I picked this photo up of an old Raleigh bike advert at Portobello markets a weekend or so ago - it was just festering there, slowly creasing and falling to pieces, in a huge mound of old photographs and pictures. Something about it struck me, resonated with me, but I couldn't figure out exactly what it was. So I picked up the photo for 10p and brought it home...
It was only when I got home, and I had a chance to take the picture out of my jacket pocket, that I was able to think about it more clearly.
"How happy that sailor on the bike looks", I thought,
"How handsome, and smartly turned out, and fit - especially compared with his garish fat friend in the background. How comfortable, and confident he seems. I wish I looked like that when I ride my bike!"
Times have changed, it seems. If you go to the Raleigh website today and click on the 'Men's bikes' tab, this is the image we are greeted with:
Now I know some of you will be thinking "Well, Mark isn't really comparing like with like - the gentleman in the old photo is a commuting cyclist whereas the gentleman on the mountain is, well, a mountain biker" I know this of course, and it's not apples with apples, but still I think it is very telling that this is the lead image that a cycle manufacturer chooses to promote their range of products. I think it shows how far cycling and bikes have become somehow 'other' in our world, as oppose to everyday, and ordinary - something done by every day and ordinary people in their own clothes, and in comfort. Now obviously if you want to ride a bike up a mountain, you need the right gear. But surely this appeals to a limited market by comparison to everyday and ordinary people? (ie. everyone?) Shouldn't this market of 'everyone' be who Raleigh are aiming their bikes at, not just a small minority?
Transport for London employed M&C Saatchi to come up with their recent "Catch Up With The Bicycle" poster campaign, the aim of which was to encourage transport users to consider cycling. I think they got it just about right. Those who choose to wear cycle helmets do so, those who don't - don't. The people are fresh and happy looking, upright and confident. You can see their faces... This poster was shot in my neighbourhood in East London, on uber-cool Columbia Road (the shop with the red shutters is a fabulous sweet shop where I go should I feel the need to re-capture my childhood. And rot my teeth.)
In the 1950s, before your parents and grandparents brought their first cars (only one per family mind you!) Britain had cycling rates comparable with the rest of Europe. Cycle traffic on public roads fell dramatically from 23 billion passenger kilometres in 1952 to only around 4 billion kilometres in the early 1970s, or so the Office of National Statistics tells me. So long as cycling continues to be portrayed as something odd, alien, dangerous or 'weird' those figures aren't going to change any time soon. I think the point I am trying to make here is that we need to think about the way that - as cyclists - we are portrayed in the mainstream. Do your friends think of you as being a bit weird, in your funny clothes on your funny bike? Or to them are you just another cyclist? Which would you rather be?