My wife is starting to cycle - my enthusiasm has clearly had an effect...
It is amazing to go out with someone completely new to cycling on roads and understand what they think.
Firstly, my wife is currently petrified of interacting with cars on a bicycle. She prefers to wait behind parked cars rather than go around unless the coast is completely clear behind her. This can be somewhat time-consuming. It also renders my talk about secondary and primary and asserting oneself as being completely pointless. She doesn't want to assert herself in traffic, she wants to disassociate herself from it.
Secondly, it has highlighted to me how complicated we have made cycling. A phrase I heard from an online talk by Jim Davis (cycling embassy of Great Britain) kept recurring when I was trying to explain how to negotiate traffic - "in the UK we have bent over backwards to make the most difficult mode of transport easy and the easiest mode most difficult". I thought it wise that she attend a cycling "bikeability" course. She was irritated by my suggestion that she needed formal training to cycle. I suspect her reaction isn't unique, and may lead to many just giving up. I dared not introduce her to "Cyclecraft" and the talk about cadences for fear of the withering response.
Thirdly, it was marvelous to see her actually enjoying cycling. She doesn't drive. Therefore her transport is public or walk. Even in an area well connected by public transport she really liked the extra mobility a cycle can give. Despite her real and deep concerns about cycling on the roads, she has persisted.
Fourthly, she made me realise how different a "non-cyclist's" requirements are to a "cyclist". I hear the disparaging term "POB" (pedestrian on bike) used by "proper" cyclists (as if the cycling community can actually afford to be divisive!) My wife is a POB. Whilst we in the "cycling community" blog, poring over helmet statistics, use cameras, talk of primary and secondary, and debate fiercely over road design she just wants to pop to the shops, or see her friends or have a cycle down the canal path to the pub. She thought the underpass on the Chingford Road under the A406 was super and, if one ignores the broken glass, it actually is kind of neat. I also realised how disruptive car parking in the cycle lanes is - she doesn't travel quickly, and moving into the traffic path was simply something that really concerned her.
I hope she continues. Nearly all the cars that past us showed great consideration - some stopping to let her out, but there is a significant minority that, as we know, treat cyclists very poorly, and my concern is that she will give up if she happens upon one of these characters. She has said that there will be roads she will never use - Tottenham Hale gyratory was pretty high on her list. And this is a shame that the freedom her being able to cycle would give us is curtailed because some key roads have designs which are so hostile that they form barriers to cycling.
I leave you with a "traditional cyclist" (me) negotiating the Stratford one way system (again). And the inevitable ridiculous antics of some drivers who appear oblivious to the cyclist. Whilst roads such as these forms rings around shopping areas and town centres, I am not sure how we think that the "non-cyclist" will entertain the idea of using them. My wife has suggested shopping more in Walthamstow and Leyton town centres which haven't got racetracks built around them, and less in Stratford and Tottenham Hale which are being strangled by speeding traffic. I think it is a very sensible idea.