COVID has changed the world, probably in a permanent way, but there are bigger changes on the horizon. I am of course referring to man-made Climate Change, which is undeniably real and terrifying.
The heart of the matter is transport-related emissions need to radically fall, and that has clear, and direct implications for how we travel, regardless of whether travelling for work, to the shops, or for leisure. As unpopular as the truth may seem, it still remains the truth that all of us will need to travel far less by car, and certainly extremely rarely (if at all) by aeroplane.
This is not meant to be an alarmist write-up about Climate Change. After all, if you’re not already extremely alarmed by the overwhelming evidence, then you haven’t been paying attention, and my opinion won’t sway you.
Instead, this is an honest attempt at looking at future possibilities in a world heavily affected by Climate Change. We all carry our own personal biases, and clearly I’m biased in favour of cycling (though I do believe the evidence supports my belief in cycling being a major part of the solution).
Simply put, when reality finally starts hitting home, people will start cycling more, if not by choice, then by necessity. Alongside that, people will drive considerably less. Electric cars, contrary to what car manufacturers, their lobbyists, and their pet journalists are trying to tell you, are not the answer. You see, the planet doesn’t have the cobalt, copper, lithium and other minerals required to replace every internal combustion engined car in the UK with an electric car, let alone cater for the rest of the planet.
We are going to be forced to use alternative forms of personal transport. These include electric scooters, and ebikes, along with normal bicycles, and all of this is going to have a profound impact on society. In the UK, cycle paths are more often than not of atrocious quality, seemingly designed by people who last cycled at age 10, and who believe cyclists are to be moved out of the way of the very important drivers.
Cycle paths are invariably never gritted in winter, often full of debris, and never swept. All of this will need to change, to support huge increases in cycling and scootering. Escooters will, I expect, become extremely popular, as there’s no physical effort required to propel them, but cycling will massively increase, too.
Currently, cycle touring is a niche market, and a rather well-hidden secret that simply doesn’t feature on the radar of most tourism businesses. This is a staggering oversight, as cycle tourism is a HUGE market, plus we know that cycle tourists spend more – on average – per day than any other kind of tourist.
Let’s examine that: going by 2012 numbers, cycle tourism was worth £35 billion per annum, across all of the EU (which then still included the UK). Sustrans estimates the value of spending by cyclists just using parts of the National Cycle Network to be £650 million per year.
There’s a wealth of evidence pointing at what economic sense it makes to try and attract cycle tourists,
but of course cycle touring isn’t like a week in an all-inclusive resort, where the tourists remain within the resort. Cycle touring implies that those doing it will be cycling from one place to another, and this is perhaps what leads many to make basic errors in guesstimating the economic benefits.
Instead of looking at the value of a large volume of cycle tourists, each just spending money in one city, town or village for a day, or just part of a day, they look at the contribution on an individual basis, and compare that with the spending of someone booked into a hotel for a week.
In a changing world, with newly announced climate change targets starting to make more people wake up to how far we have to shift our normal behaviour, in a very short period of time, we’re on the cusp of a new era for cycle touring.
As increasing numbers of people start shunning holidays that require them to fly, while cycling becomes increasingly normalised, there will be many more people waking up to the enormous joy that may be found by going cycle touring.
If you run a B&B, or any tourism-dependent business, now is the time to start gearing up to take advantage of this already huge, and growing market. I’m not about to give you a full breakdown of everything you need to do, as I simply don’t know your business, but it would really help if you got on a bike yourself, and gained first-hand experience of what works.
Do start with bicycle parking. Whatever you do, avoid those nasty wheel-bender “bicycle racks” that only allows cyclists to secure their front or rear wheel. They’re called “wheel-benders” for a reason, and they offer zero security. If you choose to use them, you’re pretty much saying you couldn’t care less about cyclists.
Instead, install proper Sheffield stands (those inverted U type bike stands) and ensure they’re cemented in, not just bolted in. Also ensure the bike racks are in a very visible area, ideally covered by CCTV. Bike theft is rife, and if you don’t offer secure bike parking, don’t expect much business from cyclists.
Crucially, ensure your bike parking is within clear sight, ideally covered by CCTV, and most certainly not tucked around the back. Theft of a laden touring bike can happen in seconds, and represents a staggering loss to the rider. Remember, it will be all their camping gear, plus more, that was stolen. If you cannot be bothered to provide decent, secure cycle parking, you’re effectively telling cycle tourists you couldn’t care less about then, so why should they support your business?
Do consider buying a track pump (Lidl regularly sells them for just about £5, so cost is no barrier here) and perhaps a puncture repair kit from Wilco. Even better, stock 2 or 3 inner tubes, in touring bike sizes (700c x 38 should be fine for most – you’re not becoming a bike shop, but just taking the extra step in becoming cycle tourist friendly).
If you run a B&B, or similar, do you have a dry room, where cycle tourists can hang their wet kit (well, this is the UK, after all) to rapidly dry? Do you have a secure bike lockup? Even better, do you have a bike rack, so in case of emergency, you can go and pick up cycle tourists in the area? That alone might get you more customers.
If you’re a business in Cornwall, Kent or Norfolk, contact Cycling UK, to participate in their free Cycle Friendly Places accreditation scheme, and see how that can boost your business.
If you’re a cycle tourist, I rather strongly suggest you post publicly on social media every cycle-friendly business you encounter. These businesses have gone that extra step, so let’s all publicly praise them and raise their profile. If other businesses see these ones benefit, they too might wake up to the benefits of catering to cyclists’ needs.