Can street art get more people on bikes?

I’ve spent months writing and photographing to create the 98-page Bike to Work Book which, as a freebie, will hopefully encourage lots of newbies to try bicycle commuting. That’s a lot of words and hundreds of pix. Could the same task be achieved with just this one pic?

'This one runs on fat & saves you money' by Peter Drew of Adelaide

It’s by artist Peter Drew of Adelaide. I’m interviewing him for the next iteration of the Bike to Work Book. I love his work. It’s guerrilla stencilling.

Want to print out the top image as a poster or plaster on a t-shirt? Peter has agreed to give the image a Creative Commons licence so feel free to downloada hi-res version)

Here’s one of his car/bike-parking stencils:

Bike Parking by Peter Drew of Adelaide

His Facebook presence contains more examples of his work, including this pic of him leaning by one of his artworks:  

Artist Peter Drew of Adelaide

His linkage between driving cars and portliness reminds me of this 2006 poster campaign by and Manchester Friends of the Earth:


Thing is, who will the stencil messages reach? Drivers likely won’t see them, except when they’re pedestrians. Existing cyclists will like them for sure, confirming their mode of transport has two noteworthy merits. But I think the biggest potential for Drew’s images isn’t in downtown Adelaide: it’s on blogs, it’s on t-shirts, it’s on viral emails. His artwork – which will be copied and adapted – could go viral, passed along by cyclists but reaching a non-cycling audience.

Many of the recipients won’t care. Such imagery may be laughable to some; offensive to others. But for some people, an image like this can be the tipping point. Bold imagery can work wonders. My 98-page book can give a newbie cyclist a lot of information but the Bike to Work Book will only be read by those wanting to give cycling a go. Peter Drew’s images – and others like them – can flick switches in the brain. We need more of these switch flickers.

Image hat-tip to

Damned if we do; damned if we don’t

Janus in a bike helmet

Cycle campaigners are constantly torn between extoling the health and other benefits of cycling, but passing on news of yet another road tragedy. It’s a dilemma.

Cycling is safe but there’s a widely-held perception that it’s unsafe. And I’m often guilty of fuelling such a perception.

One moment I can be writing articles for newbies with my rose-tinted spectacles firmly strapped to my head, and the next moment I can be tweeting about some new bike v tipper truck bike death. I’m Janus, the Roman God of doorways who looked both forwards and backwards. (Despite what Bart said, this god’s first name isn’t Hugh).

I used to publish On Your Bike, a magazine for family cyclists. This was a fluffy-white-clouds, birds-tweeting, isn’t-the-world-wonderful publication. It was a polemic, a glossy bit of PR for the happy-clappy side of cycling. Lycra was banned; helmets were kept to a bare minimum; there were only smiles, no grimaces; the folks pictured were strictly normal, batty bicyclists were banned.

This magazine got lots of newbies out on bikes and stressed the overwhelming advantages of cycling. Danger was downplayed.

We all know that the roads will be more pleasant to ride on when there’s more cyclists using them, the safety in numbers argument. But it’s a chicken and egg thing. To encourage more cyclists we need to downplay the danger. We certainly can’t wait until every road has a segregated bike path. That will never happen. It doesn’t even happen in Denmark or the Netherlands. Cars and bikes have to rub along on roads. But too many drivers treat roads as race tracks. Too many motorists drive distracted.

And yet I let my young kids ride on roads to get to school. I don’t worry about ‘stranger danger’ but I do worry about a madman behind a steering wheel, or a yummy mummy in a monster 4×4 speeding around corners to drop her precious cargo at school in time.

Statistically, my kids are safe. Statistically, I’m safe. Statistically, I could slip in the shower and bang my head. Sadly, there was a case of a Australian semi-pro cyclist who did just that. He died. Had he been wearing his cycle helmet in the shower, he might have survived.

So, why are there so many campaigns to get cyclists to wear helmets – such as the skull one from the Department for Transport – and none to encourage use of head protection in the house or while driving? I don’t want to kick off a helmet debate. Really, I don’t. But I would welcome comments about how cycle advocates square the cycling-is-safe circle. How can we promote cycling as safe yet send so many people out on roads we know can be dangerous. Sometimes.

Of course, it’s not the roads that are dangerous, it’s the idjits that use them, but you get my drift. Can we have our cake and eat it? If some drivers are as mad and as bad as we sometimes complain (and, in reality, it’s just a tiny minority of drivers we need to be worried about) are we not being disingenous to encourage newbies to use those self same roads?

The most influential bike graph ever?

European cycling and obesity levels

This is one of the key infographics wheeled out by Sustrans folks in their PowerPoint presentations to local authorities, Government bodies and other organisations. It’s a jaw-dropping demonstration of less is more. The link between activity levels and obesity in selected European countries is clear and obvious.

Sustrans has a ton of facts, figures, reports and studies that go into greater depth on the obesity/cycling front but for impact this graph is hard to beat. Got any others you’d care to share?

Read it and weep

Share the Road, Ketchum, Idaho 2

What is it about the internet and the internal combustion engine that makes some folks so callous?

A 52-year old woman riding at the back of a group of ten road cyclists from the safety-conscious Spring City Cycling Club was hit and killed by a motorist on Saturday on a country road in Lincoln County, Tennessee. Friends and family have had to chastise forum-posting motorists for victim-blaming.

Sharon Bayler was thrown 166ft by the impact but apologist friends of the driver (who were not in the driver’s truck at the time) have insisted he was driving 37-40mph, a few miles below the posted speed limit of 45mph. This was a road “he was raised on”: but, as numerous studies have shown, ‘knowing a road’ makes many motorists blasé. The blacktop and curves may be familiar but not every journey is the same: there can be fallen trees in the road; slower or stopped vehicles; anything.

The police did not charge the driver with any motoring offences.

“Troopers said the collision was an accident and no charges will be filed against the truck’s driver, 42-year-old Edward Vincent Higgin of Fayetteville.”

Sharon Bayler was said to have been hit near a curve in the road (although incident-scene witnesses said the road was straight at the point of impact). The driver “couldn’t see Bayler riding because of the combination of a shaded area and the sun.”

As cyclists have pointed out on newspaper story postings, if the the driver couldn’t see what was in front of him, he should have slowed to a crawl. But how many drivers ever follow this bit of common sense?

Just a tiny minority of motorists knowingly use their cars as weapons but many of the rest speed around without due care and attention. Crashes are ‘accidents’; texting or calling when driving is not seen as a sin. It’s tough to get prosecutions of motorists because of ‘there but for the Grace of God go I’ from law-makers and law-enforcers.

It’s been like this from the very early days of motoring but back then there were less motorists to worry about. Now, cyclists and pedestrians are often put at unnecessary risk because way too many motorists think nothing of speeding: their ABS brakes and airbags fill them with a sense of invulnerability.

They think nothing full-stop. Motoring is not seen as a dangerous activity. In reality, it’s extremely dangerous, both for ‘unprotected’ vulnerable road users but for drivers, too. One slip of the steering wheel when travelling at speed and a motorist can be toast. One glance down at a text message at 60mph and many metres go by, unseen. 99 times out of a hundred there’s no cyclist in the way, no kerb for the motorist to bounce into and be deflected into the HGV in the opposite lane. Drivers get away with inattentive driving and assume they’ll always get away with it.

There are lots of dead cyclists, killed child pedestrians and, of course, squashed motorists, to prove that ‘accidents will happen’. For accidents read inattention or, sometimes, wanton negligence.

Apparently the Tennessee driver who killed Sharon Bayler is full of remorse but not so some of his fellow motorists. How thoughtless do you have to be to post anti-cyclist comments on a news story about a cyclist fatality? Sadly, it’s common. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed. Friends and families of killed cyclists often read online stories about an ‘accident’ as a form of grieving, leaving tributes to the deceased, but are confronted by commenters with a twisted, sickening windscreen-view of the world.

When reading their comments it makes you want to give up cycling on anything other than traffic-free trails because thoughtless drivers are everywhere. This might be one of the reasons for the dripping vitriol: get off our roads, go ride on a velodrome, take your Spandex ‘costumes’ someplace else. Naturally, there are always comments about ‘road tax’ and why cyclists shouldn’t be on roads paid for by motorists.


“I’m sorry that she was killed, but this should be expected. Bicycles don’t belong on the road. Once I was driving my truck and came around a curve and there was a cyclist, arrogantly (and stupidly) refusing to move over. There was no way I could’ve stopped. (And no, I wasn’t speeding). Luckily there was no oncoming traffic and I was able to swerve around him. If there had been a car coming I would have had 3 choices: 1-hit the cyclist, kill him. 2-hit the oncoming car, kill them. 3-run off the road (tall steep bank), kill myself. There is no reason for a bicycle to be on the road. You can go find a bike trail, or stay out of the way…I hope they do the right and sensible thing and ban bicycles from roads before someone else dies.”
Lake Worth, FL

“If you want to cycle on the road then you take your chances. Just like swimming in the ocean. You take your chances that you might get eaten or drown. You cannot police everyone or prevent every accident. Things are just going to happen. You agree to take that chance when you get on the road…This is a sad accident but shows that accidents will occur and you cannot stop them. If you don’t want to get hit then stay off the road.”
Chattanooga, TN

“Did you ever wonder why small planes and large planes don’t use the same airports? Figure it out.”
Athens, AL

“I am sorry for any loss of life but slow moving bicycles do not belong on the same road as cars. They are accidents just waiting to happen. Another sore point for me is these bicycles pay no taxes for using the road like my car or motorcycle. I pay taxes by way of a tag and through gas for the upkeep of roads also I am required to carry insurance on my car and motorcycle that bicycles don’t. I say if they want to share the road then require them to buy a tag and insurance just as i have to do and restrict them to secondary roads where they are not causing traffic problems.”
Huntsville, AL

“Please remember what your mother taught you years ago, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. This post is being viewed by Sharon’s family and friends too. Again, please post with repect.”
Teresa sister-in-law
Belle Rive, IL

“Please, whether you’re a motorist or cyclist, show respect for each other and follow the rules of the road. Avoid distractions… don’t text EVER while driving, and put down the cell phone. The call is not that important, it can wait until you pull off and answer it. Your full attention should be ON THE ROAD. If you’re a cyclist, be aware of vehicular traffic, obey the rules and regulations, and cycle politely.”
Rocket City Cyclist
Huntsville, AL