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Cycling should not be a sport

Cycling is often described as a great way to get fit – and it can be, if it doesn’t kill you, which too many tragic deaths in London recently have demonstrated.

Cycling is often described as a great way to get fit – and it can be, if it doesn’t kill you, which too many tragic deaths in London recently have demonstrated.

The world of architecture has become incensed about the topic recently, not only because so many architects cycle but because the profession lost one of its own recently in Francis Golding – a man in his 60s, so scarcely a speed-freak messenger type. 

This week Building Design reported that Jan Gehl, the godfather of civilised cities, said that he would be too scared to cycle in London. Gehl is the man who came up with the idea of shared space, put to work in London’s Exhibition Road as well as other places. Ironically, many argued that it would be too dangerous to work – Gehl believes shared spaces do work and he has been proved right.

But cyclists sharing space with lorries is another matter. In his own Copenhagen, where Gehl says he happily carries his grandchildren on his bike, there are physical barriers between cycle lanes and the road. And I bet there is a different attitude both too and from cyclists. it’s a long time since I have been to Copenhagen but when I was in Amsterdam in the summer, one thing that struck me was how sedate the cycling was.

Many had baskets on their bikes, and there was very little lycra. In contrast, I saw plenty of cyclists wearing long coats (yes, it was early summer, but this is Amsterdam we are talking about – like England without the good weather). If people want to get fit I expect they cycle off-road at the weekend or with clubs in the country. Treating the roads like an outdoor spinning club is good neither for the cyclists or for people’s attitudes to them.

This is not a way of blaming the cyclists caught in accidents for their own suffering. It is just to say that if cycling is to become near universal we need a change in attitudes not only from those who design our infrastructure but also about what cycling is for. Perhaps those expensively installed office showers should go, because nobody needs to get sweaty enough to use them? Bring back pootling along on a bike. 

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