It's often noted that in the UK, a hugely disproportionate number of people cycling are white, male, and in the 20-to-40 age group, whereas in the Netherlands a group of cyclists is effectively a cross-section of society. But recently I've noticed that this stereotypical image of a British cyclist really doesn't hold up to the town where I live.
We do have a lot of MAMIL sports cyclists; sitting on the High Street and waiting a while will prove that. But there are also a number of groups who, though existent in other towns, seem to have an especially big presence here:
- People cycling for short shopping trips, typically on cheap bikes with bags over the handlebars, ages ranging from about twenty to fifty.
- Children cycling, recreationally or as a way of getting to school/around town, often on BMX-style bikes and normally of around secondary school age.
- Elderly cyclists, normally on Dutch-style city bikes (the type rather appropriately called 'granny-bikes').
And it's very noticeable that the majority of people are cycling in normal clothes. The lycra wearers are a minority in Shoreham.
Also interesting is how they cycle:
- Shopper-cyclists tend to cycle solo, at quite a brisk pace, typically on the roads and/or cyclepaths but occasionally on pavements (especially at major junctions). Helmets are present but not universal, and seem to be more popular on people cycling to and from the hypermarket on the edge of town - likely because they have to navigate the Holmbush Roundabout, which I've mentioned previously. For them cycling is a method of transportation.
- Children cycling are, unfortunately, normally wearing helmets and almost always on the pavements, perhaps because it feels safer or perhaps because that's where they learnt cyclists were meant to be. But they cycle at a pleasant speed and often in groups of up to five. It's clear that they enjoy cycling and the freedom it gives them.
- Elderly cyclists cycle especially slowly, but I have never seen one wearing a helmet or on anywhere other than a bog-standard road - I suspect many of them grew up when cycling had a much larger modal share than it does now. For them, cycling is both a mode of transport and something they enjoy.
But why here, in Shoreham, of all places? There is a NCN cycle route through the town, but it is typically poor-quality, only being especially notable near the town centre (a pedestrianised street and a cycle-pedestrian bridge - one of the few things Sustrans has done well). Many people drive short journeys and there are a lot of main roads with heavy traffic. Here are some things I consider possible factors:
- Shoreham's flat and has pretty good weather for the UK, and the cycle route may be poor quality but it does eventually lead to a segregated seafront cycle-path towards Lancing. Not a factor in utility cycling, but definitely a reason for recreational cycling.
- Shoreham is predominantly residential, with the main roads circumnavigating the town, meaning that a large part of the town actually has quite low traffic. There is also a lot of traffic calming along the through roads in the residential districts.
- Shoreham Academy, the local school, draws its pupils primarily from the surrounding area. A large number of students live literally down the road and walking is a viable method of getting to school, so cycling is perhaps a lot more feasible than other schools. There is also a large provision of cycle parking (I'd estimate upwards of 300 spaces, which isn't enough for a school with more than 2000 pupils but is a lot more than other schools of a similar size. Cheeringly the cycle shed is often overflowing on weekdays) and transport by car is strictly controlled, with a small car park and little pick-up/set-down space.
- I'm not sure. Maybe you can figure something out.
Shoreham isn't a shining pinnacle of cycle-friendly town planning, but it is a place where a higher-than-average number of people who don't usually cycle do, and I for one think that's rather nice.