Sunday, 16 December 2012

Bring on the Clowns - Sky Ride 2012

It has taken me a long time to come to terms with writing this post. The Sky Ride event is such a dreadful display of corporate advertising and dangerism that I've prevaricated over this for several months. This sign best describes the attitude...

The sign marked the entrance to the Castlefield arena where there were a number of stalls and an awful lot of sand.

This year I thought I'd have a go at diluting the corporate spin with some loud music and a four wheeled pedal cycle...

...and a trailer carrying a message about Critical Mass.

However, it took me some time to realise that all the other sound systems I saw were rather similar and somehow artificial. Not the kind of hardcore setups that turn out for Critical Mass and political demos.

They were in fact all being paid for their services. They were all clowns riding Circus Zapparelli’s fleet of sound bikes. When I stopped for a chat I was even told they might be able to get me some work with the Brox.

To add to the disneyesque nature of the day a Jessica Rabbit look-alike on a bike was hired in to do the naff publicity photos.

At least the 105th Manchester Scout Group turned out in their own pedal cars.

The ride itself was fairly boring; an out and back from Castlefield to the Commonwealth Games Stadium with two way bikes on both sides of the road, making it pretty cramped. Only if you ventured out from the stadium up to the extra loop to the velodrome did you then get a lovely little ride on quiet roads back to the stadium.

Sadly Sky Ride is one of those events where lots of drivers strap bikes onto their cars and drive into Manchester so they can have a few hours cycling in the city centre, dressed up in helmets and ugly yellow advertising bibs before driving home again to their car-dominated suburbs. Far from improving the image of cycling, it promotes the idea that cycling is dangerous and strange. It would be far better to close the city centre to traffic every Sunday and encourage people to cycle into the city.

Vole O'Speed has posted a pretty good damnation of this kind of event.
I've been to enough of those Sky Ride type events. They are horrible. They amount to a kind of unique torture for cyclists, cramming us together like sardines in a tin on a few niggardly-handed out kilometres of closed roads in central London, for which privilege we have to suffer a bombardment of unwelcome music, moronically-cheery "motivational" announcements over PA systems, the advertising of sponsors forced down our throats, a sea of stupid yellow tabards, the promotion of helmets, and the presence of boring cyclesport celebrities. Like everything else to do with the official treatment of transport cycling in the UK, it's just another insult.

Sky ride is a sad example of Manchester's lack of transport focus when it comes to spending on cycling. The council channelled over 8 times more money on funding sports facilities for British Cycling (funded by Sky and car firm Fiat) than it has spent over the past five years on making the streets of Manchester attractive for cycling.


  1. In order to get more people cycling for transport, we first need to get them cycling.

    1. No, we need to provide them with safe, easy routes.

      Nobody thinks "gee, this cordonned-off, marshalled day-glo ride is such fun, I think I'll try riding to work along the A57 on Monday. Those lorries hold no fear for me now – I have a tabard!"

  2. Your entitled to your opinion, however, research evidence (see 'City Cycling' edited by John Pucher and Ralph Buehler, published MIT Press) is that a multi-component approach to promoting cycling as a mode of transport is the most effective.

    Pucher concluded that it's almost impossible to attribute growth in cycling to any single intervention – there are many examples where infrastructure has been built and improved but the level of cycling has not increased, maybe due to poor promotion.

    The cities with high levels of cycling have a mature cyçling eco system which provides continuous prompts and reminders of the viability of cycling. Things like signposted cycle routes, traffic free cycle routes, route maps, good secure storage, provision for accessible/inclusive cycling, bike safety checks, good cycle training, a cycle hire scheme and promotional events with some razzamatazz and humour.

    British Cycling's analysis shows that the Sky Ride programme has been effective in getting more people to start or return to cycling and do so more often. But the Sky Ride programme is not aimed at experienced, regular cyclists.

    If you listen to the experiences of people who started cycling regularly after going on a Sky Ride or a Sky Ride Local you will hear how grateful they are for the confidence they have built and the tips and help they were given by the experienced riders who lead the rides.

    1. Sadly British Cycling are using rubbish statistics - they regard someone who only cycles 12 times a year as a "regular cyclist",

    2. Also Azor_rider are you in any way connected to British Cycling or Sky, or are you funded in any way by one or other of those organisations?

  3. At least Jessica Rabbit introduced the subversive notion that you don't have to wear a plastic hat or a bilious yellow bib, plus you can ride a proper bike with a basket and mudguards.

    She is of course decked out high-vis style - I'm talking about the colour of her dress.