Olympic countdown - Reasons for a London Cycle Map, #65: It would convince my mum to cycle.

#65: IT WOULD CONVINCE MY MUM TO CYCLE. My mum is terrified of cycling. She especially hates the idea of me cycling in London. And she's always found it unthinkable that she could ride a bike in the capital. Until this weekend.

While I was telling her about the London Cycle Map Campaign – “you could follow a trail of coloured dots on quieter, safer streets, and there’d be loads of other cyclists around, and hardly any cars” – I could see that she was actually thinking about the prospect of cycling. Then, something amazing happened. Her eyes lit up and she exclaimed, “yes, I would cycle on those routes”.

Two things are remarkable about this. First, the fact that anyone could be so terrified of cycling. My mum grew up in Australia where there are spiders as big as tennis balls. Faced with a redback she’s fearless. Faced with a bicycle she’s scared witless. And she’s not the only one. A remarkable number of Londoners - millions - are so scared of cycling they’d rather be rammed together into a Tube train like migrants in the back of a truck, or spend an hour driving a mile in a car.

Of course, there’s no point being churlish about people’s fears. Fear is irrational, and as Richard Dawkins knows by now, you can’t usually engage rationally with the irrational. What we need to do is find a way to take the anxiety out of cycling – to make it spontaneous, simple and fun. We should try to help worried non-cyclists, not harangue them.

This leads to the second thing that’s remarkable about my conversation with my mum. After fifty years of being afraid of cycling - since the last time she rode a bike as a fearless child - it took her about five seconds to decide that a London Cycle Map would change her habits. She’d be reassured by the safety in numbers, the sheer convenience, and the feeling that the transport authorities really cared about the needs of regular people like her.

If my mum can be convinced to cycle in London, then, believe me, anyone can.


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