Cycling, but not just for the elite

It’s hard to be downbeat when Yorkshire lands a part of the world’s biggest sports event but there was something very resonant in the launch of the Tour de France event in Leeds. Several thousand of us filled the Headrow outside Leeds Town Hall in the snow as the great and the good were escorted up the steps and into the warm grandeur of Leeds Town Hall for a celebratory dinner. Cuthbert Broderick would have soundly approved as the Town Hall’s grandeur was designed and built to impose a good slice of Victorian law and order on the unruly people of Leeds with its court room and cells.

Cycling in Victorian times came late, but between 1890 and 1900 a cycling industrial revolution took grip in Britain with phenomenal numbers of bikes, made, sold and ridden. Nowadays 150% more bikes than cars are sold annually in the UK, but the amount cycling on the road represents about 2% of trips

The tour de France allows us a fantastic opportunity to say that cycling is not just for an elite that command our respect and adulation. If we can close off roads for them to sweep past us while we cheer and flag wave, we can close off streets for the ordinary people to cycle too. Why don’t we close off some of the central streets of Leeds for a couple of hours on Sunday mornings in the run up to the Tour de France?

Image of a ciclovia in Mexico
A Ciclovia on a Sunday in Mexico

If this is to happen we need to be sure that people will turn out and support these ‘Ciclovias’: this is the name for popular cycling events that originated in Latin America and are epitomized in Bogota, Colombia.

A ciclova in New York
A ciclovia in New York

Not only do we need lots of people to come out on the streets, we also need ideas and creativity to make them a true celebration of our cultural life, and reclaim the streets or at least re-purpose them for a couple of hours.

Would you come (with your kids) to cycle around some traffic free streets on a Sunday morning?

Could you come down and set up a stall? or

What would you like to see to make the event special?


  1. Great idea and no need for the council to spend money on Skyride! We would happily help out. I’m sure Peddlers Arms would like to be involved to offer some free bike maintenance.

  2. So true, the roads are already there, all (you) have to do it close them.

    I’d definitely get involved as it seems a great idea. And not just for the period leading up to the big race.

  3. I don’t understand this idea. Why would roads need closing on a Sunday morning when there’s next to no traffic about?

    Keep calm… and just ride your bike.

  4. Definitely! I think this is a great idea and could really change the way we look at our city. It would be a huge shame for the Tour to come and go with no impact on the way most people travel.

  5. Martin, you ask a very important question,

    I guess for me it’s the difference between getting up to 5% cycling and 50% cycling (such as in Groningen) because those who are prepared to cycle on the road in this country are the ‘traffic tolerant’. I think we need to ask ourselves would just telling everyone to cycle on the streets of Leeds at 10 am on a Sunday morning enable the 8-80 years olds that Gil Penalosa targets in Ciclovias to take part. My guess is it wouldn’t and to help those cycle we have to close off some streets and make a bit of a song and dance about it.

    Behind Marin’s question is another one, “who are the streets for” and the presumption in many peoples minds is that people that pay road tax somehow rent the right to use them. The truth is very far from that, we all pay for the streets and cyclists have as much right to use them as the cars, buses and occasional horse drawn trap or mobility scooter. Somehow those rights have gradually been eroded so that most streets of Leeds are used with the presumption that they are mean for cars. Road tax is just another tax and those that pay it are just the same of the rest of us that pay for schools, social care and armed forces. The sums are not dedicated and don’t stack up. As far as I know the only two places where motorists pay a levy that is targeted at transport spend are London and Nottingham.

    Of course the road tax question is another quite heated debate, and one that you all might want to share your thoughts on…

  6. PS apologies for the typos … I intended to write meant for cars and not mean cars and the same as the rest of us …

  7. An event like this has been brewing for a while now. We need a date and a plan. I’m in, and I suspect we could rustle up a good few from Leeds Cycle Action Group.

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