We received a lovely note in support from Lesley Riddoch, broadcaster, commentator, columnist, and (to us cyclists) author of Riddoch on the Outer Hebrides – an account of her cycle journey up the Outer Hebrides.
I hear the Deputy First Minister’s favourite TV show is Denmark’s Borgen — with its cycling, female Prime Minister. The fact that’s inconceivable in Scotland speaks volumes about our world. Politicians of all parties talk a good game about the benefits of cycling for exercise, speed, fitness, saving the planet and saving money – and then get in their cars. Pedal on parliament is a great way to demonstrate that cycling isn’t just for Tour de France strip-wearing, hyper-fit guys — a cross section of society cycles. It’s time MSPs organised their lives to get on two wheels as well! Ill be waving on the bike from Colonsay!
She’s right. Even when we’re involved so closely with cycling activism, it can seem sometimes like we’re banging our heads against a brick wall, and that countries like Denmark and the Netherlands, with their cycle friendliness and joined-up infrastructure, are not only separated by the North Sea, but seem separated from Scotland by decades, eons. Maybe the average Scot will never be the “Tour de France strip-wearing, hyper fit guys” (or girls, given the succeses in the Velodrome of Victoria Pendleton et al) but more of us are like that than you’d think. The average Scot doesn’t have to be the overweight guy wobbling out of his car in the supermarket car-park in the weekend.
This reminds me of an event I participated in recently – the Ride of the Faling Rain bike ride in Islay. The Ride is a 100 mile bike ride, done as slow or as fast as you want. You can do 100 miles, or you can do less. You see the people out there, all shapes (but tending towards svelte) and all classes. The defining feature would be a gleam in their eyes and in the course of the race, even through the effort, big grins and at the end, a blissful look of tiredness warmed by a beer or two. Not everyone did 100 miles, but a lot did – more than you’d think.
It looked like Scotland in an alternative, happier universe. Some kind of super athletes? Or just people who got out of their cars, and took to their bikes?
So maybe we can never quite get quite there… But there’s more of us than you think who don’t want to collude in Scotland being the “Sick man of Europe”. There’s a popular history we need to reclaim, all these popular (working class!) cycling clubs in the 30s and 40s and 50s. All the people who were on their bikes years before cars were popular, all these people riding off and exploring this amazing country…
…Which brings us back to Pedal on Parliament. This ride is all about changing things, but the end point is a country where it’s easier to get around by bike. And that, at the end of the day, means a country that’s fitter, healthier, but most important: a country that’s more…fun.