how much it would have cost my family it makes the memories even more special.
This is where I say cycling enabled me to live my life as I wanted to. Through my childhood I had a great group of friends who I religiously met up with and cycled all over the place with. We rode all over hengistbury head and st. Katherine’s hill jumping off stuff and just getting about. If I didn’t have a bike I wouldn’t have grown those important friendships (some of which I still have to this day! And yes we still ride bikes together). I also would have been a lot more reliant on my parents when getting my first jobs. In fact a bike got me round my paper rounds, to my first convenience store job, and then to my self taught bike skills landed me a job in a large motor parts/bike retailer (no prizes for guessing where).
So in fact I probably have cycling to thank for a lot of my independence. Even now I don’t ever feel the reliance on a car, owning a bike and being able to cycle is emancipating. Yes I use the car for transporting all the kids and the shopping, or carrying loads, or travelling long distance. But for nipping to friends, going to the pub or restaurant, exercising with or without the kids, or running local errands (watch out school run when I get my cargo bike!) it’s the bike every time.
So it seems it’s a case of the Apple never falls far from the tree and I’m following in my father’s footsteps. Little did he know he was 40 years ahead of his time. That’s the inspiration I want to be for my kids and others. I want to make it look easy, accessible, and the norm. I want to take cycling with me for the rest of my life, and there’s no way I’m saying that about a car.
Thank you Jon - you're my number one inspiration for me getting out on two wheels!
I defy you not to be inspired to fish out that 90s MTB in your garage after following Jon here on Instagram: @bournemouth_cyclist
Jon's sorting me out with a vintage Raleigh e-bike conversion. He also loves the everyday and sees value in second hand and vintage. We're similar like that, why buy new when there are epic vintage pieces to enjoy.