Since the advent of the Internet I very rarely purchase a newspaper unless I am holiday or travelling by train. News is so readily available at the touch of a button and if you throw TV into the mix you have multiple news channels which offer a variety of different percpectives. numbers.
I used to always get a Sunday paper which used to take me all week to read. I would savour it like some lovingly baked cake, consuming it in equally portioned sections.
My paper of choice was the Sunday Observer.
This Sunday they hooked me back in with their review section. This was almost entirely dedicated to cycling in the United Kingdom.
Thank you Observer, you have won me back
They also have a good article on their Internet by Tim Lewis which I have copied below.
All pumped up and ready to go
Time was when only a tiny number of people cycled in Britain, and even then it was a dour, functional affair. Now, cycling is seen as eco-friendly, cool, healthy, cheap and practical, while bikes - and those who ride them - have become the epitome of style
About 10 years ago, I decided to ride my bike to work. This is, I appreciate, not the most dramatic opening gambit, but at the time I felt like a countercultural pioneer. In the office car park, there was a rack for six bicycles, half of which was never used, and spaces for around 50 cars, which were always full. There were, naturally, no shower facilities; I quickly attained some notoriety for the clippety-clop of my cycling cleats in the corridors and the ingenious though not entirely hygienic drying rack I rigged up under my desk. I had just one bike-rack buddy: he was definitely a little odd but in those days, as a cyclist, you could not be too picky. We would have interminable chats about hybrids, which were starting to take over the commuter scene, and about the smack-talking American who had recovered from cancer and was winning the Tour de France.
A decade on, some things haven't changed (Lance Armstrong is still bossing everyone around), but in many ways, cycling, as a functional means of transportation or as a convenient way of taking some exercise, is almost unrecognisable. At my office now, there is an equally capacious car park, but there are three spaces for cars (one of them electric) and more than 150 bays for bicycles. There are 10 showers. Rain or shine, you will find a Pashley Guv'nor with a luxurious Brooks saddle next to a single-speed Condor Pista next to a £2,000 Specialized Roubaix road bike next to a rusting granny bike.
A 2008 Sport England study showed that 1.8 million of us cycle once a week or more, not including commuters, and it is the second-fastest-growing sport in the country after athletics. But the difference is most obvious in our cities. There has been a 107% increase of people cycling on the capital's main roads since 2000, according to Transport for London; it has also risen dramatically in Bristol (up 27% since 2003), Sheffield (60% since 2000) and Leicester (43% since 2003). A ride-and-go cycle scheme was recently set up in Bristol and a London version - which promises to have 6,000 bikes and a docking station every 300 metres - will launch next May.
What explains this cultural shift? A partial list of factors might include ever-rising petrol prices; the 7/7 attacks in London; an increasing awareness of environmental issues; the introduction of the congestion charge; the launch of the Cycle2Work schemes, which provide tax-free bikes funded by the government; erratic public transport; the Tour de France visiting the UK in 2007; the eight gold medals won by British cyclists at the Beijing Olympics last summer; concerns over swine flu. And then there are people who just want some exercise.
Nevertheless, cycling still only accounts for 1% of all journeys taken in the UK (and 2% of trips under two miles), a shameful total compared with 18% in Denmark and 27% in the Netherlands. Those figures are also way below government projections made in the late 90s. But to look at it another way, if the boom in cycling is already so apparent despite the statistics, just where and how is it being felt? And, more important, how can the momentum be maintained?
Few mechanical objects have the simplicity and elegance of a bicycle. When he was 15, fashion designer Paul Smith used to ride a low-geared fixed-wheel five miles each way to work at a clothing warehouse in Nottingham; four decades on, he can still go misty-eyed about the unconventional beauty of a chainset or a pair of Anquetil shoes. "I would rub my thumbnail down the Campagnolo seat pillar and really think it was a fantastic thing," he recalls. "Or the sound of the tyres when they were pumped up so hard. I used to keep the bike in my bedroom - I was a bit obsessive and geeky."
These sentiments are echoed by a new generation of fixed-gear riders. These are bikes pared to their very basics: just one gear, one chainring, one sprocket, forcing the rider to pedal constantly while the bike is in motion. "It is the perfect form and function balance," says Andy Ellis, who founded the influential Fixed Gear London collective in 2003 and now consults at 14 Bike Co in Shoreditch, east London. "Fixies" were typically the cheapest and easiest to maintain bikes you could own, hence their popularity with cycle couriers, but now much of their popularity stems from the fact that they are a perfect blank canvas for you to modify and customise.
As a result, fixed gears have introduced a customer whose last bike was probably a Raleigh Chopper in the 80s. "When we started off three years ago, 50-60% of our customers were web designers or graphic designers," says Feya Buchwald, co-director of Brick Lane Bikes, which specialises in hard-to-find fixed gears and vintage models. "They were typically 20 to 30, though it's getting younger now, and for them a bike was an extension of their personality."
Cycling now finds itself in the unprecedented position of being an inspiration for fashion and artists. Louis Vuitton's recent spring-summer 2010 show was an homage to bike messengers, or the "gentleman butterflies" of the City, as studio director Paul Helbers has it (I must have missed the day when they wore egg-yolk-yellow nylon safari jackets). Meanwhile, for the final stage of the Tour de France this afternoon, Lance Armstrong will ride a Trek Madone, which Damien Hirst has emblazoned with real butterflies shimmering on the frame ("Holy $hi+ ... stunning" tweeted Armstrong when he saw it). This follows previous one-off collaborations between the cyclist and the likes of graphic artist Shepard Fairey and industrial designer Marc Newson that will all be auctioned for charity Livestrong.
"Ah look, it wasn't much of a technical challenge, it was essentially a graphic exercise," says Newson, who was a keen racer in his teens and has designed a range of city bikes for Danish company Biomega. "But there's a buzz about cycling that wasn't there before - you wouldn't call it popularising, because Lance is doing it on quite an elite level, but it's all part of the same movement."
For increasing numbers of riders, cycling is a way of escaping the daily grind. A typical weekend rouleur will be male, affluent, in his mid-30s or early 40s, and likes nothing more than going out on his bike for a 70-mile ride on a Sunday morning (which conveniently allows a few hours away from his wife and kids). "Men get to a certain age and they yearn for that escape," says Simon Mottram, managing director of the high-end cycling brand Rapha. "If your normal life is sitting at a desk or going in and out of meetings, frantically looking at your BlackBerry, taking calls on Skype, then you will dream of adventure and camaraderie and going out and doing something quite physical."
Rapha, which was set up five years ago to find a solution to the eternally disturbing sight of a middle-aged man in tight performance fabrics, is proof that cycling companies can not only withstand the economic downturn but profit from it. When it was launched, the company was criticised for having prices that were typically 40% higher than its competitors, but in fact they were just getting warmed up. Earlier this year, Rapha produced the ultimate counterpoint to the lurid spandex that many riders wear: a three-piece cycling suit in Prince of Wales check with pink "storm collar" made by renowned tailor Timothy Everest. Despite the eye-watering price of £3,500, more than a dozen orders have been taken.
"We are growing at 80% this year and with the economic crisis we never expected to grow that fast," admits Mottram. "In the UK, we are performing particularly strongly. The main reason is that, for the people buying the stuff, it's the last thing you want to give up. It makes you feel better about yourself. Yes, you might not buy your hugely indulgent new sofa or your car, that's a big-ticket item, but your cycling, which keeps you feeling good about yourself... it's going to take quite a lot to stop you doing that."
Women have proved less enthusiastic about converting to two wheels. Research in February from Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity, revealed that four out of five women never cycle, and fewer than one in 10 cycle more than once a month. The study highlighted the perceived danger of roads as a primary concern, but Amy Fleuriot, whose women-specific Cyclodelic clothing range will launch in September, believes the problem goes deeper. "All the images you would see in the media were men clad in Lycra and going fast and that doesn't appeal to a lot of women," she says. "They think you have to buy all this specialist kit and you're going to get sweaty and that's not the case."
Again, the model is the Netherlands, where women make up more than half of all riders. "It's a safety in numbers thing," says Fleuriot. "Once you show women that it's really not that dangerous, it will go from there."
It must be acknowledged that the increasing number of cyclists on the road has not been received with universal enthusiasm. The debate was ignited by a 2003 article written by Kate Hoey, the former sports minister, entitled "Lycra Louts". Reacting to RAC research that indicated that 50% of Londoners and 25% of Glaswegian cyclists did not stop at red lights, she seethed: "There's a kind of innate moral superiority about cycling that assumes they should be immune from the law."
If running lights makes her this angry, it's hard to imagine how Hoey would react to the vogue for fixie owners who ride without brakes (they stop by using bike control, anticipation and, presumably, an ability to read others minds). The police claim to be getting tougher on cycling offences - Boris Johnson promised "complete zero tolerance" in London - but this did not stop David Cameron blithely riding unpunished through a red light in Notting Hill last year.
The Guardian's Matt Seaton gave voice to the frustration of many pedal-pushers when he bemoaned the tendency for cyclists to "get out a revolver and fire one off at our collective foot"- although iPod listeners, riders who ignore one-way streets and the woman I saw riding along a busy road last week balancing a hardback book on her handlebars do not seem too bothered.
Everyone in the industry believes that the cycling boom will continue at least for a few more years. Rapha's Simon Mottram points out that next year will see the debut of Team Sky, the first British outfit that will compete in the Tour de France; its director, Dave Brailsford, who masterminded the Olympic effort, has predicted a British winner of the Tour within five years, and he is not typically wrong about these things. Sky also aims to initiate a million new cyclists by 2013, starting with city-centre Skyrides in Manchester, Glasgow and Leicester throughout August. There will also be the inevitable boost of the London Olympics.
The challenge for the government and bodies like the CTC will be to replicate the success of London in other British cities. At the moment, we cycle 4bn kms a year in the UK, but more than a quarter of this distance is ridden in the capital. There are other cities with a strong cycling culture, notably Cambridge, where a quarter of people cycle to work, and York, where it is one in eight, but in many cities, particularly in the north-east, there is little interest to build on, and often quite steep hills.
One incentive to non-cycling cities should be the statistics that indicate that, paradoxically, the more cyclists on the road the fewer accidents there will be. "At the very least, we should set an ambition to double cycling within the next 10 years," says Chris Peck of the CTC.
Making 2% of all journeys by bike by 2020 does not seem an outrageous proposal. However, we will know that cycling has become fully entrenched in Britain when there is no such thing as bike culture - it will just be our way of life.
• Tim Lewis is editor of Observer Sport Monthly
Chain links: The essential websites and blogs for cyclists
Top five websites
Useful step-by-step bike maintenance videos.
Smart accessories for women, from funky lights and floral panniers to vintage-style cycling capes.
Directory of UK cycle routes, perfect for holiday planning.
Brown worked as a bike mechanic until he died last year and his homepage lives on as an astonishing technical resource.
With regular feature Cycle Facility of the Month: photographs of bike lanes leading into oncoming traffic, with deadpan captions.
Top five blogs
Increasingly reluctant to talk to the conventional press, Lance Armstrong typically communicates with his fans through his Twitter page (twitter.com/lancearmstrong) and his unexpectedly entertaining videos: recent guests have included Ben Stiller, Robin Williams and Mark Cavendish.
The Guardian's inimitable blog includes the Two Wheels column and a monthly podcast.
One of the best blogs on bike culture, this English language site documents life and style in the world's cycling capital and has a sister site, copenhagencyclechic.com, that is the last word in two-wheel fashion. It has also inspired an equally successful imitation, amsterdamize.com.
Entertaining, cynical and sharp-witted account of cycling in Manhattan.
For those fed up with cycling machismo, a refreshing diary by eight female cycling friends from across the UK.
Posted by Tim Lewis Sunday 26 July 2009 00.01 BST The Observer
If any of you know any observer readers it is worth asking them to save the review section as there are a Full five pages of reading joy!!!!!!