Why my grandad doesn’t get cycling

Does your grandad cycle?

Mine doesn’t.

Here’s the image my grandad has of cyclists: A bunch of lycra wearers, who ride two abreast, that avoid paying road tax and go on cycling holidays in France.

Running London Cyclist, we’re bound to come to blows at times.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my grandad. He’s offered to help me out when I needed funding for an idea I had for London Cyclist, he’s always happy to chat and he’s always offering me a lift when I visit Birmingham. All in all – full points for a grandad!

However, things can get a little heated at the dining room table at Christmas.

I always find myself trying to hold back, so that it doesn’t turn in to an argument.

“Cyclists don’t pay road tax”

Road tax was abolished 76 years ago. Winston Churchill was the first to start the process of abolishing it. Car tax is based on CO2 emissions, so even if cyclists had to pay a fee it would be £0. Plus, the local councils pays for many of the roads, so in fact we are all paying for the roads.

“Cyclists ride two abreast”

I’m a driver as well as a cyclist and that can be annoying. Fortunately, most cyclists know when to switch to single file to allow cars to overtake.

“Cyclists are a bunch of Lycra wearers”

Most cyclists actually cycle in their everyday clothes. I don’t wear Lycra unless I’m heading off on a particularly long bike ride.

“They go on cycling holidays in France”

Lots of people go on holiday in France. They just happen to be on a bike!

I usually find more sympathy with my grandma. I’ll turn to her and bring back happy memories created by bicycles. I’ll ask: Didn’t you ride a bike?

Her eyes light up and she recalls the time when she was a dancer and would ride her bike everywhere.

I always hope this will be enough to win over my grandad.

In reality, I don’t mind in the slightest that my grandad holds these views. What worries me is that he represents a larger section of society that don’t “get” cycling.

It’s this big group of society that politicians resist upsetting. However, without stirring a few feathers, there can be no progress.

Yet, there’s no need to stir feathers, as long as you carefully select your message.

At the start, I’d talk to my grandad about how much I enjoy cycling, the environmental benefits and the need for more money to be spent on bike lanes for cyclists.

The mention of more money, road space being reallocated to cyclists and environmental benefits, was enough for him to huff, dismiss his grandson and get back to enjoying his roast dinner on a hot plate.

Instead, I should have focused my message on the benefits to people, not cyclists.

Indeed, this is the new tactic by London mayor Boris Johnson.

The message he’s now spreading is that more cyclists mean less cars in front of you in traffic. More cyclists mean less tax, thanks to the health improvements mixed with a reduction in pollution and therefore less of a burden on the NHS.

This is the language cycling bloggers have more widely adopted in the past two years.

The new message is that this isn’t about cyclists, it’s about everyone.

If I can convert my grandad, I can convert anyone!

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36 Responses to Why my grandad doesn’t get cycling

  1. E. Leon 23/03/2013 at 9:15 am #

    Beautiful piece Andrea!

    • Andreas 23/03/2013 at 5:30 pm #

      Thank you very much – was a pleasure to write 🙂

    • Jan 30/03/2013 at 6:11 am #

      Hi Andrea, Great article.

      I am a new member and a grandmother in my sixties. Having my first confidence- building lesson today !! First time on a cycle in 18 years.

      I’m really rather nervous but very excited. Interested to hear why your grandmother doesn’t ride. Perhaps your grandfather is nervous underneath too.

      • Andreas 01/04/2013 at 5:38 pm #

        I’m impressed to hear that Jan! Welcome back to cycling 🙂 I think they both have a “we’re old now” attitude which stops them cycling – even though I’m sure it would have been great if they kept it up! Perhaps it’s on me to get them back on a bike!

  2. cafewanda 23/03/2013 at 9:33 am #

    I’d like to hear more about your Grandmother’s cycling exploits!

    • Andreas 23/03/2013 at 5:30 pm #

      It makes me so happy when she talks about them 🙂

    • Mikey 24/03/2013 at 12:39 pm #

      +1 From Me!

  3. Philip S 23/03/2013 at 10:28 am #

    It’s also about creating pleasant urban spaces that everyone can enjoy. Motor vehicles are some of the prime culprits in how our towns and cities have become noisy, intimidating, polluted and just plain ugly places. Reducing their number and getting more people interacting on a human scale through encouraging cycling, walking and public transport use will benefit everyone.

    • Andreas 23/03/2013 at 5:31 pm #

      Exactly Philip – that’s the dream and I believe many more people can get behind that than would get behind “more bike lanes”

  4. Big Softy 23/03/2013 at 7:52 pm #

    Your grand-dad has a point:. Those bloody cyclists, wearing lycra and going to France. Disgraceful!

  5. sergio 23/03/2013 at 9:05 pm #

    The picture you draw is real.
    All people (including cyclists) tend to be egoistic and survive ignoring the others and the future. We do not care of the others and the future.
    An aged person may find difficult driving a car in today’s traffic and be worried of cyclist riding abrest. One of the problems is that an aged is obliged to drive a car: local shops disappear, no local sevices, no roads suitable for cycling. People tend to find a single scapegoat, in this case cyclists.
    My father was lucky and could enjoy riding his bicycle for daily shopping until 91, He was threaten by cars and I expected couls have an accident.
    Let’s hope the cycists will be less affected by the aggressive egoistic modern attitude.

  6. Adam J 23/03/2013 at 10:29 pm #

    My two cents…

    Cite to him the demographic studies that show young people are increasingly viewing car ownership as a financially unsound decision and would rather spend their money on things that increase their quality of life rather than make them fat and stressed.

    Start here and here.

    Cite to him the economic studies that show the most talented and educated young people are increasingly moving to walkable and less car-blighted neighbourhoods, with cities around the world clambering to raise their walkability (and bikeability) scores in order to attract said talent.

    Start here and here. Also these reports here and here.

    In other words, gently help him realise his views date from the 1950s and the world is moving on.

    Then get him on a proper, comfily spring-seated upright bike along a quiet route, actually going somewhere – the park, the shops, a school – and give him an easy, slow slice of the bicycle experience.

    I reckon then he might be more ready to listen.

    Good luck.


  7. eric ludlow 24/03/2013 at 10:27 am #

    Interesting point re ‘two abreast’. This can hack motorists off more than almost any other of our actions, but it’s more psychological than factual. When we ride two abreast the outermost rider isn’t actually much further out than the recommended ‘secondary position’ a metre out from the kerb. And if there’s not enough room to pass two, there’s not enough room to pass one! But to the approaching motorist, we’re not behaving according to our station – which is that of the humblest road user, who uses the roads on sufferance and should ALWAYS defer to the car. Try that one on your grandad! Nice article by the way.

    • Fitz 24/03/2013 at 7:22 pm #

      Plus, a line of single file cyclists will be twice as long, making them harder to overtake safely.

  8. GrahamL 25/03/2013 at 10:32 am #

    Just to let everyone know not all grandads share the same point of view:)) I’m, I guess a youthful grandad of 57 years. I own 3 bikes and do wear lycra (under leggings usually) but do wear them without leggings during the odd summer days we have. I positively enthuse when someone talks about cycling, hence why I am a regular reader of London Cyclist. I only got into cycling three years ago after visiting Center Parcs and the childhood bug for cycling hit again when I cocked my leg over a hire bike. I’m no racer, far from it but usually get out and about every couple of weeks and complete anything between 15-35 miles each ride. I now own three bikes and have got my daughter, son in law, wife and grandchildren into cycling and all own their own bikes. There is no better feeling when one or more of them come with me on a cycle ride.

    Personally, I still can’t get used to being called Grandad, but I couldn’t even think about not being surrounded by my grand kids so there is a positive to being one. It might be an uphill battle trying to win your grandad over but as you know he has other qualities that make up for it. Don’t give up though. We can all get a bit stubborn and stuck in our ways (young or old).

    I can still remember my wife saying to me when I bought my first bike after visiting Center Parcs that I would never ride it and it was just a fad . . . . I have been tempted on more than one occasion to say to her “do you remember the day when i came home with a bike and you said …. !!”

  9. gERRYN 25/03/2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Your otherwise excellent article hints that prior to Winston Churchill’s changes in 1937 cyclists paid road tax. This is untrue on both counts.
    Cyclists ( & horses ! ) historically have never ever in Britain paid any form of Road Tax.
    Road Tax has always been levied on mechanically propelled vehicles only.
    As far as I understand it Winston Churchill did not abolish road tax in any way either, but what he did was abolish Road Tax fund ring-fencing. In other words start using road tax for general government spending
    As far as I know the only ring fenced taxation left in the UK is the BBC TV licence !

  10. Carlton Reid 25/03/2013 at 3:56 pm #

    Churchill started the abolition process and certainly wanted ‘road tax’ abolished, as it was patently unfair to other road users. He – and the Treasury – were dead set against ring-fencing, which is still the mainstream position.

    Churchill started the abolition process with his famous “raids on the road fund”, starting in the 1920s.

    The road tax reference Andreas placed in the article was a mistaken belief of his grandfather’s, not a statement of fact from Andreas.

    • gERRYN 25/03/2013 at 4:12 pm #

      I read it, and still read it as a statement of fact by Andreas But I must stand corrected by Carlton.

  11. Tot 27/03/2013 at 12:20 pm #

    As an older woman brought up in the 1950’s my recollection is that a lot of people cycled in the 50’s because cars were hugely expensive. I suspect that a bit of the stigma attached to cycling by older people stems from cycling being associated with the working class with the middle class aspiring to own a car. Daft, I know, but predudice can have illogical roots. Both my parents cycled, recreationally and to work, and I’ve cycled all my life. Currently own 3 bikes and a car, with the bikes, walking and public transport being my main ways of getting about. Only wear Lycra leggings when it’s seriously cold or I’m cycling to the gym!

  12. Jon Fray 27/03/2013 at 1:55 pm #

    But those aren’t reasons why your Grandad doesn’t cycle.

    “Cyclists don’t pay road tax”
    “Cyclists ride two abreast”
    “Cyclists are a bunch of Lycra wearers”
    “They go on cycling holidays in France”

    They are perceptions of what cyclists are.

    Your Grandad doesn’t cycle probably (I am guessing) because he’s been led to believe it’s dangerous. I’d argue it’s probably more dangerous to your health not cycling, but hey-ho.

    • Andreas 30/03/2013 at 1:45 am #

      Hey Jon – absolutely – article was not about why my grandad doesn’t cycle but more why he doesn’t understand cyclists and our needs and why he has negative perceptions.

      He can’t cycle because of his knees, though I could possibly get him on an electric bike!

  13. Roger 28/03/2013 at 4:05 pm #

    Nice article Andreas.. cycling is becoming so popular nowadays so I guess your Christmas dinners will become less and less of a debate. As an example, I’m entered into the Tour of Pembrokeshire Sportive at the end of April – it fully booked out at 1100 rider at the end of Feb and has a waiting list of over 100.. Good for cycling, good for St. Davids but no doubt, bad for knees 🙁
    I just bought my iphone Tigra mount through you (rather than other on-line retailers) because of the integrity you give to cycling and the products you use. I wish there were more retailers like you!
    Great site – thanks to your Grandad eh? 😀

    • Andreas 01/04/2013 at 5:42 pm #

      Thank you Roger for your comment and custom! We’re not really a on-line retailer per say – more that there’s a few products that I love so I thought “hey, why not stock them!” – I’m pleased to say the blog will always come first 🙂

      Great to hear about the success of the Tour of Pembrokeshire! I’m sure this will only continue (we’ll have to get really good at booking early for events!)

      I have much to thank my grandad for 🙂

  14. Eve 29/03/2013 at 1:20 am #

    It’s so sad that your grandad doesn’t get cycling – I second Adam’s advice, show him what a fun way of getting around it is, it might work.
    Where I came from (northern, rural Poland) everybody cycled, this was a primary way of getting around as cars were unavailable or very expensive . Being able to cycle and owing a bicycle was a rite of passage – from babyhood to being ‘ a grown up kid’. Lots of my childhood memories involve bikes and cycling, first as a toddler being carried on my grandma’s bike, then riding with her and grandad on my own bike to visit relatives, go shopping, go to church etc. As most people cycled at some point in their lives, there was no car/bike divide – cyclists were not seen as a dehumanised, lycra clad aliens but as local people (neighbours, schoolkids, postmen etc) just getting around on their chosen mode of transport. My grandma insisted the it was cycling that kept her in good shape and continued to use her bike to get around till she died at 85. I love cycling and intend to carry at least as long.

  15. David Pearce 29/03/2013 at 4:15 pm #

    DATELINE Washington, D.C. — I appreciate the piece very much, but I would like you to expand on WHY your granddad doesn’t ride a bike or appreciate cyclists.

    Hope it’s slowly turning to Spring for you in London. Here in the States, I swear, I have never seen another March so determined to hang on to Winter!

  16. Phil Russell 29/03/2013 at 5:37 pm #

    Yes, ANDREAS, nice article….but “Lycra” seems to have become a swear-word, an oath, vitriol, an insult to hurl at cyclists whether they actually wear the stuff or not (I do). Andreas, I know your grandad….or rather, I know many like him—-they can be the soul of generosity, but logic deserts them when they spot a cyclist.
    As others have said above, you can’t pit your logic against prejudice, and I believe firmly that if you could just invite your grandad on a few short easy rides in a safe environment, his views might change considerably. So, any chance of that? Or is he a confirmed ex-biker?

    • Andreas 30/03/2013 at 1:41 am #

      Hey Phil – I’d love to take my grandad on a bike ride but I’m pretty sure his knees couldn’t take it. Perhaps if it was an electric bike..

      • Phil Russell 30/03/2013 at 6:29 pm #

        ANDREAS….this thread could run and run! Could Gramps possibly be cajoled onto a really lightweight bike, short distance, and only over pan-flat terrain? I knackered me knees once (don’t ask…) and the physio lady gave me a bunch of exercises to strengthen various leg-muscles…why? To take the strain off my suffering knee-ligaments, which worked, and within a month I was back cycling, which in turn strengthened the ligaments, and so on….also, ask him if he remembers Reg Harris…..he might go “hmmm….”. Best of luck!

        • Andreas 30/03/2013 at 10:52 pm #

          Good comment Phil – think I’d be fighting an uphill struggle to be honest! Though I agree with the sentiment. My friend has a bad back and I think the best way he could get rid of it would be to slowly build up exercise, using anti-inflammatory when necessary. Over time his muscles would strengthen. I’m not sure if this would apply as my grandad has arthritis. We need to get ourselves a physio in here to advise!

  17. Ian Lancaster 30/03/2013 at 1:36 pm #

    Sorry Andreas, but I have to disagree about cyclists knowing when to go single file. I too drive a car and regularly cycle commute so believe I know something of the Highway Code and road lore. On weekends I regularly have to drive north or south of the Thames through leafy Surrey/London border, on relatively narrow “A”, “B” or unclassified country roads. Every Sat or Sun morning there are groups of club cyclists (I’m reluctant to grace them with the word “peleton”) riding 2 abreast, sometimes 3. Certainly 3 when one pulls out from the group to take the lead. This is dangerous and inconsiderate to other road users and the arrogance practically oozes from their collective pores.
    Come on cyclists (London Dynamos, among others, you know who you are!), follow the rules and show consideration.

  18. Phil Russell 30/03/2013 at 6:10 pm #

    IAN LANCASTER…….perhaps you’ll have to get used to bunches of cyclists momentarily slowing you down, just as we cycs must put up with bunches of impatient road-hogging motorists blocking our progress, slowing us down, cutting us up, swearing at us, and sometimes assaulting us, if not actually killing us.
    Contrary to popular belief, drivers don’t own the roads, and if the cycling clubbers were to ride in single-file, it would take you twice the distance to overtake, which might be less annoying, but would probably be more dangerous for all concerned. I cycle and I drive—when I’m driving, I’m delighted to see bikers, be they alone, in pairs, or twenty-strong. It’s good for them, good for me, and good for the environment. We live in a changing world, old bean. Chill out.

    • Ian Lancaster 01/04/2013 at 10:31 am #

      P.r., nor do cyclists own the roads, but on those weekend mornings these club cyclists behave as if they do. On the roads I’m referring to, single file would allow motorists to pass, avoiding the impatience and frustration that two-abreast (or three!) provokes. I’m not defending motorists who get in to that state, but on a 5-miles stretch of narrow road getting stuck behind 2-abreast cyclists is avoidable – if the cyclists followed the Highway Code.
      On my bike, I’ve experienced all that you accuse motorists of. Behind the wheel of my car, I want to see cyclists being considerate to other road users.

  19. Dave 31/03/2013 at 6:37 am #

    i am a 63 year old cycling grandfather, who’s children and grandchildren don’t get cycling! I have done a 70 mile ride on my Brompton on a day out with a loaded C bag (fruit, water bottles etc), and have a 20 mile commute morning and evening each day on my hybrid. My new love is a Recumbent that I am learning to ride, or should I say i fall off less often. Cycling in London is a real buzz. Its like the call of the wild in my blood, I think. I want to be out there, with the wind in my hair and the sun/rain on my face Awooo! Whoops, sorry, senior moment.

  20. Andrea 31/03/2013 at 8:33 pm #

    I got into cycling because of my grandfather. Back in the day he would have been your grandfather’s nemesis.But that was in Italy and cycling and its perception are very different there (similarly to France and that’s why people take their cycling holidays there).
    Personally I don’t feel like having to promote cycling, justyfing cycling, argue about cycling. I just cycle because I like cycling. Apart form cycling my grandfather wasn’t actually a very nice guy so let’s hope your grandfather is the exact opposite of mine!

  21. Rose 05/04/2013 at 2:40 pm #

    My earliest memory of my Grandad is of him riding off to go fishing on his bike. He lived in Ireland – this was 1960s and he didn’t have a car. It was a wonderful memory, I still have a photo. Not long after my dad showed me how to ride too. I have been cycling since and now cycle to work in London. It is unfortunate that the actions of the few tend to colour the whole picture for everyone. I don’t tend to say that all drivers …pedestrians … cylcists …are …!!!because we are all different – some behaving better than others. I am a cyclist, a car driver and a pedestrian and definately feel that people are ruder to cyclists; people seem to have it in for cyclists – is is jealousy?

    • Orla 07/05/2013 at 2:21 pm #

      My Grandad was also my cycling inspiration. He never learned to drive and cycled everywhere around Dublin city. He used to collect us from primary school and we’d fight over who got to sit on the crossbar while he wheeled the bike along. Although if he were alive now I think he might make fun of my high vis vest!

      And Rose I am only a recent cyclist (about six months) and whenever I mention I cycle, everyone either tells me to be careful because it’s too dangerous or that I’m one of those nuisance cyclists – and that’s only in Dublin so I can’t imagine what London is like!

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