An Olympic Legacy for Cycling

london olympic velodrome

London Olympic Velodrome photo: Sum of Mark flickr

The London Velodrome is a very visible legacy for London Cyclists. But, will the cycling legacy be confined to off-road velodromes or is there a chance to promote cycling right in the heart of British cities?

What would be the best Olympic legacy for cycling in London and the UK?

1. More Numbers

london cyclists advanced stop sign

London cyclists at an advanced stop sign

The best legacy would be to simply see more people cycling. – More people cycling to work, more people cycling as sport, more people cycling just because it’s an enjoyable exercise. An increase in cycle participation rates would be the main long term benefit of an Olympic boost. If more people cycle, we would benefit from:

  • Increased fitness of population (health benefits)
  • Reduced pollution
  • Reduced congestion.
  • Improved  happiness from getting some exercise rather than stuck in traffic jam.

Rising cycling numbers would also have a multiplier effect. There is a strong correlation between higher numbers cycling and improved safety rates. See: safety in numbers.


Essentially, cycle facilities are at the mercy of the political process. If more people are into cycling then the chance of electing cycle friendly politicians increases. If cycling is no longer a marginal activity then it will be taken more seriously by the local and central authorities.

2. Greater Respect for Sharing the Roads

There are some roads and parts of the world, where cyclists are seen as a nuisance – an obstacle to smooth traffic flows. If there is greater respect for the idea of cyclists on the roads, motorists will be more patient and willing to give space. Hopefully, the respect will be mutual with cyclists also using their common sense and riding in a considerate way which doesn’t annoy motorists and pedestrians.

3. Positive Connotations

Sometimes reading the press about cycling conjures up images of ‘lycra louts’ flouting the law and racing along pavements. An improved image of cycling would be beneficial for all. Olympic success has really helped improve cycling’s image, but it is cyclists on the road and the media’s coverage which will set the long-term perceptions of cyclists.

4. Improvements in Infrastructure

London Cycling

The real key to encouraging cycling is a willingness to take bold steps and pedestrianise parts of cities – giving cyclists and pedestrians greater priority over the motor car. A willingness to embrace the outdoor life and not an insistence on how to get everywhere covered in a protective sheet of metal and plastic windows. (see: Copenhagen cycling)

There is a saying build it and they will come. – Build more roads and you get more motorists. Build more pedestrian areas and you get more pedestrians. Build more real cycle paths and cycling use will come.

5. Safe Transport Enforcement

Whilst walking through London at the weekend, I saw a cyclist went through a red light at Tottenham Court Road. A London police officer was on a mountain bike just behind, he chased after him and gave him a good talking to.

I would like to see considerable investment in monitoring road use and penalising / educating bad behaviour. Behaviour which puts other road users at risk of accident. To give a few examples:

  • Speeding
  • Passing too close to cyclists / pedestrians
  • Using mobile phones
  • not paying attention
  • Going through red lights

It is not a question of targeting cyclists or motorists. It is a question of targeting road behaviour which puts other road users at risk. If some time is put into enforcing better standards, it will make roads more attractive.

London Cycling

This enforcement shouldn’t just be about enforcing the letter of the law. But, about education of  dangerous and potentially dangerous practises. Like today a bus overtook and passed me with a less than a foot and I was worried he was cutting me up to leave no space at all. So I gave it a good thump on the window. I don’t know if the bus broke any law, but it was dangerous and the driver needed educating. I shouldn’t have to be thumping bus windows because they are 10 cm away.

People often want to legislate for after the accident:

  • - stiffer penalties for motorists
  • - a helmet to protect  when the lorry rides into you.

These may  help a little. But, the best legacy would be to educate and legislate to prevent accidents in the first place. Safer roads and you would get a huge leap in cycling numbers – far greater than the excitement of seeing an Olympic gold medal.

Team GB cyclists have done a great job in raising the profile of cycling. Safe roads and a vibrant cycling culture shouldn’t need to rely on International success. The kind of success GB are having may never be repeated. But, with cycling getting the headlines for all the right reasons, there’s never been a better chance to work for a real legacy of cycling.

I better be careful, I’m starting to sound like a prospective politician…

And I can’t bring myself to say anything on the issue of compulsory cycling helmets…



2 Responses to An Olympic Legacy for Cycling

  1. Tricyklist August 2, 2012 at 7:17 pm #

    The Danes, of quite literally all ages, ride in all weathers, year round. Helmet use is almost universal amongst sporting and fitness cyclists. Of which there are huge numbers of both. Most wear proper cycling clothing because it is the most comfortable clothing to wear on a bike.

    Danish drivers are incredibly disciplined when it comes to cyclists. Probably because so many of them are cyclists, at some time, when they aren’t driving.

    Cyclists, themselves, are often poorly disciplined when it comes to jumping red lights and indicating. Particularly the young who listen to music while riding. A very poor combination for attention and safety.

    Denmark must still be the best country in the world in which to to cycle. Thanks to the relatively light traffic, totally respected cycle lanes and the care and respect shown to cyclists by the vast majority of drivers.

    I rode (and drove) in Britain for decades. I rarely returned home without being angry from being cut up by mad or careless drivers. It’s a state of mind for most drivers. They don’t cycle so they don’t see both sides.

  2. Tim August 2, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    Do you know that not only do the Dutch “everyday cyclists” not wear helmets. They also chuckle politely at the fact that people in other countries routinely wear helmets for something as easy as riding a bike.

    I found this article of interest:
    It explains how the Dutch make a distinction between “cyclists” and “wheel-runners” in the same way that we might distinguish between someone walking to the shops and a jogger in full running gear. I think that our infrastructure often forces all cyclists to be a bit of a wheel-runner though. Hence the road bikes and the prevalence of lycra (even for commuting) and the heated helmet debate. And the overwhelming majority of cyclists being fit healthy blokes of a certain age.

    So can the success of our “wheel runners” encourage the popularity of everyday cycling? I’d like to believe it it can, but it’s a complicated issue. And as you say, the key has to be the safer roads.

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