I've spent the last two months experiencing a way of life I'd previously given little thought to. And I have to say - I'm converted. You may have noticed the numbers of cyclists on our streets shooting up over the past few years; from the edgy east London crew, to the city-bound MAMILs (middle aged men in Lycra), it's not too extreme to call cycling's surge in popularity, a revolution. And, funnily enough, the documentary I've just filmed exploring this phenomenon is titled, A Cycling Revolution.
My journey into this flourishing two-wheeled world was certainly eye opening. There is a whole cycling scene that I simply had no idea existed. Lets kick off with 'Critical Mass'. Who knew that on the last Friday of every month hundreds of cyclists meet under Waterloo bridge for a "self-organized, non-commercial, celebration, spontaneous gathering." Basically, it's a party - a massive moving party - on your bike. Sign me up. The best part is that along the ride, small clusters of cyclists get together to stop traffic from oncoming roads so that those of us on our bikes (yes I did get involved) can have free run of the roads. Very liberating! This monthly night out on your bike is essentially cyclists' opportunity to stick two fingers up at the dominant car culture of our capital city. They just happen to have a lot of fun doing it.
So maybe the fact that a small group of people love, love, LOVE cycling isn't too world-view altering, but my conversations with cycling campaigners like Donnachadh McCarthy and cycling sociologist (yes, they really do exist) Rachel Aldred, had a huge effect on the way I look at the humble bicycle. In short, it could change and save lives. Lets put aside the statistic that last year alone, 489 cyclists were killed or seriously injured on London's roads, and turn to the fact that (as Donnachadh tells me) over 4,200 Londoners die early every year due to pollution. Add to this that bad air quality costs the nation £8.5-20bn per year and you start to see the potentially (I'll use the word again) revolutionary status of a bike.
With Boris calling for car-free Sundays, where we'd all grab a Barclays' bike instead, the passion of the cycling campaigners (armed with their inspiring and often shocking statistics) is beginning to rub-off on our mainstream politicians. But we're still a long way off from becoming anything like the cycling haven of Amsterdam - and this is mainly down to cash. Even with the ballsy and pro-cycling Boris and his commissioner for cycling, Andrew Gilligan, involved in TfL's negotiations, we're still only spending 1% of the travel budget on cycling infrastructure. This is a teeny percentage given that 24% of traffic on London's roads in rush hour is cyclists. Surely 24% (or something resembling that figure) of London's transport budget should then be spent on accommodating our two-wheeled friends.
The most moving and transformative moment of filming this documentary came when I attended "Stop the Killing" - a protest and public funeral to remember all those who have lost their lives due to, what the group organizers call, "traffic violence". I met an amazing lady, Dominique, whose daughter had been tragically killed whilst cycling on London's roads. It was heartbreaking to hear how whilst cycling on a designated cycle lane the all-too-familiar reality of the lane abruptly finishing leaving her with nowhere to go, except into the path of an oncoming car, Dominique's daughter had been knocked off her bike and run over by two cars in our capital.
I was desperate to see what the alternative to this insufficient system of ours was. So we visited Amsterdam, a city that claims to have more bikes than people. They are currently spending £25 a head on cycling infrastructure (despite already having everything in place). Our proposed £18 a head then pales into insignificance when you remember that we still have to build the segregated cycle lanes and bike parks, not just upkeep and improve them as the Dutch do. Bikes are simply a way of life over there; they've come to the realisation that the day of the car in large urban environments is over. Admittedly, Boris does appear to back this ideal in principle - having said repeatedly, "A civilized city is a cycleized city." We're just waiting on him to deliver the goods...
At the beginning of this project I was, in all honesty, not fussed when it came to bikes, (perhaps attributable to spending a second summer, aged 10, re-taking the cycling proficiency test). But I've had a real change of heart and now have absolutely taken on board the mentality and demands of cyclists all over the UK to enjoy better infrastructure and safer streets on a par with the Netherlands - we're worth it too! Already the numbers of Londoners cycling to work has doubled in the last 10 years alone. It's an exciting transformation taking place in our capital city and throughout the UK, but one that we've got to be better equipped for in order to enjoy the freedom and fun it can bring.
So, in the words of Queen: I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike.