Barriers to cycling – dismantling the ‘lycra brigade’

Barriers to cycling by University of Worcester student Joseph Foster (BA English Literature, Year 2)

Cycling is great for your health, and for getting around the city quickly.

I’ve written about how cycling is one of the most efficient and sustainable modes of transport before. You might have noticed that many more people still choose the fossil fuel-guzzling car over the humble bicycle. So, let’s talk about why that is, and the barriers that stop more people from cycling.

For some reason, ‘cyclists’ can be seen as an exclusive group in the UK. Despite being a carbon-neutral method of transport, cycling here just is not very popular. There are many reasons for this: a lack of cycle lanes, perception of safety issues, and the ease of car parking compared with cycle storage.

Perhaps the main reason is that people who cycle instead of driving are often grouped together as ‘cyclists’. The feud between ‘cyclists’ and ‘drivers’ is not unheard of, with these two seemingly incompatible vehicles sharing the same road space.

So, if cycling is so environmentally friendly, why the hate?

Labelling all the people who cycle as ‘cyclists’ results in them being othered. This means people who use a bike to travel to university, run errands around town or for a bike ride are not seen as individuals.

Instead, they are seen as one unit. If one of them run a red traffic light, all of them carry that negative connotation. You can see how the feud I mentioned earlier builds up.

It might also be considered that there is an aspect of envy. Drivers can get frustrated when they are stuck in a traffic jam, and smaller bicycles are able to ride straight past it on the left-side of the lane. (This is yet another example of where bikes are much more efficient than cars!)

The word ‘cyclists’ often conjures images of lycra-clad middle-aged white men.


This is a big issue with labelling all people who cycle as ‘cyclists’. Most people simply will not feel comfortable cycling if they do not see other people cycling who look like them.

The number of women compared with men who do not feel comfortable cycling makes for uncomfortable reading. Men do almost three times as much cycling as women. And when women do cycle, they cover an average of four times less distance.

These are the real-world impacts of the misconceptions about cycling. So, if you want to help cut our transport carbon emissions: think twice! Cyclists, or just people who are cycling?

Image credit: Pexels

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