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The Future of Cycling

by Craig Boggon

BEEP BEEP BEEP the 0500 alarm goes off, get up, check the phone. Phew, Craig (from Ride Electric) has seen the message about delaying the start until 0730 meeting and push off at 0800. New alarm set and back to sleep for another ninety minutes. The perks of remembering you are on-call!

I had hoped to be cycling to the Conference Of Parties or COP26 in Glasgow with ‘We Are Possible’ and the likes of ‘Cyclist4Future’ but an understandable postponement has delayed this. I revised my ambitions; a tour of the North East would suffice in 2020’s second lockdown.

We were also coming off the back of recently spaced streets that had popped up all over the country, that were now in decline faster than any endangered species. Things were beginning to feel like the cycling communities seen in places like Amsterdam and Pontevedra, Spain where people power is the main method of transport. Why do a few voices that do not wish to move on from polluting vehicles continue to drive the rest of the country into a ditch!

Recently there has been a lack of guidance and poor judgement from leaders with the current viral and obvious but emerging climate disasters; especially the lack of forward vision for “recovery”. It has been a perfect (unforeseen and unfortunate) situation that due to a pandemic we’ve seen waters clear in Venice and smog reduce across the world, even evidence of improved air quality here in Newcastle. Why aren’t policy makers getting behind this?

Discussion with the folks at Ride Electric the previous weeks had filled me with such enthusiasm and ambition to showcase what the North East had to offer for sustainable development and the future of travel. Ride Electric was offering the opportunity to rent an electric bike to the personnel at the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospital Trust for the price of the monthly Metro tickets. I reviewed their site and initially proposed to them the idea of cycling to Glasgow with a Cargo bike to “see what these things could do!”. This was later on revised as the distance 270km, in November in the NE! Cold and not much day light.

On the morning of the cycle a lovely addition of handlebar mitts and snacks that they provided (just as well, as I had forgotten my jam sarnies!) accompanied my “minor” items, as I was able to carry a tent, sleeping bag, camping cooking gear and there was still space! I easily could have brought my duvet and pillows as well as a camping chair! Although the newly added, locally made wooden flight box, was a good 15kg heavier!

I set off from Tynemouth Metro just before 8am, my first stop would be the pedestrian tunnel. Luckily discussions the week before had eliminated this as a potential crossing point to head to Wearside. Photo opportunities later in Walker Dene park and at Grey’s Monument quickly highlighted that this was going to be an interesting day! As I made my way along Route 72, Hadrian’s Way I was taken back by the number of dog walkers and on lookers, gawk as the bike powered along the trails. On a couple of occasions passer-byes commented “what’s in the box?” I answered and at times when stopped (socially distanced) was able to show, with the awe and best response that I was “living the dream”. It really made me think as I cycled around Northumberland hills how this form of service bike could also lead to a form of self-supported, ‘adventure-active’ holiday, along supporting campsites, rest stops. The mind wonders when having fun.

Similar to electric vehicles, e-bikes also have different energy modes. I sat between ‘Off’, ‘Eco’ and ‘Normal’ mode, with an end average speed around 20kmph, however that front flight box made for a very different ride to the initial trial I had had a couple of weeks previously. The day was all about endurance, so sticking to nothing more than ‘Normal mode’ even up Bywell Bank to the A69. The variation in gears and the electric motor made easy work of the hillsides around the Tyne Valley and cresting these to catch a glimpse of a rainbow overlooking the Valley made the venture for me.

Part of the route already took in Northumberland, up towards Scots Gap, as I made my way to Stamfordham to re-assess. It was starting to become apparent that I would not make the full journey in just one day. I began planning options in my head “where could I recharge?”, “what if I couldn’t?”, “how far could I go without being too far from Newcastle and Tynemouth?".

A few lovely hills and photo opportunities managed to show off what this bike could achieve. I attempted to stop at a known cyclist café around Bolam and then Morpeth but both were closed due to the current restrictions. I then managed to find an open café to ask if it was okay to recharge but rightfully so “take away” was the only option, no “sit in and recharge”. At that point I already knew I should begin heading to loop back round to Tynemouth. A quick text to Craig to ensure it was okay to come back to the Metro station.

On the return back via Morpeth and Blyth I had youngsters intrigued by the cargo bike asking lots of appropriate questions: “where have you come from?”, “where are you going?”, “why?” and “can I sit on the box?”. Unfortunately I had to decline the latter but all of the questions were part of my goals for the ride to stir local interest in what the future holds for local services and I predict maybe local touristic ventures!

With renewable energy, e-bikes and e-cargo bikes are a valid option for the masses at affordable payment schemes over other Electric Vehicles. Especially when the majority of journeys carried out in cities are between 1-10 miles, I completed 120km without really breaking much of a sweat! Yes it won’t replace a long distance but with the increase in local community car share schemes, this is a valid option! What it did show me first hand was not only the comfort of cargo bikes, the service applications of e-bikes but also the versatility of cargo bikes. With the assurance that flight boxes are often much lighter, I definitely see myself going car free for short/medium distance journeys and even on holidays, with the time availability and perhaps in Summer.

I had envisaged cycling 270km. It didn’t finally go to plan, but I still managed 120km and still had 8% battery left! COVID halted the use of the charger and restricted camp sites, the ~15kg flight crate made for heavy work.

This recent Cargo bike adventure and last year’s goals of discussing a sustainable sporting lifestyle will resume (see more on my Instagram page @the_sustainable_triathlete).

The enthusiasm will now continue into work, where the Trust has declared a climate emergency and announced its plan to reach carbon neutral by 2040, again before the Government.

For me, a take home quote from a recent podcast:

“What if climate change is a hoax, and we end up making the world a better place…”


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