On Yer Bike comes to you this week from Edinburgh, a city known to me via its proactive bicycle advocacy group, Spokes – and of course, the morphine-stained prism of Trainspotting.
This charming maze of grey-stoned Gothic piles – with its equally charming townsfolk – isn’t bad for cycling either. In the centre, impressive numbers are braving the icy squalls and, while cyclists are not as ubiquitous as in Oxford, this elegant and compact city has embraced the bike.
On the hotel’s TV, I’m lucky enough to be able to see Cycling Scotland’s excellent TV ad ‘See cyclist. Think horse’. Sounds odd – and it is, in a way. The witty film, in full ’50s comic mode, starts by telling a motorist leaning proudly on his Mercedes convertible: “Not a lot of people know this, but you should treat a cyclist the way you treat a horse.”
A series of short scenes show a cyclist clearing a horse-jumping fence and being rewarded by the proud owner with handfuls of hay; we walk past a stable and see a cyclist racing on a turbo-trainer being given a carrot – “Good boy, good boy”, and so on. It ends with: “No, we don’t mean like that. We just mean slow down, treat them with care and give them a bit more space on the road.”
Cut to a cyclist riding along a leafy avenue positioned a good metre from the kerb – so no dangerous gutter-hugging nonsense – her hair blowing in the breeze. A bucolic bicycling scene if ever I saw one. The driver then passes her nice and slowly, half of his car on the other side of the road.
It is so refreshing to see such a positive image of cycling on national TV when helmet-cam Road Wars-style coverage is trending. From an Oxford perspective, it’s easy to forget how paramiltarised cycling has become elsewhere. The extreme liberals of Holland never wear helmets, and cycling in anything other than everyday clothes is abnormal. Oxford’s a halfway house, while in London and other UK cities we see the other extreme – this increasing tendency to expect cyclists to look like deranged SAS frogmen, in Mad Max helmets and high-visibility tabards over black neoprene.
I said I was lucky enough to be able to see ‘See cyclist. Think horse’ because last week the Advertising Standards Authority actually banned it! They winced because the cyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet. Plus the ASA decided that Cycling Scotland’s cyclist was a bit too far from the kerb. Incredible but true, and a furore ensued.
The ASA’s ban only lasted two days, but by then the ad had gone viral. The whole saga ended up being a fantastic promo tool for Cycling Scotland.