This entry was posted on Friday, February 5th, 2010 at 2:48 pm and is filed under Bicycle advocacy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
Recently I’ve given a couple of presentations. One was to a friendly crowd; the other was to sea of morose faces, not exactly hostile, but there were a few in the audience who gave me a hard time in the Q&A session.
The friendly crowd was a cycle campaign group. 16 turned up on a wet, dreary Friday night to listen to my bikey bon mots. It was like talking to friends, a fireside chat rather than a formal presentation; real-life ‘social media’, a to-and-fro conversation. I had got the ball rolling by talking about how, to promote cycling, we need to stress the warm and fuzzy stuff, not dwell on safety stats, helmets, Lycra, city streets clogged with two ton vehicles out to kill.
I was gently chided for this by a couple members of the group. They argued my happy-clappy image wasn’t reality. I was able to counter – loud murmurs from everybody else in the room helped – with the point that the car industry has sold its wares for ever and a day with just such jiggery-pokery. Empty roads. Sunshine. Beautiful people. (‘Nicole?’ ‘Papa?’).
In effect, this is how the whole of marketing works. Sell the positives, ignore the negatives.
The second group I presented to was a bunch of travel planners. These folks are charged with getting people out of cars and on to buses, bikes and shanks’ ponies, but an awful lot of them, unwittingly, focus on the downsides of the alternatives to the car.
I stressed a similar, warm-and-fuzzy message about cycling to this audience. On travel planning literature, I suggested, don’t picture cyclists wearing fluoro jackets, helmets and Lycra. That’s stressing that cycling is a niche transport option; tribal, wacky, open to ridicule. [Disclaimer: I wear this stuff].
Don’t suggest companies spend a small fortune on installing showers for cyclists. Keenies, commuting in from miles and miles away in bike clothing, might benefit from work-place sprucing-up facilities, but the every-day, short-hop commuter cyclist needs no such facilities. Such amenities are not provided to workers in Amsterdam or Copenhagen: it’s simply not necessary.
Boy, did I get some stick. Partly for dissing on showers, mostly for daring to suggest cycling is not overtly dangerous and should be normalised. Some of the travel planners told me afterwards they’d enjoyed my talk, and they would modify how they promoted cycling; stressing the positives rather than the barriers. The majority, I fear, will continue to promote cycling as a hair-shirt option, something for the brave, something for fine weather.
Incidentally, none wanted to wear my motoring helmet. I wore it for the first part of my talk, not mentioning why I was making myself look even more twattish than normal. When I revealed it was a genuine product, produced in Australia in the 1980s for everyday driving not motorsport, there were giggles.
Best thing travel planners could do to get people out of their cars might actually be to promote car helmet use. And motoring mouth-guards. And just-popping-to-the-shops flame-proof clothing.
A version of this article was published in the February edition of BikeBiz.com: