The English language needs a new word to describe people who ride a bike as a form of transport rather than sport, because of the animosity towards “cyclists,” according to Britain’s greatest Paralympian.
Dame Sarah Storey, a 29-time world champion in cycling and swimming, believes English should follow other languages that differentiate between racing cyclists and someone merely going to work on a bike.
In Dutch, a “normal” cyclist is a filter. A Tour de France-type cyclist on a racing bike is a wielrenner. English should make a similar distinction, suggested Storey, who will on Monday will be unveiled as the new cycling and walking commissioner of the Sheffield city region.
She said: “We need to realize that a cyclist isn’t just a Lycra-clad yob, as per the stereotype, and that cyclists are just people on bikes moving around on a mode of transport.”
She wants to normalize cycling and walking to make them the obvious choice for short, everyday journeys in Sheffield and surroundings. Her suggestion came as an Australian survey last week found that more than half of car drivers think cyclists are “not completely human,” which makes it easier to justify hatred or aggression towards them.
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As arguably the hilliest city in England, Sheffield offers a particular challenge when it comes to getting bums on saddles, admits Storey, who hopes to add to her fourteen Paralympic gold medals at Tokyo in 2020.
When the Tour de France came to Sheffield in 2014, it ended on a 30% hill (renamed Cote de Jenkin Road for the competition), which had the professionals gasping for breath.
“There are some crazy hills,” said Storey, who lives at the top of a hill in Disley, Cheshire, with her husband Barney and children Louisa, five, and Charlie, one.
She hopes to introduce an electric bike hire scheme in the Sheffield city region, having been impressed with e-bikes on a recent trip to Holland, where she won two golds at the world championships in Apeldoorn.
“I commuted half an hour every day there and back to the velodrome during Storm Gareth. I arrived soggy but happy because it was a really great route, but people were zooming past me, and I was like, ‘How dare they, I’m a Paralympic champion about to win another world title!’ and then I realized they were on e-bikes,” she said. “It wasn’t just older people who don’t have the power, but a cross-section of the population.”
She also wants to encourage companies in Sheffield to consider investing in a fleet of e-bikes for staff to use, or to offer company e-bikes instead of cars, and to shift goods with e-cargo bikes. “If you can get a company car, why can’t you get a company bike?”
The UK government offers grants of up to £3,500 for electric vehicles, and in 2017 started a £400m fund to boost the rollout of electric vehicle charging points, but there is no subsidy for e-bikes. That should change, suggested Storey. “We spend a lot of money each year on motorized travel and highways, and we need to make sure there is more money for the active travel aspect so that we can give people a choice of how they travel.”
The government should also offer cyclists the same tax breaks as motorists, she said. “If you drive somewhere on business, you can claim back 45p a mile. If you cycle the same route, it’s only 20p. It should be the same.”
There should be better driver education, she suggests, for example, to publicize that it is legal for cyclists to ride two abreast: “People have this massive problem with two people on a bike riding next to each other. Yet if they are driving a car with someone else, that person is generally sat next to them, and they are having a nice little chat. They are not insisting that the passenger sits behind them. So why would someone riding a bike be required to sit in single file and not talk?”
To prepare for her new two-year role, Storey has met with the former Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman, who is planning a thousand miles of safe cycling and walking routes in Greater Manchester called the Bee Network, named after Manchester’s civic symbol, the worker bee. She has not yet decided what to name her network, but may seek inspiration from Sheffield’s cinematic history: “Should we be doing the Full Monty?”