ASK yourself this: what is the most important event in modern history to have had an impact on human evolution? IVF perhaps? The mapping of the human genome? Think again. It’s the invention of the bicycle.
As the 90th national Bike Week prepares to roll into town, and fans of two wheels across the Capital get ready to celebrate, it is likely that most of us have given little consideration to the importance of the humble bike.
Eminent geneticist Steve Jones has gone so far as to credit its invention as the signalling of a revolution in human development, allowing those who would once have rarely strayed far from their home town to meet, marry and raise children with people with whom they would have been unlikely to cross paths otherwise.
As recently as a century ago, the bicycle was the nation’s main mode of transport, yet with the advent of cars bike enthusiasts were forced to look for new ways to encourage people to stay in the saddle. In 1923 these efforts were consolidated in the first ever UK-wide Bike Week.
And that innovation is still going strong, with the Capital hosting a plethora of events between June 15 and 23 to encourage people of all ages and abilities to get on their bikes. “Events like this are very important because they show that there’s more to cycling than just the everyday, getting from A to B,” says Kim Harding, chairman of the brand new Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, running concurrently to Bike Week. “We’ll be putting on demonstrations of activities like bike polo and extreme unicycling, which is like BMX but using only one wheel.”
If the extreme appeals to you, but you prefer to stay on two wheels, then the Cycle Speedway taster sessions on June 15 could be just the ticket. Though the sessions are aimed at children, organiser and creator of the Scottish School of Cycle Speedway, Trevor Bryant, says parents are also more than welcome to have a go.
“Speedway was once immensely popular in Scotland, with 30 different tracks around the country,” he says. Speedway involves racing on oval tracks on bikes without gears or brakes. But Trevor assures us there is no need for parents to get nervous. “I’ve taught speedway to people of all ages, from 10-year-olds to grandparents, and I’m yet to see anyone leave their first session without a smile on their face,” he says. But if you want to encourage your child to cycle without turning them into a speed demon you should still find plenty to tickle your fancy, including the Polwarth Church family cycle ride and picnic, which comes with added story-telling.
Organiser Andy Hunter, who created Story Bikes in 2008, says: “We combine bike rides of up to 25 miles with interesting tales based on the surroundings, some true, some more rooted in myth. The cycle we are doing for Bike Week is much more gentle, just three miles down to the riverside, where we’ll eat a picnic, play games and have a story, before cycling back.”
Spokes, the Lothian Cycle Campaign group, will also be holding a picnic in the centre of the city.
Spokesperson Ian Maxwell says: “Here at Spokes we really feel like every week should be Bike Week, and the annual Spokes Bike Breakfast, which takes place in the quadrangle at the City Chambers, is a demonstration of the enthusiasm felt by people in the Capital for cycling. It usually attracts between 300 and 400 people who come together on their way to work or school to chat and share a cooked breakfast, which we provide. There will also be bike related stalls and representatives from the Edinburgh Bike Station providing safety checks and showing how to maintain your bike properly.”
Bike Week also includes longer rides for more experienced adults, as well as talks and exhibitions by cycling experts such as Copenhagen’s bicycle ambassador, Mikael Colville-Andersen, who will be showing how his home city managed to convert 36 per cent of its commuters to using a bike as their main mode of transport (The Hub, June 16 to 22). The more daring among you can also pick up tips from adventurer Mark Beaumont, pictured above (who is speaking at the Queen’s Hall on June 19), and Juliana Buhring, who set the first women’s world record for fastest circumnavigation of the world by bicycle, finishing in 152 days (George Square Lecture Theatre, June 22).
• For full details of all events www.bikeweek.org.uk or www.edfoc.org.uk.