Saddling up for the big show
Cycle 2008 came to London to showcase everything the cycling market has to offer. The Leisure Review sent its travel correspondent to Earls Court to see what he could find.
Courting attention for cycling
Testing the tyres, pondering the pedals
A measure of the success of the Cycle Show is that it graces Earls Court, one of the capital’s larger exhibition venues, and a measure of the success of the market it serves is the amount of cycle traffic on London’s roads. It is unlikely that there is no link between the two.
Fifteen years ago a cyclist on London’s streets was something of a rarity. The bicycle was the preserve of a few hardened thrill-seekers who thrived on the battle with the incessant tide of motor vehicles. They were joined by a few eccentrics who had not really noticed that the roads were quite busy. Those campaigning for cycling to be recognised as a viable mode of transport in one of the world’s most crowded cities were patronised and ridiculed in equal measure.
However, that was then. A walk through Hyde Park at 8am now serves to illustrate how much has changed. A steady stream of cycle commuters stream towards the centre of town and blocks of riders form their own version of a jam at the cycle-specific lights around Hyde Park Corner. Where only a summer or so earlier the Tour professionals sped through the Wellington Arch in pursuit of yellow, a stretched peloton now moves towards work in the West End. At the start of the 1990s only the campaigning groups would have thought this possible. There is still a long way to go until London achieves the bicycling ubiquity of Amsterdam but attitudes have clearly changed and a mark of this evolution is the number of those pedalling a functional ‘bike with a basket’ dressed in their work clothes rather than riding a Boardman clad in Lycra.
At Cycle 2008 the whole gamut of the cycle experience was on display. The brightest lights and the brightest colours belonged to the racing machines but away from the carbon fibre and Campagnolo there was plenty to suggest that the bicycle as transport is returning to fashion. The Cyclists’ Touring Club, now a venerable organisation some 70,000 strong, was present to continue its work on behalf of its members. The London Cycling Campaign was on hand in pursuit of its goal of making London a world-class cycling city. Active since 1978, the LCC campaigns on behalf of cyclists using the capital’s roads but also works in partnership with other organisations to produce resources and practical projects that reinforce its message. The British Human Power Club was demonstrating just what was possible by marrying the simple mechanical principles of the bicycle to some engineering expertise. Those on the stand were adamant that each machine was built to contain a rider but the sleek fairings looked too small to fit someone with what we at The Leisure Review refer to as ‘a sprinter’s physique’. We were equally sure that every BHPC member has a shed that hums with the genius of amateur industry and smells of that elixir of invention, WD40.
Transport for London and the Tour of Britain could probably be seen as situated at either end of the ‘transport-sport’ spectrum but their presence at Cycle 2008 served to illustrate both the breadth of interest in cycling and the close relationship between sporting success and the popularity of everyday cycling. With the help of some of the great and the good of British cycling (but no microphone) the Tour of Britain unveiled the City Centre Series, a new brand of cycle racing that will be coming to a number of UK cities next summer. The organisers promised “exciting and gladiatorial” racing around compact street circuits designed to meet the needs of television coverage. Ten teams of five riders will compete in the weekly series, building on the huge interest in competitive cycling following British success in recent years on the road and on the track. Meanwhile, Transport for London were explaining how they go quietly about their business of creating the infrastructure that will make London a pleasant and efficient place to ride a bike. Working under the auspices of the mayor, they do their stuff in association with a growing number of partners to overcome the obstacles, both on and off the bike, that currently persuade people that cycling is not an option for them.
Over on the Pashley stand, managing director Adrian Williams explained that his company’s traditional approach to making bikes had been paying dividends. Although the Stratford-upon-Avon-based company had reduced the number of models produced in its factory in recent years, it still offers over 150 variants and many of them were proving very popular. Having Agyness Deyn, that other sort of model, photographed riding a Pashley Princess while going about her day-to-day business seems to have helped but new bikes based on a distinctly old-school approach have also caught the imagination of the cycling public. On display was the recently launched Guv’nor, a model with a heritage design that immediately makes one think of Edwardian dramas and plus-fours. Beautifully made with a now uncommon attention to detail, the Guv’nor is not cheap but has sold well, particularly in the US. Quality, practicality and good design, Mr Williams suggested, never go out of fashion.
There is still a huge amount of traffic on the streets of London but a growing percentage of it is pedalling rather than driving. The relatively flat landscape helps, as does the financial incentives of the London congestion charge, but cycling as a practical transport choice has clearly taken hold. The market is taking note and a growing range of products, from low-resistance chain guards to keep you clean to waterproof legging that cover only the front of your trousers to keep you dry, is serving the needs of the everyday cycle user. Amsterdam here we come.
Jonathan Ives is the editor of The Leisure Review. He is the owner of five bicycles but still wants a tandem.
The Leisure Review, November 2008
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British cycling legend Malcolm Elliott (left)
Pashley's Guv'nor limited edition: you want one