Cycle chic is wheel thing


Bike campaigner stages fashion show to highlight the benefits of using two wheels to get around the city

WE WOULD all just hop on our bikes to go to the local shop, cinema, library or post office if Mikael Colville-Andersen, Danish urban mobility expert and owner of the Copenhagen Cycle Chic and blogs, had his way.

Colville-Andersen was in Dublin last week to launch Dublin Cycle Chic, the city’s first cycle fashion show organised by Dublin City Council and the Danish Embassy as part of National Bike Week.

There were so many glamourous young men and women on brightly coloured bikes cycling down the catwalk that you’d think Dublin was already the cycling fashion capital of the world. Women in short dresses or skirts, straw hats and sandals and men wearing shorts or knee-length trousers and suit jackets beamed at a receptive audience of about 200 people.

“I’ve seen ladies in dresses and men in suits on bicycles today, so you must be doing something right even if you’ve got very poor infrastructure. Regular people in regular clothes are reclaiming the streets with the bike,” according to Colville-Andersen, who spent the day photographing cyclists in Dublin for his blog before the Dublin Cycle Chic event in City Hall.

“Cycling is safe. It’s just that there is a perception that it’s not. There is a higher risk of head injuries in a car than on a bike,” he says. And as you may have guessed, he’s not an advocate for helmets.

“I’ve spent the past two years researching helmets and most European countries and the European Cycling Federation don’t promote helmets. Even the EU Council of Transport Ministers doesn’t promote helmets because they make cycling look more dangerous than it is,” he says.

Ciaran Fallon, Dublin City Council’s cycling officer, says: “Helmets are designed to protect people from falls from their bikes and they are useful for that, but they are not designed to resist the forces that would occur if a cyclist collides with a HGV and three-quarters of all fatalities in the city have been due to collisions with HGVs.

“Helmets won’t do any harm, but people may overestimate the protection they can give. Thankfully, cycling numbers are going up and the accident rates are going down in the city.”

Colville-Andersen argues that it is the culture of fear that feeds into the push for helmet use for everyday cycling. “We’ve never been safer yet all of a sudden we need something to fear. The health benefits of cycling are 20 times greater than the risks. People who cycle regularly live longer, they call in sick to work less and because they cycle, there is less pollution in cities.”

A Danish study found that for every kilometre cycled in Copenhagen, the city earned 5.5 kroner (75 cent) because cycling citizens lived seven years longer, they experienced less illness and they spent less on healthcare.

However, Colville-Andersen argues that creating an urban cycling culture is not about promoting the health benefits because everyone knows them already, but about creating a better community to live in.

“Dublin used to be one of the cycling capitals of Europe – alongside Amsterdam and Copenhagen – and now it’s time to make it a cycling capital again. You’re going some way to doing this already by having a city cycling officer,” he says.

“There has been so much focus on commuting, with research showing that people will generally only consider cycling if they live eight kilometres or less from their workplace. But, really, it’s about people living in the city and using their bikes to go to the cinema, the shops and the cafe.

“The difficulty is that cycling has been branded as a sport for the past 30 years and that’s fine, but most people have a sneaky suspicion that you don’t have to be a fit man in tight colourful clothing with shaved legs to cycle.”

Colville-Andersen’s message is already reaching thousands of people. His Cycle Chic website gets about 5,000 page impressions a day, while Copenhagenize gets about 2,000.

Denmark is also cashing in on its cycling culture. It set up the world’s first cycling embassy last year to assist traffic planners, bicycle tourism operators and anyone else who wants to develop attractive cycling cultures.

In terms of infrastructure, cycling lanes separated from cars with a kerb have been found to be much safer and user-friendly than those which run along the road at the same level.

The Danish Cycling Embassy points out that in Odense, there are stations where cyclists can inflate their tyres and use water dispensers specifically designed for them, and more than 80 per cent of 10-16 year olds cycle to school. In Copenhagen, 37 per cent of commuters go to work or school on their bikes. There is also a so-called Green Wave system which allows commuting cyclists travelling at 20km per hour to use the main traffic arteries without having to stop at red lights along the way.

Colville-Andersen, who is back in Copenhagen this week to speak at the Velo-city Global conference, calls it Bicycle Culture 2.0.

“The bike is hot, all over the world – more than 20 cities in France now have bike-share programmes and Barcelona has become a mini-Copenhagen in just four years. This is re-democratising the bicycle and mainstreaming it as urban transport,” he says.

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