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Brompton CEO: 'I wasn’t trying to bash road cyclists, we need all types of people cycling'

Joe Robinson
28 Feb 2019

Butler-Adams says the point is cycling needs to be accepted as a normal mode of transport, which will only come with better infrastructure

Brompton CEO Will Butler-Adams has sought to clarify controversial remarks in a recent interview in which he appeared to blame so-called MAMILs for the rise in animosity on UK roads, telling Cyclist today, 'I wasn't trying to bash road cyclists.'  

The Telegraph published comments from Butler-Adams on Sunday that implied he saw road cyclists – and more specifically MAMILs (middle-aged men in Lycra) – as the reason for the animosity behind cyclists and drivers on the roads.

Cycling media outlets picked it up, ourselves included, and Butler-Adams quickly found himself having to defend a point he never really trying to make.

‘I wasn’t trying to bash road cyclists, we need all types of people cycling,' Butler-Adams told Cyclist over the phone this afternoon. 'It makes you happy! We don’t need people crossing cities in little metal boxes.’

‘It’s the first time what I have said in an article has been misunderstood,' he explains. 'It’s a bit of a shock as I’m not used to it in the world of cycling.’

Butler-Adams was quoted as saying, 'They [cyclists] whizz along at 100mph like some hardcore guy, get to work and change out of that funny stuff', but says the point he was trying to make was that cycling needs to be accepted as a normal mode of transport, not just exclusive to those in tight clothing riding carbon fibre road bikes.

‘Only 4% of Londoners ride a bike but 99% of Londoners can ride a bike, they just choose not to. We need to try and communicate to that 99%,’ explains Butler-Adams.

‘If we are going to get to mass cycling participation, it won't be by exclusively having people in Lycra and by having a “community of cyclists”. My main aim is to get non-cyclists on bikes in a city that doesn't just normalise cycling around the recreational cyclist.’

Instead, Butler-Adams argued that the leading cause of the heightened aggression between some drivers and cycists on the country's roads stems from an issue out of either side's control.

‘I think the friction exists because the infrastructure simply hasn’t caught up. It’s just not good enough. For example, when riding along I might get pushed off the road onto the pavement, which pedestrians won't understand the reason for. Then suddenly the cycling lane will disappear altogether,’ remarks Butler-Adams.

‘Reality is, a city will always have friction as it redesigns for cycling or walking like London currently is. If you look at cities in northern Europe in the 1970s, cycling went from 6% to 25% but experienced similar issues.

‘We are improving cycling infrastructure, which means more cyclists, which increases awareness. But that also creates more friction, which in turn means there's more demand for cycling. But in reality, the UK city is just not there yet.’

The Brompton CEO's comments about 'cities in northern Europe' is a reference to the likes of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where journeys by bike increased dramatically during the 1970s as their transport infrastructure evolved from being designed for cars, to being designed for people. 

This saw an increase in the number of shorter journeys being undertaken not just by bike, but on foot and public transport, too. In other words 25% by bike does not mean 75% in cars.

As Butler-Adams points out, these cities still have their recreational cyclists on road bikes but they also built an idea of riding because it 'was just what you do'. 

The solution for this current stand-off is obvious, according to Brompton’s boss, and is currently being wasted underground – literally.

Transport for London and government are edging closer to the completion of Crossrail albeit months late – and now £4 billion over budget. After that, the government will focus on another multi-billion pound investment in HS2, which will reduce train journey times fractionally between London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester.

‘At the moment, we are suffering from grave mental and physical health problems in our cities and there’s more pressure to consider how to live. More people live in cities than ever so we need to design these cities for people who live there,’ explains Butler-Adams.

‘Yet we have spent £24 billion on Crossrail. Yes, you can make an argument for its creation but with a fifth of that money, you could transform cycling in London. A tiny bit more for Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh. Look at how much that’ll improve health.

'But no, now we pile into HS2. Government putting money into the wrong places. The idea that people get up in the morning and pay money to travel underground to sit in a little metal tube is bonkers.

'We have to address the health problems of our cities and it's not solved by digging more tunnels, it's by making travelling by bike the norm.'

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