In 2006, I moved from The Netherlands , aka cycling paradise, to cycling laggard Great Britain. Moving to Bristol, where I spent a few months as a student the year before, I never even thought about taking a bike. I know now that Bristol is relatively good for cycling but coming from The Netherlands it didn’t feel that way. “To cycle in the UK,” I remember telling my mum, “you have to be a bit of a fanatic”, and so I walked everywhere.
When I finally graduated, my parents bought me a beautiful Batavus. It took a few months to get it over to the UK where it didn’t get a lot of use for a while. I used it a few times when I lived in a midlands mining town, but with a great big hill between our flat and the train station, and no apparent safe place to park it at the station, I walked half an hour each way, every day. Cue a move to big (ish) city Wolverhampton. For over a year, I’d only use my bike to pop into town occasionally, fretting all the while about it getting stolen. Then one day I had a reason to have my bike at work, so I cycled 7 miles to the office. I took the shortest route which was rather hairy. The next day, I did it again, but chose a canal tow path – adding about 3 miles and a LOT of bridges, mud and uneven surfaces. And I did that for the rest of the week. My knees were not having it but boy did it feel right.
From then on, I cycled to town, to the station, to the retail park. Short distances that I ride mostly because it’s quicker and less effort than walking and I am too lazy to walk. I only do this because I grew up cycling.
Most lazy Brits will drive that 1 mile. And this is something I want to change. Because cycling should be the lazy, easy option – not an expedition. To make it so, we need to make it easier. We need to change how different road users interact. We need to make the bike the obvious choice for a kid who wants to be independent.
Recently there was a discussion about girls giving up cycling when they reach high school age, because it’s not cool. Where I grew up, this wasn’t an issue. The whole village cycled to the nearest town, and this daily journey of teenage cyclists was probably as good a place to interact with friends and boys as school itself – if not better! Cycling in The Netherlands, for my generation at least, is a fact of life. It is How Transport Is Done. (Oh and don’t start about needing lockers and showers. Lockers are for books that are too heavy to carry home all the time (panniers WERE uncool). Showers are what you were supposed to use after PE.)
18 months ago, I joined Sustrans – the organisation that brings you the National Cycle Network. 14,000 miles of cycle routes, and more are added every day. It’s not always easy to get funding to build more routes, but what’s even harder is to find funding to maintain and repair them. And this is why I am fundraising for Sustrans.
In exactly 2 weeks (well, it was 2 weeks this morning) I will be setting off to cycle from where I live in Wolverhampton, to where I grew up in Warmenhuizen. Using the National Cycle Network to get to Hull, I will get a ferry to Rotterdam, and from there I’ll follow the North Sea Cycle Route to my parents’ house. It should be about 250 miles over 6 days. It sounds almost too much fun to be a challenge, but I’m sure I’ll be cursing myself and my backside before the first day is out.
I think, if you put a few pounds into my sponsorship page, that will spur me on.