When did you first start cycling?
I learned to cycle as a child; when I was quite young. We lived in places that didn’t have much car traffic, so at six or seven it was safe for me to cycle around the block on my own. I had a bike with a banana seat, coaster brake and blue tyres, and I can remember learning to make skid marks on the pavement by stopping suddenly! But as I wasn’t going very far it was more for fun than anything else. When I got a bit older I started cycling to school in the spring and fall, but not the winter (we lived in Canada and it gets icy); as a teenager I used a bicycle for doing a paper route, and later for getting to and from a summer job.
How did you feel about cycling then and how do you feel now? Does it have a different meaning to you?
I still enjoy cycling, but it isn’t always about recreation for me now; and I definitely don’t try to make skid marks… though I still prefer to have a coaster brake.
Do you use your bicycle only for leisure or does it serve other purposes in your life?
My bicycle is my first and preferred form of transport. I don’t drive, and joint problems make carrying a backpack or walking difficult; on a bicycle I can put everything in a pannier and pedal away. I definitely consider my bicycle a mobility aid, and have adapted it for my joint problems by adding an extra-tall handlebar stem and swept back handlebars so that it has an upright posture and I don’t have to lean on my arms.
What difference does your bike make in your life?
On good days it allows me to get some much-needed exercise pain-free, and maintain an active lifestyle. On bad days, walking is very painful and my bike can be the difference between being able to get to the local shops or having to stay home.
What’s the biggest obstacle in using it as a mobility aid?
There are quite a few obstacles. I have asthma, so on high pollution days, cycling very far isn’t a good idea for me, especially in heavy traffic. There are quite a few routes where the sheer amount and speed of traffic makes cycling dangerous, and that’s always a concern. Also, I can’t take the bicycle on most of the tube network. Taking it on trains can also be a problem.
What steps do you think might be taken to address the barriers facing disabled cyclists?
Proper segregated infrastructure with enough space for cargo bikes, trikes, hand cycles and so on, protected from cars, is the single most effective change there could be, at least in London. This would cut the air pollution and give me and so many others safe routes to cycle much further. I wouldn’t mind so much about not being able to take my bike on the tube if I could cycle to Central London and back safely in the rush hour. In a broader sense, recognising that a bicycle can be a mobility aid and that somewhere not being cycle-accessible is just as bad as it not being wheelchair accessible, might be helpful. So would cycle racks on buses. But if I could always cycle door-to-door then I’d be able to do more walking once I got to my destination, because I wouldn’t have tired myself out on public transport on the way there.
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