Back on your bike Boris, cycling is no quick-fix to obesity crisis – Jayne Dowle

ONCE again the Government finds
itself in dire need of a map. Does Boris Johnson not realise that England is full of hills?

Graeme Bandeira's depiction of Boris Johnson's cycling initiative.

Few regions have more ups and downs than Yorkshire. You don’t have to go far to find yourself on a precipitous semi-mountain. Even the flat bits, such as the glorious two-mile-long promenade at Bridlington, don’t stay that way for long.

That’s just one of the reasons why this ‘everybody on your bike’ idea, part of the new £2bn Covid-beating anti-obesity drive, is doomed to failure.

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And not just because the ‘obesity hotspots’ the PM talks about also happen to be postcodes riddled with deprivation and crime. There are many reasons for this, all of which Mr Johnson should get his head around first. Let’s just say that, to a desperate thief, a bike is like a jewel to a magpie. Easy to nick, easy to sell.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets members of a local cycling club at the Canal Side Heritage Centre in Beeston near Nottingham to launch of a strategy to get more people cycling.

Sorry, but it’s yet another one of those London-centric, metropolitan headline-seeking wheezes which doesn’t travel well. It might be a roaring success in the capital, where there are 11,000 ‘Boris Bikes’ for public hire from the current PM’s time as Mayor of London.

However, they do things differently there. Improvements have been made to make the capital’s roads more cycle-friendly and less dangerous, there are lots of students and tourists, and the culture of commuting by bike is well-established. This is largely because of necessity; in normal times, public transport is chronically over-crowded.

With respect to the many keen cyclists in our own county – some of whom I count as friends – most adults have not the slightest interest in getting on a bike.

I hate to break it to the Prime Minister, no stranger to a cycle helmet himself, but individuals over the age of consent usually regard bike-riding as a choice or hobby, not an obligation.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Cycle Lounge, a bicycle repair shop in Beeston, Nottinghamshire, to launch a strategy to get more people cycling.

He wouldn’t force tap-dancing or fencing on the world as a whizz-bang way to lose weight, would he? So why cycling, that most public of full body co-ordination experiences? It’s not for everyone Boris, please accept this.

Sure, many of us might like the idea. For about a fortnight. Then said bike, which could have cost thousands, ends up going no further than the back of the garage, where it cowers in embarrassment, gathering admonishing dust.

A bike tends to be one of those items we put away with childish things. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-bike at all. I loved my bicycle as child and as a student, when I relied on it daily. I’m always the first to suggest hiring bikes on holiday. This is usually met with a collective raised eyebrow from the rest of my family.

Four years ago, when the car broke down, I borrowed my daughter’s bike to go to the supermarket. At the back of my mind was the altruistic long-term notion of cutting down on short car journeys to save money and help the environment.

A rear gear cassette is removed from a wheel inside Briscycle workshop, an independent bike repair service, sales and bicycle recycling centre in Brislington, Bristol, where they are participating in the Government's delayed bike repair scheme, which has been launched, offering £50 vouchers towards the cost of fixing a bike. The Fix Your Bike initiative forms part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plans for a "new golden age for cycling" with more bike lanes and safer junctions.

However, we live halfway up (or down) the side of a valley. I’m ashamed to say that my idealism – and legs – lasted about five minutes. I’d rather walk to the shop and pull one of those cute shopping trolleys thank you very much.

And yes, I have heard of electric bikes, which have a small motor hidden in the frame for when you’re travelling uphill or setting off from Leeds to Sheffield, say. Apparently, Ministers are hoping that those who are less fit or older (tick, tick) will be enticed by the carrot of up to a third off the price of an ‘e-bike’, which might cost from £600 to £3,000.

If I had £400 to spare this year, I wouldn’t be spending it on a e-bike, period. And just like the regular version, they do break down or run out of charge. The promise of a £50 maintenance voucher wouldn’t be anywhere near enough to give me peace of mind.

Also, it’s all very well cycling self-righteously down the road, but what if people then go home and stuff themselves with pizza and chips as a ‘reward’? Rather than push bikes on us (sorry), Mr Johnson would be far better employed in devising ways to make us all take responsibility for our own health, weight and wellbeing in a rigorously holistic way.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson rides a bicycle during a visit to the Canal Side Heritage Centre in Beeston near Nottingham to launch of a strategy to get more people cycling.

This should start in school. A very grand chap of my acquaintance has an idea for encouraging secondary-age pupils back in September – bracing cross country runs on the curriculum.

I couldn’t think of anything worse and neither could my poor teenage daughter, who incidentally loves her bike and regularly goes for jolly rides along the Trans Pennine Trail with her friends.

Let the competitive ones thrash it out on the playing fields if they want, but make ‘health’ an attractive subject in its own right. There should be focus on devising personalised exercise plans, and lessons on how to plan nutritious meals, shop wisely, and eat a balanced diet with all the requisite vitamins and minerals.

That, however, would take time and sustained effort, qualities this quick fix, knee-jerk government have in short supply. Along with a map.

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