Something is getting lost as amateur cycling embraces a macho culture of speed and Strava.
Why we can all enjoy pedalling around town a little more slowly.
Say hello to the….Slow Bicycle Movement.
I’m in Amsterdam now – one of my favourite cities. I love the art, the energy, the architecture, the sense of humour. Small wonder the Dutch capital has inspired legions of painters. Bathed in spring sunshine, the canals, flanked by rows of tall, narrow brick houses and willow trees swaying lazily in the breeze, are achingly beautiful. I always feel like I could happily live here.
Amsterdam could teach the rest of the world a thing or two about being a Slow city. It mixes the dynamism and swagger of a major metropolis with the approachability of a smaller town. Much of that comes from the way its citizens get around. Amsterdam is not in hock to the car. The streets are a buzzing ecosystem of trams, pedestrians and cyclists – and the car is kept firmly in its place.
It’s the cycling that really makes Amsterdam stand out. The city has dedicated paths and traffic lights for cyclists all over the place. The locals bike everywhere. You see businessmen in smart suits pedalling home from work. Or elegant women in high-heels cycling off to meet friends for lunch. Even bad weather doesn’t put them off.
If only the rest of the world would follow suit. Imagine if you could cycle round London or New York or Buenos Aires without fear of being squashed by a bus or an SUV.
No one in Amsterdam wears a cycling helmet, by the way. Apart from the tourists.
The tendency to over-protect children can backfire in lots of ways. Keeping kids cloistered indoors means they don’t learn how to navigate traffic, how to identify a well-meaning stranger or how to play with their peers without an adult taking control. The same may apply to learning to ride a bike. A landmark moment for any parent is buying that first bicycle and slapping on thestabilizers (training wheels)to support the child. But do children actually need that support? And do stabilizers really help them learn how to cycle? Maybe not. Recently, pre-school teachers in London noticed that even children under three were able to balance on two wheels if given half a chance and that they learned better as a result. They also developed more strength, stamina and balance. Said one teacher:”We might be wrong but at every stage we found that what holds them back was not them but us.”To prove the point, one London borough is now running an experiment where kids are given small wooden bikes with no pedals and their progress is monitored. We’ll have to wait for the results but I can already report that at least one two-year-old has almost mastered cycling without stabilizers. He’s the one that ran over my foot in the Battersea Park on the weekend.
We’ve just come back from the ultimate slow holiday – travelling round Holland by barge and bicycle. I can’t think of a better way to see a country. Pedalling through the countryside and villages, stopping to picnic or sightsee or join in a pick-up soccer game. Cycling offers the perfect speed, fast enough to cover lots of ground, slow enough to take in the details. In the evenings you can smell suppers cooking as you glide past the open kitchen windows. Our unorthodox tandem sparked more than one conversation with the locals. Holland is amazingly bike-friendly, with dedicated cycle paths all over the place, even in the cities. The Dutch cycle everywhere. In Amsterdam you see businessmen in smart suits pedalling home from work. Or elegant women in high-heels cycling off to meet friends for lunch. Even bad weather doesn’t put them off. If only the rest of the world would follow suit. Imagine if you could cycle round London without fear of being squashed by a bus or an SUV. No one in Holland wears a cycling helmet, by the way. Apart from the tourists.