Breaking down barriers to cycling with Brothers on Bikes

In his Foreword to his 2013 Vision for Cycling in London, Boris Johnson candidly acknowledged that “truly mass participation” in two-wheel travel around the capital cannot be achieved unless more Londoners from those groups under represented in the city’s small but growing cycling population decide it’s better to get around by bike. He declares (on page 5) his wish for more women and older people to take up cycling, along with “more cyclists of all social backgrounds” and “more black and minority ethnic Londoners.” How might this laudable objective be achieved?

It’s plain to those who wish to see that installing segregated infrastructure is not the universal answer to this question. Though safety considerations are a major factor inhibiting a lot Londoners from travelling by bike, there are also significant, specific cultural factors at work. The mayor’s Foreword didn’t mention these, but Transport for London has made a contribution to addressing them in partnership with the environmental regeneration charity Groundwork. Grants of up to £10,000 have been awarded to 31 community organisations of different kinds to fund cycling projects seeking to embrace those groups of Londoners yet to be much seduced by the hoped-for “cycling revolution”.

One of those projects is Brothers On Bikes, a scheme set up in Ilford six months ago by 23 year-old Junaid Ibrahim, who works for the leisure, sports and education charity Off The Street, and fellow cyclist friends. Its simple initial aim was to persuade others to join them by organising group rides and classes aimed at beginners. Junaid had participated in the mayor’s Skyride events and thought: “Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could do this for my local community?” He describes that community as comprising Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani Londoners and explains that the bicycle tends to have particular off-putting associations for them, especially the older ones. “Many of them came here from poor backgrounds and ‘back home’ if you rode a bicycle it meant you couldn’t afford a car.”

Trying to break down that barrier has been made easier by one of Junaid’s cyclist friends securing a position in the running of the local mosque, which is supporting the endeavour as a result. Junaid says the group rides for adults attract between five and 15 participants whose average age is the mid-30s while separate rides for children draw 15 to 20. As its name suggests, Brothers on Bikes is aimed at males at adult level though the children’s events are attended by both boys and girls, and Junaid says he’s hoping to set up a scheme for women with support from Redbridge Council.

Another of the Brothers repairs bikes, some of which emerge from sheds and garages covered in cobwebs and rust. Part of the £4,908 grant will go towards upgrading his workshop skills so he can do a better job and share his knowledge with others. Some will be spent on buying more cycles for children to use and on setting up new Brothers on Bikes schemes in Forest Gate and Newbury Park.

Looking at 2011 Census data on how Londoners travel to work, it is striking how low the representation of ethnic minority groups in general is among those who cycle. In Redbridge, of 1,362 residents who said they used a bicycle to get to their jobs, 219 categorised themselves as Asian or Asian British. That was 16% of the total. Yet the same category of people accounted for 41% of Redbridge’s population as a whole. Brothers on Bikes, hopefully joined by their sisters soon, are making a start on closing that cycling gap.

Source: Guardian