Clare Neely: cycle campaigner and activist

Cycling is a women's issue and an environmental issue

I have been campaigning all my life. My ancestor was preaching against capital punishment in 1791 and I come from a family of people who were always out there doing stuff. If there’s something wrong you go out and do something about it.  I want to make the world a better place and I suppose I do have some sort of preachy, campaigning gene!

In the late 70s and early 80s most of the work I did was around women's and environmental issues; I was involved with the women’s movement and the peace movement. I wasn't exactly burnt out, but in the early 90s I began to feel that sometimes some of the issues were a bit too close to home. So for a change, I though I would do some cycle campaigning as it would be a bit more entertaining.

However, I soon realised that cycling is a women's issue, and also an environmental issue. I thought I would only do it for a few months, but cycling is such a lovely thing to campaign around as it is so positive.

If you campaign to get more people on bikes and they do, you are giving people so much: health, access to places they didn't have access to or know about, opening up communities, access to employment.

If you want to get involved in cycle campaigning, work to your strengths. If you're a photographer take photos, if you are a storyteller tell stories, a statistician have lots of cycling stats. It is about finding a place in cycle campaigning that fits in with your life. Find something that is part of your life already and you enjoy, and once you get into cycle activism, you never leave.

You almost have to come at it from a selfish angle, what do I like, what skills do I want to gain? Some people use it like an internship, for an example a photographer who wanted to build up his portfolio took some photos with the Lambeth Cyclists and got them published in the London Cyclist Magazine. 

Everybody has something that they can offer whether you like speaking to people and you do one stall a year, or you are always ringing the council to complain about something. Even someone that comes to one event in Bike Week or goes on architecture ride helps the campaign. If people in the street see a group of people out having fun on bikes you start to get the chaos effect. Many people campaign just by cycling everyday, but I enjoy working with other campaigners.

Classic thing about cycling - I was having coffee with a  client and then realised next appointment was about 1 ½ miles away and only took 15 minutes to get there, kept client chatting and happy, no way would have made it and made next appointment on time. Cycling makes incredible efficient use of time.  And at the same time on that 15 minutes I was collecting my thoughts and arrived.

If I hadn’t had a moment in the day to collect my thoughts its on the bicycle, I don’t know how I would manage my life. It makes a whole lot more things possible, seeing friends, meeting clients. I do a lot of thinking on my bike, as well as not having to go to the gym.

Cycling is such a community thing, I bump into people all the time. You can spend a couple of seconds while they’re walking along, you walk along. The whole city is your friend in a way, not an alien thing you have to rush through. Cyclists see a whole different side of the world, and of London, it’s a much more social thing.