This is an idea which has been forming for a while, hopefully by putting it on here it might find its way to someone with the power and resources to implement it (in one form or another).
In Britain most people never cycle, cycling isn’t treated as a viable means of transport, the law doesn’t take the maiming and killing of cyclists by motorists seriously, cycling infrastructure is either absent or dangerously badly designed and the car is king. Naturally this situation needs to change and there are countless other articles describing how mass cycling could be achieved in the UK (the answer is Dutch-style segregated infrastructure), this is an idea for a scheme which could form part of a wider cultural shift away from the car.
Standardise the bicycle. Personally I like tinkering with my bikes, buying specific parts and installing them myself. Some people even feel the same way about their cars. The overwhelming majority couldn’t care less about this kind of thing. They just want something which works, when it doesn’t work they want to be able to take it somewhere nearby to be fixed and they want a replacement one to use whilst it is being repaired. This is the experience a car provides its user in the UK. You don’t get that experience with a bike in this country, most people who own bikes know how to do a reasonable amount of the mechanical work themselves (or have a close friend/partner to do it for them).
The government should subsidise the cost of the bicycles, the money they spend will be returned many times over by the reduced cost of healthcare, congestion and air quality fines from the EU. To make this easier politically, these bicycles should be made by a British company, for example Pashley. Having a British manufacturer would increase public support, seeing as it is supporting British manufacturing (not to mention the good quality). The bike could be sold by any number of retailers, but at least one would need to be a major national chain, such as Tesco.
The bike could be purchased at Tesco (or another similarly prolific national chain) and any other suppliers who signed up. Because the bike would be standardised, any problems with flat tyres, brakes, wheel bearings or gearing could be solved with a simple wheel-swap. This could be done in-store by someone with minimal training. The defective wheel could be sent to a central repair facility using the supplier’s distribution network, refurbished and sent to where it is needed next. This would cover the majority of common mechanical issues on bikes, anything else could be covered by replacing the whole bike and sending the defective unit back to the repair centre for refurbishment. A courtesy bike would be provided whilst the repairs were being conducted. The cost of these repairs could be covered by a simple monthly subscription (tack on third party insurance too). This would mean that for a small monthly fee you would always have a bike ready to use. A higher rate tariff could be included to cover theft too.
The bike itself would be a practical utilitarian machine, suitable for men and women and available in a few frame sizes. Thing along the lines of the Pashley Princess Sovereign and make it red (like other British icons such as the old phone boxes, London buses and post boxes). This would help give it a chance to become a British style icon, helping the popularity of the scheme. In terms of specification the bike would have standard utilitarian components; drum brakes, dynamo hub powered lights, 5 or 8 speed internal hub gearing, full mudguards, full chaincase, puncture-resistant tyres, a rear rack with a briefcase clip, an adjustable bottle holder, a frame lock, a quality U-lock and a kickstand. As much as I love my Brooks saddle, they do require some looking after which would make them unsuitable for this kind of machine. Ideally when purchasing the bike, it would be possible to select a saddle from a standard range of widths and padding.
All this would require the bike to be kept roughly in its stock configuration. This doesn’t mean the more adventurous couldn’t do their own maintenance and modifications, just that they would not be able to use the maintenance subscription. The subsidy would make these bikes attractively cheap, the standardisation and subscription model would remove any concerns about theft, maintenance and the offer of a courtesy bike would alleviate any concerns about being able to depend on a bike as a serious means of transport.
Opening cycling up to more people this way would make it politically easier to get all the other stuff we current cyclists want to see, such as infrastructure which doesn’t suck, better enforcement of laws protecting cyclists and acceptance of the EU fifth motoring directive.
What do you think? If you have any suggestions for refinement, different component choices or pitfalls, please leave a comment below.
This is actually the ladies’ version of the Raleigh Tourist De Luxe, but is a good starting point.