Charlie Simpson, cycling and charity

BBC News:

bq. A seven-year-old boy from London who was aiming to raise £500 for the Haiti quake relief effort through a sponsored bike ride has raised more than £72,000 (n.b. now over £100,000).

— “http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/8477345.stm”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/8477345.stm

The bike ride is a great effort, and the fundraising really got going after Charlie was featured on BBC Breakfast. None of what follows is intended to knock what Charlie has done, so please don’t take it in that way; it is merely a comment on our collective attitude to cycling here in the UK, with reference to kids in The Netherlands (highlighted on “David Hembrow’s blog”:http://hembrow.blogspot.com/search/label/school%20travel).

There are three cycling story staples in the UK media:

# “Cyclists (especially on pavements) are a menace to society”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8319630.stm
# “One or more cyclists gets killed/seriously injured in a collision”:http://www.eadt.co.uk/content/eadt/news/story.aspx?brand=EADOnline&category=News&tBrand=EADOnline&tCategory=xDefault&itemid=IPED23%20Jan%202010%2009%3A42%3A54%3A777 (unless you’re BBC London News, who “deem cyclists getting killed on a regular basis to be less important than motorists getting parking tickets”:http://crapwalthamforest.blogspot.com/2009/08/bbc-london-news.html).
# “Cyclist rides distance to raise money for good cause”:http://www.thisisbath.co.uk/news/Peter-embarks-year-long-cycle-ride/article-904458-detail/article.html

All of these stories are newsworthy (unless you’re BBC London News…) because cycling remains an outsider activity. In the Netherlands, children ride to school further, daily, than Charlie Simpson did for his one-off ride. It’s a normal activity, so a child’s bike-ride-of-note would doubtless be rather longer as a consequence.

Kids in the UK want to ride to school, but often can’t because their parents won’t let them out of (justifiable, IMHO) fear of ever-more-dangerous roads. Kids in the Netherlands can ride in near-total safety not because of the numbers, but because of the infrastructure.

The sad thing is that we’re trading safety now (cocooned in a car on the school run) for danger in later life (heart disease, diabetes and the rest).

These three types of cycling stories run by the UK media all do their bit, unfortunately, to marginalise cycling, making it appear to be an activity undertaken by the brave, the mad and the poor.

I long for the day when, rather than death, charity or cyclist-pedestrian conflict, it’s bike infrastructure projects to make our towns and cities better places to live and work that make the front pages.

One thought on “Charlie Simpson, cycling and charity”

  1. On reflection, I think that we should regard young Charlie's achievement not so much from the cycling angle but from he, being so young, drawing so much attention to the Haiti tragedy and attracting such a huge sum of money. I would imagine he would have got the same attention if he'd roller skated round the park ten times.

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