So why “I do not despair”?
It is derived from many cyclists’ favourite quote by H. G. Wells “When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.”
But it’s more than that. Wells wrote extensively about society and social structures including utopian societies. Perhaps in our utopian society (Copenhagen?) the bike is so common that the there is no special feeling about seeing people on bikes. City officials talk about cycling in Copenhagen being as common as cleaning your teeth, and why would anyone be uplifted by cleaning their teeth?
Wherever I travel I retain an innate enthusiasm for anyone on a bike, no matter what sort of machine or the environment. In China it was extraordinary cargo carrying machines with the whole family involved, in Amsterdam it is ubiquitous daily riders on black bikes and of course there is the thrill of the pros climbing the great passes every summer because I am addicted to cycle racing on TV.
There is also the proven link between cycling and mental health, something I have been learning about much more in recent years. There are few situations that I can’t improve by riding my bike, but too see the benefits spelt out by mental health professionals is a real breakthrough in getting cycling supported by the health sector.
I was at a CTC Roadshow in Leeds in December and one of the keynote presentations was by Richard Davis of Sheffield Care Trust, the mental health trust in Sheffield. Richard described how the in-patients at the Trust had a weekly cycling day at a local park which appeared to have an amazing effect on their wellbeing. He then highlighted that patients who had left the hospital were returning to the Thursday rides after they had been discharged and it was having an important effect on keeping them out of hospital. These sessions which cost just a few pounds to put on were saving the state £16,000 per patient kept out of hospital.
Another health professional in the room asked him specifically what it was about cycling that worked? He was pretty honest. “I don’t know, they just start cycling together and talking and it works.”
I think we can all sign up to that.