It was a carnival atmosphere for an hour on the streets of Winchester on Saturday as 250 cyclists converged on the city from five outlying locations. They merged for a procession around the one-way system to the sounds of bike bells and music, displaying placards calling for a Winchester that is ‘Better By Bike’. With more than 15,000 views on Twitter, a video of Winchester’s 6th Mass Ride was widely shared and drew praise from family cyclists the length and breadth of the country, and even as far away as our namesake Winchester, Massachusetts.
Winchester may lag far behind other places in the quality of its cycling infrastructure, but it lacks nothing in the strength of support for the changes needed to get more people using bikes. John Arthur, one of the ride organisers, explained that “although the aim is to have fun together in a big group the underlying message is that until we see radical changes in the allocation of road space riding a bike alone on the city streets will be more about fear than fun”.
Cllr. Martin Tod, speaking to the cyclists afterwards in Abbey Gardens, gave some reasons for hope. For example, Winchester is aiming to be one of four bids chosen from only 19 being considered nationally for a mini-Holland scheme, designed to make individual neighbourhoods safer and more attractive for those wanting to use a bike. Cllr. Jan Warwick assured the crowd that the county and city authorities were united in their determination to transform city transport. Asked to describe what success would look like in three years’ time, Cllr. Tod suggested, to great approval, that it would be exciting to envisage future mass rides filling the one-way system, not just one lane of North Walls. As he commented later “The mass ride is the clearest evidence possible that cycling is not a niche activity in Winchester. There are more and more people, of all ages, wanting to cycle, and there is enormous pent-up demand to do more if we can make it safer and easier”.
Some riders had been on all six mass rides but for many it was their first experience. Lottie, a mum with young children said, “what I enjoyed was the sense of community. It was such a huge group of people, all together, cycling, and the fact it was so family-friendly. It was at a really good pace, the kids really enjoyed it. And just raising awareness; I think we made a point, when we were such a huge group of people, and the cars were slowing down, and lots of people watching and cheering, it felt really good!”. Jackie, an older rider, said “this is the first time I’ve ever ridden into Winchester, my home town, because I’ve always been too scared”. Many people commented how well-organised the ride was and complemented the work of two PCSOs on bikes who assisted with the smooth passage through town.
Mike Caldwell, another ride organiser, emphasised that although it was a great turn-out there are many more people in the city who ride a bike – a recent weekday survey by Cycle Winchester recorded nearly 500 cyclist movements in just two hours. And the Winchester Cycle Charter with over 800 individuals and 80 businesses and institutions signed up shows that there’s an even larger consensus demanding a more cycle-friendly city.