Philip Darnton of the Bicycle Association of GB explains why the UK bicycle industry is so keen to back Space for Cycling

Philip Darnton, former head of Cycling England, and current director of the Bicycle Association of GB, explains why his organisation has become one of Space for Cycling's lead supporters

Back in August 1928, H R Watling, the director of the Bicycle Association of GB (at that time, grandly called the ‘British Cycle and Motor Cycle Manufacturers and Trades Union’) wrote to The Times newspaper saying:

“In view of the fact that the bicycle is the transport of nearly four million people, this vehicle is entitled to its fair share of the road.”

With extraordinary relevance to the world some 85 years later, he went on:

“It is open to doubt whether any other form of road transport ... make such a valuable quota to the solution of the daily traffic problem.”

letter to The Times in 1928

Nowadays, we wouldn't be totally surprised if only a few of you have heard of the Bicycle Association of GB, the UK's leading trade body for the cycling industry.

Our origins date back to 1890, when the ‘Cycle and Motorcycle Trades Association’ was established in Coventry, which was home to James Starley, inventor of the modern bicycle, and and the 'BA' has been there ever since.

Our Association is little-known to the general cycling public because our role is as a trade association, representing the major manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers of bicycles in the UK.

Our focus is on technical, legislative and regulatory issues for bikes, and we represent the industry in Westminster, in Whitehall and in Brussels.

Along with the London Cycle Campaign and the national charitable cycling groups, the BA is a member of the UK Cycling Alliance, which is where we first heard of LCC's plans for its ‘Space for Cycling’ campaign in London during the local elections.

In addition to our formal responsibilities, representing the interests of the industry, the BA also manages a fundraising scheme – called ‘Bike Hub’ – which over the last decade has raised over £3.5 million to support major cycling initiatives in the UK.

The contributions, which are entirely voluntary, are made by most of the BA member companies and Independent Bike Dealers (IBD’s) across the country, who together donate £2 for every £1000 of cycles and equipment sold to the public.

Even though the biggest chains, supermarkets and online retailers don’t contribute, Bike Hub is regularly collecting over £300,000 each year.

With so many worthwhile cycling projects – all in need of funding – from recycling to training to campaigning – it is difficult for ‘Bike Hub’ to select how best to invest, and how to ensure that every penny donated goes directly to a project, and is not swallowed up in “general admin” costs.  

From the outset, the BA, with the Association of Cycle Traders, decided that it should have a clear focus on the future of cycling, and use its funds to help ensure that today’s young people did not become a “lost generation” of cyclists, who had never learned to ride safely and enjoy the fun of cycling.

That’s why Bike Hub has supported both Sustrans, with its original ‘Bike It’ schools programme, and now British Cycling which has established ‘Go Ride’ as its introduction to cycling for youngsters across over 300 clubs in England.

But, as experienced cyclists know, there is more to riding a bike on-road than cycle training, essential as that is.

That’s why Bike Hub launched the Bike Hub mobile app (which is free to download) to give riders effective cycling-specific route-planning (with options for the quickest, quietest or ‘greenest’ routes) to and from any location.

And crucially, our app is linked to independent retailers to ensure that cyclists get the best advice and service too.  

Every bit as important, though, ‘Bike Hub’ is always on the lookout for schemes that work to make cycling safer – and that’s where why we chose to support Space for Cycling.

The cycling industry, naturally, wants the future of cycling to be once again as popular and successful as its past once was.

High-quality infrastructure – including 'invisible infrastructure', such as 20mph limits – are essential features of a successful cycling environment.

If we want more cyclists, then we want them to start young (because youngsters really want to cycle), and that means that our streets have to be safe for everyone “from 8 to 80” years old.

In becoming the principal sponsor of Space for Cycling, the Bicycle Association considered the project carefully, because we had never before invested ‘Bike Hub’ funds into a campaigning exercise.

Nevertheless, we were impressed by two specific elements of ‘Space for Cycling’:

  • First, the London Cycling Campaign had already run its 2012 'Love London, Go Dutch' campaign with such skill and great success – so they knew what they were doing.
  • Second, 'Space for Cycling' is not a “prescriptive” campaign, with a “one-size-fits-all” programme, but is designed to be tailored to local needs.

So, with confidence in good management and a timely and fitting idea, ‘Bike Hub’ enthusiastically became a supporter of Space for Cycling.

So, in supporting ‘Space for Cycling’ in 2014, the Bicycle Association and the cycling industry are continuing our appeal from The Times in 1928 for “a fair share of the road”.

And, as our then-director Mr Watling said, cycles are more than just “bikes” – they are a means to an end, indeed to several important ends: reducing congestion, improving health, bettering our environment, and providing inexpensive and convenient transport.

More safe Space for Cycling in London and across the UK will mean more pleasant places to live, grow up in, and enjoy.

We wish the London Cycle Campaign, including its many volunteers and supporters, every success with 'Space for Cycling' campaign. It’s good for all of us...

Phillip Darnton OBE
Director of the Bicycle Association of GB

Philip Darnton