Britain Bike

This is an idea which has been forming for a while, hopefully by putting it on here it might find its way to someone with the power and resources to implement it (in one form or another).

In Britain most people never cycle, cycling isn’t treated as a viable means of transport, the law doesn’t take the maiming and killing of cyclists by motorists seriously, cycling infrastructure is either absent or dangerously badly designed and the car is king. Naturally this situation needs to change and there are countless other articles describing how mass cycling could be achieved in the UK (the answer is Dutch-style segregated infrastructure), this is an idea for a scheme which could form part of a wider cultural shift away from the car.

The Scheme:

Standardise the bicycle. Personally I like tinkering with my bikes, buying specific parts and installing them myself. Some people even feel the same way about their cars. The overwhelming majority couldn’t care less about this kind of thing. They just want something which works, when it doesn’t work they want to be able to take it somewhere nearby to be fixed and they want a replacement one to use whilst it is being repaired. This is the experience a car provides its user in the UK. You don’t get that experience with a bike in this country, most people who own bikes know how to do a reasonable amount of the mechanical work themselves (or have a close friend/partner to do it for them).

The government should subsidise the cost of the bicycles, the money they spend will be returned many times over by the reduced cost of healthcare, congestion and air quality fines from the EU. To make this easier politically, these bicycles should be made by a British company, for example Pashley. Having a British manufacturer would increase public support, seeing as it is supporting British manufacturing (not to mention the good quality). The bike could be sold by any number of retailers, but at least one would need to be a major national chain, such as Tesco.

The bike could be purchased at Tesco (or another similarly prolific national chain) and any other suppliers who signed up. Because the bike would be standardised, any problems with flat tyres, brakes, wheel bearings or gearing could be solved with a simple wheel-swap. This could be done in-store by someone with minimal training. The defective wheel could be sent to a central repair facility using the supplier’s distribution network, refurbished and sent to where it is needed next. This would cover the majority of common mechanical issues on bikes, anything else could be covered by replacing the whole bike and sending the defective unit back to the repair centre for refurbishment. A courtesy bike would be provided whilst the repairs were being conducted. The cost of these repairs could be covered by a simple monthly subscription (tack on third party insurance too). This would mean that for a small monthly fee you would always have a bike ready to use. A higher rate tariff could be included to cover theft too.

The Bike:

The bike itself would be a practical utilitarian machine, suitable for men and women and available in a few frame sizes. Thing along the lines of the Pashley Princess Sovereign and make it red (like other British icons such as the old phone boxes, London buses and post boxes). This would help give it a chance to become a British style icon, helping the popularity of the scheme. In terms of specification the bike would have standard utilitarian components; drum brakes, dynamo hub powered lights, 5 or 8 speed internal hub gearing, full mudguards, full chaincase, puncture-resistant tyres, a rear rack with a briefcase clip, an adjustable bottle holder, a frame lock, a quality U-lock and a kickstand. As much as I love my Brooks saddle, they do require some looking after which would make them unsuitable for this kind of machine. Ideally when purchasing the bike, it would be possible to select a saddle from a standard range of widths and padding.

All this would require the bike to be kept roughly in its stock configuration. This doesn’t mean the more adventurous couldn’t do their own maintenance and modifications, just that they would not be able to use the maintenance subscription. The subsidy would make these bikes attractively cheap, the standardisation and subscription model would remove any concerns about theft, maintenance and the offer of a courtesy bike would alleviate any concerns about being able to depend on a bike as a serious means of transport.

Opening cycling up to more people this way would make it politically easier to get all the other stuff we current cyclists want to see, such as infrastructure which doesn’t suck, better enforcement of laws protecting cyclists and acceptance of the EU fifth motoring directive.

What do you think? If you have any suggestions for refinement, different component choices or pitfalls, please leave a comment below.

This is actually the ladies’ version of the Raleigh Tourist De Luxe, but is a good starting point.


10 thoughts on “Britain Bike

  1. Sounds fine in principle but I doubt the Great British Public would go for it while fuel costs are still at current prices and the infrastructure is just not there. It would need some investment and then a stick (increased cost to use car) as well as carrot (bike scheme). Can't see a politician of any electable hue going for it i'm afraid!

  2. I neglected to mention that something like the Immobitag could be used to track stolen bikes (both recovered by Police and those sold on and then brought into a shop for a repair) as well as call up a history of the maintenence/repairs conducted on that bike so far. It wouldn't be particularly difficult to tie this into some odometer data so that preventative maintenance can be performed after appropriate amounts of usage.@darrellThe stick will be forthcoming without any government intervention needed, with the price of oil set to increase as supplies dwindle. Whilst the idea may seem far fetched, in principle it has a lot in common with the London bike hire, just on a larger scale. The cycle hire doesn't give a sense of ownership though, whereas something like this would.Something like this could happen without government intervention if the conditions were right, either through a commercial enterprise setting up a similar scheme or by a single bike model becoming popular enough to become the de facto standardised bike standardised bike (less likely in a culture where cycling has stronger associations with sport than transport).

  3. I agree as oil prices rise we will see a commensurate increase in bicycle use, however I am sure a large number of people will never cycle (as a means of transport at least) while the perception of risk on the road is so great. The UK infrastructure just doesn't encourage nervous cyclists and I feel there would need to be a sea change in government thinking and a large investment in truly segregated cycling facilities, as per the Dutch model, to really see cycling become more widely accepted as a realistic transport option. The bike scheme you suggest is a great idea though and may well be part of a solution.

  4. @DarrelI agree that Dutch-style segregated infrastructure is the way to go to get ordinary people to use bicycles as transport. As has been said before there is no "political will" to do this in the UK (at least at the moment) because of a number of factors. The way to get to the stage where we can have the safe, sane, convenient and well maintained infrastructure we want would seem to be through tackling those factors. If a scheme like this could put a dent in the "cycling is sport," perception of the British public it could help to bring about the change we all need. Things like the London cycle hire and the Cycle Chic movement are currently helping to promote cycling as transport. The cycle hire is nicely localised, so as the scheme grows I expect more people will vote in favour of things like segregated infrastructure in those areas, it will be interesting to see how the next few years pan out in central London. Anything which raises the numbers of transport cyclists should raise the amount of political support for things like proper infrastructure. This could come through a scheme like the one suggested above, increasing the cost of motoring (either internally through tax or externally through oil prices) or congestion further reducing the feasibility of car travel in built up areas, or more likely a combination of all of the above and more.I think we are both seeing the same problem; cycling needs to become a more mainstream mode of transport. Building Dutch style infrastructure would certainly unleash a latent desire for cycling as transport, but politically it is difficult to build something for a group of people who effectively don't exist yet (even though the reason they don't exist is because of the lack of infrastructure). We might know it makes sense to build it now, but in the mean time the government would be afraid of losing the votes of Sun and Daily Mail readers when the inevitable "Waste of tax payers' money" articles come out. Especially if they see it as space taken away from "their" (the motorists') part of the road.It seems we need a benevolent cycling dictator to get this done.

  5. From visiting and cycling in places like Copenhagen, Amsterdam, but also Berlin, Hamburg and some Italian cities (as of recent trip), my experience is that the two major issues are cycling infrastructure and general attitude.When I speak to friends and people here in Britain about cycling as a form of transport I don't find that they tell me the bikes are a problem, or needing to look after them etc, it's always, always 'it's not safe' 'the cars would run you over' etc. When I have taken non-cycling friends on the Fallowfield Loop and lent them our bikes they all said to me 'if you could feel like this on the roads, I'd leave my car at home and cycle'.Many, many people here don't cycle at all, they just drive (or perhaps walk or use public transport). There is no understanding of safety feeling from a bike point of view compared from a car point of view, therefore what we (cyclist) perceive as aggressive behaviour is very very often complete ignorance (in this case meaning lack of knowledge) that what feels safe to a car (i.e. overtaking distance) may feel very dangerous to a bike. To me this is attitude, due from lack of cycling in general.In the aforementioned cities even those who drive, do cycle too (perhaps only at week ends, perhaps once a week too, but still, they cycle) so when they drive they have a much more thoughtful understanding of what feels safe/dangerous to a cyclist.But it's a catch 22! If the cycling infrastructure isn't improved we will not see the great number, needed, of people taking their bikes over their cars. And if a greater number of people won't take their bikes to the road, then the car-centric attitude won't change either.If someone would take up your idea, then it would be fantastic. But I would be very happy and hopeful for a better future if politicians, local authorities would put real efforts in our cycling infrastructure. I think it would a great catalyst for a shift in people's perception of cycling.Have you heard of Pioneers, Prospectors and Settlers? Used in communicating environmental/climate change it can also apply to many other aspects of society. This is one of it =) Interesting read – An other aspect that always leaves me baffled and that I only experience here is lack of support amongst cyclist themselves. As much as I have near-misses with cars, I probably have more by other cyclists, who think are faster than me, or want to be, or that smirk at me for wearing normal clothes rather than lycra, or for being slower and less 'cool' than the fixie crowd… we are already so few that choose the bike over the car, so why fight amongst us??? It's really disheartening… more than being bullied by a car.

  6. What an interesting idea.From a financial point of view, maybe a form of leasing the bicycle might work best as a way of making it more affordable with maintenance & insurance included. And anywhere but Asda or Tesco! Somewhere British owned maybe – if such an institution still exists ;>DAs for the bike – I'm not keen on the colour but am sold on the lack of a crossbar lol. Maybe a bottle dynamo might make repairs easier & cheaper in the long run, and a small basket on the front useful too.And infrastructure…or lack of. That would certainly come in handy. My better half just won't get on her bike & ride anywhere along the roads on her own. It's all because of confidence, or more specifically "everybody else on the roads"…and she does have a point – how much nicer would it be to not have to stress about some idiot passing too close & mowing you down?LC's 'PS' is very true also, although I don't think about it much – having recently junked the lycra & road-bike I have noticed less hellos from the sporting fraternity. One abiding memory of riding my Cannondale home from work one evening during the summer, was having another lycra clad warrior pedaling away in the background until finally passing as I turned off the main road, and him grunting something about 'bike-envy', whatever that is (the knobhead!). Another last winter was pulling out of my road to go shopping on ol'mtb in ordinary clothes, to be greeted by two couples on hybrids pedaling the other way clad in various items of bike-shop-chic & helmets – and all looking smugly in my direction…I couldn't help laughing tbh.There's room out there for all manner of bicycles & attire, but normalising it will go a long way to making it mainstream. And what's not to like?

  7. @LC and IanWith respect to the balkanisation of cycling, it is a problem here and in most other countries where cycling is a niche pursuit. Different types of cyclists have different views about what is important for cycling. Roadies want to make sure their right to ride on the road is not lost, whilst I doubt many of them are happy with current conditions they fear being forced to use the current crappy infrastructure. Their views are generally supported by the CTC and they focus more on vehicular cycling and driver education because of the perception that segregation will mean an end to going fast. Other sport cyclists tend to want their own infrastructure but in the form of off-road trails for mountain bikers, BMX-specific facilities for BMXers and cyclocross facilities for cyclocrossers. None of these groups are necessarily interested in cycling for transport, although roadies may commute to squeeze in some more training. Those who do cycle for transport are generally split into people like us and people who have similar views to the roadies. The difference is that we all currently cycle and although conditions on the roads aren't good, we get by. Our main concern is not necessarily just for ourselves but for people who do not yet cycle. We want cycling to grow and we know that the Dutch model is the way to go. Personally I could live without any cycling infrastructure as long as other road users were able to share the road, but I know that even if there were fewer motorised vehicles on the road, and even fewer motorists who were also idiots, that would still not be sufficient to get the majority of people to cycle for transportation. I don't just want the Dutch infrastructure for me, I want it for all the people who currently drive or get the bus, who would cycle if they felt safe and if the infrastructure was direct and convenient.When I am out on the bike nowadays, I usually give the nod to cyclists, regardless of the subculture they belong to. Quite often I get it back too. At least it's a start.@LCI have heard of a similar set of terminology to the Pioneers, Prospectors and Settlers applied to adoption of new technologies, it would seem to apply to a lot of things. Maybe cycling can get back to the settlers stage eventually.@IanThe scheme would essentially be a leasing scheme, although it could have a few tiers; pay a slightly higher monthly rate to have the bike, insurance and maintenance with no up-front fee, or pay a lower rate with an up-front charge but if you stop paying you keep the bike and lose the insurance and maintenance. I think it is good to give people a sense of ownership, like with cars. Most people who buy a car expect to sell it one day and treat it as such. It is effectively a form of leasing, but I think people enjoy feeling like they own the car rather than rent it. As for the component choices, I agree that a basket would be a great idea, maybe a wire one for durability (like the Velib in Paris). I think the red on the Tourist above is a bit severe, something a bit more subdued like a post box would probably feel more "British." The choice of a hub dynamo over a bottle was intentional, if the front wheel is punctured, the brake is damaged or the dynamo breaks, all of those problems can be solved with a front wheel swap. This would mean less training required for the employee at whatever national chain was operating the scheme, basically making the bike and hence the repairs more modular.As for Tesco, at present I believe it is still a British company (at least as much as any company so huge can be).

  8. That was my point, that cycling infrastructure is needed for the 'many' not the 'few' (aka us)… people like us who make do with the poor infrastructure can probably just continue to cycle regardless of the infrastructure being improved. But if we want lots of people to choose to cycle rather than drive or take the bus, then safe and segregated cycling infrastr is paramount. The reason for this is because this is quicker to achieve (LA investing funds permitting) than expecting to change the majority of drivers' attitude. I would LOVE to share the roads, without markings, signage etc but this takes time and a lot of money in educating people to see and use the road differently. I am reading a very interesting book "Life between buildings" by Jan Gehl, a Danish architect/urbanist. He was one of those few, who back in the 70s, lobbied and worked for better city planning, of Copenhagen, to create public spaces enjoyable at human-scale. Copenhagen back then was car-centric as much as, say, Manchester… although the book does not directly discuss cycling infrastructure and it can be a bit too technical at times, it's still an interesting read (a perfect library book lol!) as it does discuss the need/reasons/aspirations to move from a city viewed and designed at car-scale to people-scale =)Anyhow, I am splitting hair here, we are all in agreement really 🙂 it's just nice to exchange views and ideas, so thanks for this post! PS – it may change very little, but I am planning to go to the Manchester Cycle Forum on the 14th… even just to be counted as an extra 'head' 😉

  9. @LC I could probably make it to the forum too, again just to be counted. Who knows, I might feel compelled to chip in too.As for the comparison to Copenhagen in the 70s, I agree. Manchester could become a lot more liveable if it were Copenhagenised, we just need to get to the point where Copenhagenisation becomes politically feasible. How we get there is another question.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s