Should cycling be promoted as slow or swift?

T’other week I gave a talk to a bunch of bike-centric town planners, academics and others who could afford the steep conference fee. I used pix from London, Amsterdam and Copenhagen to show how cycling is portrayed in those cities.

In London, cycling is often portrayed by media such as the BBC as a battle between emission-emitting cars and smogmask-wearing cyclists. Stock images of cyclists tend to be of the scary variety: hi-ves vests, helmets, full-on protective gear. Cycling is rarely portrayed as sedate or normal.

Naturally, stock images of cycling are very different in the Netherlands and Denmark.

For my PowerPoint presentation I flicked between these different portrayals of cycling, singling out an image of a smog-mask cyclist in London as not something that does cycling any favours. However, I said I liked the motion blur in the shot and then went on to show other examples of motion blur cycling photography.

In the Q&A after the presentation I was taken to task for using speed to sell cycling. Cycling is slow, I was told, that’s the message that newbies want to hear.

In the Bike to Work Book I want to portray cycling as a fast way of getting through town, but also, when needs be, a slow, civilised, non-sweaty way of getting around. I’ll be using both static and motion blur photography, as you can see on the cover below.

But here’s a wonderful example of how cycling speedily used to be promoted:

Raleigh bicycle poster 1932

I love the way the smiling woman is dressed to the nines for a normal day at work – or going to the pictures or the tea shop – but is clearly belting along at a fair old lick.


Do you think motion blur photographs portray cycling as fast, sweaty, elitist? Or swift but achievable by anybody?