Cambridge is UK’s cycle capital, it has the most bicycles in the whole of the UK outstripping York and Oxford. A Cambridge City Council report shows that in March 2008 over a12 hour period 20,000 cyclists crossed the River Cam which represents 18% of traffic flow and in the last ten years pedal cycle use has had the most increase compared to cars and buses. Surely there must be more bikes than people in Cambridge. It is a wonder that people can still be seen walking but maybe those walking have their bike parked not too far away.
Big, small, cheap, expensive, all colours, sizes, sizes, sport or mountain, for child or adult – there is one for everyone! They even have specially designed bikes like trailer bikes or tag-alongs for towing children, tandems which are bikes with two seats and two sets pedals so that two people can ride the bike, or trailers at the front or rear end of the bike for seating little children or dogs. Fat people, skinny people, old people, young people, women in skirts and high heeled shoes, men in suits and ties, parents taking their children to school, all whiz around the narrow streets of Cambridge. They ride like they own the road, not afraid of motorists, who are extra cautious. They hurriedly race past surprised pedestrians on the pavement, often not indicating and oblivious to the highway code. They scramble for “parking space” carelessly parking their bikes on street lights and on historical buildings.
Cycling in Cambridge has its advantages – traffic is a nightmare and the public transport system is mediocre but cycling is prohibited in some areas in the city and even more important concerns are the safety of the rider and security of the bike. A report by the Transport Research Laboratory speculates 150,000 cycling accidents occur in the UK every year but there is no cause for worry as this figure is an approximation which includes both minor and major injuries. A proper analysis by the Department of Transport has revealed that although the number of cyclists have increased in the UK, there has been a decline in the number of fatalities with one death for every 30 million kilometres travelled as of 2005.
Security on the other hand is a much bigger issue for riders. In 2005/6 it was estimated that in the UK, 439,000 bicycles were stolen. In Cambridge city, police reports show an average of 200 bikes are stolen every month, with some months like October, when students start the new academic year, having more thefts.
Back at home to be seen riding a bike to work or school or in town would be laughable. Bikes are either for children or for the daring men who carry live goats or stacks of charcoal piled precariously who ride along the busy motorways intersecting the towns of Malawi, courageously vying for space with mad minibus drivers. Bikes are not for students, professionals, or the educated. I had a bike not too long ago which I gave away, not because I was ashamed to ride it, it was just that my less than developed muscles could not manage to ride up the slopes of hilly Blantyre. But wouldn’t it be faster for the students at Chancellor College to hop onto a bike to get into Zomba town or would not the bank manager get healthy by riding his bike to the golf game or would not it be cheaper for a teacher to ride rather than take public transport? Maybe if we cast a sexier, cooler image of riding in Malawi maybe more people would ride.
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