If only there was another city like Oxford which had beautiful architecture, a lively student population and a cycle-friendly infrastructure. Such a city would be a great place for a bike sharing community. Want to explore the city and see the sights? Visiting friends for a week? Working at the world-renowned University and need to get about? Then grab a bike and go. Are there such cities?
Despite a history of competition and rivalry, Oxford and Cambridge have so much in common; both have rich historical origins dating back centuries, are dominated by the presence of their University, are visited by tourists from all around the world and both are a hotspot of new ideas and intellectual discovery.
However, I was in Cambridge for one reason: bikes. Cambridge, like Oxford, is very bike-centric. According to cycling charity CamCycle, “Cambridge has the highest level of cycling of any town in the UK, beating Oxford and York by a significant margin”. I wanted to explore Cambridge and get a feel for the cycling culture there, see the kind of bikes littering the streets and pop into a few local bike shops. You can do all the online research you want, but sometimes the best way to understand a city is to simply wander around its streets.
After a slightly tedious four hour stint on the X5 bus from Oxford, I arrived in Cambridge. One of things I love about Cambridge is that everywhere you turn there’s a park, a river or some historic building. It gives the city a unique atmosphere, and you’re constantly looking around trying to take it all in.
One thing you notice straight away is the sheer number of bikes. Every bike rack is crammed full, and any available space to lock up your bike is a precious commodity. As well as the number bikes, there is so much variety in the bikes on show. From thin-wheeled roadies, to cargo bikes, to more vintage steeds. The most common of course is the classic “town bike”: no suspension, 26” wheels, maybe with a basket and mudguards (and maybe looking a little worse for wear).
OK, so there are loads bikes but do Cambridge residents actually use them? Yes. According to a government survey in 2015, 39% of adults in Cambridge cycle at least three times per week, the highest in the country. What makes this number even more impressive is that Oxford, a very cycling oriented city in its own right, has only 18.8% in 3rd place. It seems like Cambridge is leading the way in terms of environmentally friendly transportation. You didn’t need a survey to find this out though, as everywhere you look in Cambridge there’s a few cyclists coming and going. It’s obvious that cycling is extremely common in Cambridge, so much so that you have to always be careful not to walk into the path of a cyclist!
Is it that people in Cambridge cycle because it’s the easiest way to get around? Or do people cycle because they enjoy it? Cambridge has many cycle likes and bike racks which makes it easy to travel by bike. Also, many students can’t afford to have a car or even have space to park it, so again cycling is a convenient alternative.
Even though the above factors make cycling easier, I get the impression that cycling is more of a culture/lifestyle in Cambridge. Take for example Espresso Library, a trendy cafe which has its own cycling club, has bikes hanging from its walls and where local cyclists meetup to ride together. These guys simply love to ride bikes.
There’s also the huge range of bike shops in Cambridge. The Bicycle Ambulance is an independent company which will come to your place of work to fix your bike. It was started by a few guys who are passionate about bikes and simply wanted to provide a good service. There’s also University Cycles, a more traditional bike shop slightly out of town. They’ve been around for a while, so have a more “old-school” feel but their feedback online is overwhelmingly positive; they seem to have been part of the local community for years. I unexpectedly came across Cycle Smith, which do repairs from their workshop in a market stall! They refurbished second hand bikes and rented them out. I had a chat with them and seemed to love what they do. After getting home, I did some digging online to find some more info, and again there was high praise from the local community.
Overall, it seems like cycling is an intrinsic component of Cambridge culture. And by the sounds of it, it’s only going to get more popular.
Edited by Sarah Puello