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Boardman: ‘Whatever comes next we could get a Prime Minister who understands the importance of cycling'

George Smith
17 Jul 2019

Steering clear of the 2019 Tour de France to concentrate on his day job, we caught up with Chris Boardman to talk cycling as transport

Absent as a commentator and pundit for this year's Tour de France coverage on ITV4, instead focusing on his role as Greater Manchester’s first ever commissioner for walking and cycling, Chris Boardman exudes positivity about the future of policy in this area.

‘I think the future will be good for active travel, and we probably need it because we couldn’t afford anything else,’ laughed Boardman, thinking about the prospect of a Boris Johnson premiership.

‘Regardless of your politics, and I think we all watch with head in hands at the moment, one of the things that we could get out of whatever comes next is a Prime Minister who understands the importance of cycling’.

To this day Johnson remains intensely proud of his record on cycling during his time as Mayor of London, with the fleet of cycles rolled out for public hire quickly dubbed 'Boris Bikes' - a palpable signifier of this - even if they were actually initiated by his predecessor.

Yet the Member of Parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip wasn’t always a cycling convert. When Johnson completed the RideLondon 100 mile event in 2013, Boardman recalls how ‘he got there almost by a dare’.

Boardman explains, ‘People were saying "you’re not going to do this bike stuff" and he went "I am, I will do that", and then realised, like many do, that actually cycling is quite good,’ joked Boardman while doing his best Johnson impersonation.

Nonetheless, getting more people to take up cycling still remains a problem in Britain, and when discussing what measures a future government could take to reduce the barriers (and reduce our carbon footprint along the way) e-bikes were quick to pop up.

‘E-bikes need to be embraced,’ Boardman said. ‘They are something people can see out of the car window and say "ooo I quite fancy that".'

At the moment, the government subsidises electric and hybrid cars but there is no such scheme in place for their two wheeled equivalent, though Boardman thinks that will change soon.

‘The government subsidy for e-cars will be revised fairly quickly because the government will be under a lot of pressure with climate change - and rightly so. E-cars are not what people need.

‘Economically, government is better off subsidising e-bikes than probably any other form of transport, it makes complete sense’.

For all the hope Boardman clearly holds for the future prospects of active travel, and the role cycling and e-bikes might play in that, he is still optimistic about the present - even when I point towards Channel 5’s recent documentary 'Scourge of our Streets' as evidence that things aren’t necessarily progressing perfectly.

In reaction to the documentary, Boardman and many other prominent cycling activists responded to the ‘dressed up propaganda’ by reminding people about the human element involved in these types of shows.

‘It wasn’t about bikes it was about people,’ he said. ‘We were able to relate to people and say this is about kids, this isn’t a seperate species, this is people getting to work.'

Cyclist spoke to Chris Boardman at the launch of an Ovo Energy initiative looking to inspire greater cycling participation by overcoming the barriers to cycling while reducing our collective carbon footprint in the process