Bike to the future

This is an article by Claire Pace.
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Let me start by asking a simple question: What do Madonna, Jeremy Paxman and the actor who plays Ian Beale in Eastenders all have in common? Not even a guess? Well it may come as a bit of a surprise, but these celebrities have been snapped ditching their fancy cars in favour of their trusty bicycle, says Claire Pace.

The bicycle is a very simple invention with only two wheels, a strong frame and pedals for movement. It was named the best ever invention in a poll by BBC Radio 4 listeners, beating firm favourites such as radio and the personal computer. But when we think about this, in many of our family homes today it seems the bicycle’s day has been and gone. How many families do you know that would trade in their fancy laptops and shiny new mobiles phones in favour of this two-wheeled ‘relic’?

Why should families cycle when they have plenty of options to get from A to B? Apart from the obvious one of keeping us healthy, opening us up to amazing scenery and being great fun, it seems to also have beneficial factors for family life. Sustrans aims to promote these factors in a bid to get us (‘us’ being the population who’ve neglected our bikes) back on the saddle.

Sustrans is a UK charity funded by the government and the private sector. Their purpose is to encourage cycling as a healthy transport alternative using a practical, fun approach. Their ideas are imaginative, undoubtedly positive and particularly aimed at families to get them engaging in activities together which don’t involve the Xbox or DVD player.

This all sounds very promising, but promoting this Victorian creation against cars is more of a challenge. After all, they are competing with the big budget marketing campaigns of family cars such as the Citroen ‘Transformers’ advertisement and celebrity endorsements (‘Vava Voom’, anyone?).

It makes it even more of a challenge that a car is an essential part of life within the modern family unit. Sustrans is not proposing we completely abandon the car or use the bicycle for all of our long, strenuous journeys. It does however promote bicycle use within our daily lives wherever possible, as the idea of avoiding busy roads and opting for the more sociable scenic route almost creates a ‘social utopia.’

We have been constantly reminded that the ‘perfect’ family life doesn’t exist anymore – the Bisto family having been axed because families don’t sit around together at meal times. The truth seems to be that fewer and fewer organisations see using ‘family life’ as a selling point or a realistic approach when promoting since it doesn’t seem to reflect today’s society.

Sustrans uses a variety of techniques to demonstrate the idea of building relationships within the family unit. After all, a family that plays together stays together.

Gill Harrison of the Sustrans Press Office says: “our marketing materials use aspirational images – sometimes not even involving bikes, trying to show “ordinary” people enjoying walking and cycling and not in full lyrca.”

Sustrans realised that its messages needed to be put across in a way that would appeal to the average family – not only just the cycling fanatics (after all they are not a charity just for cyclists).

When messages are expressed through a familiar and trustworthy source, people will give you their time and listen. Bearing this in mind, Sustrans didn’t want cyclists to be their spokespeople. Instead Alistair McGowan, Wayne Hemmingway and most recently Loraine Kelly were asked to front their campaigns because of their ‘likeability’ factor.

Sustrans were pleased with Kelly as she fronted one of the charity’s biggest campaigns to date, Connect 2. “I wanted someone with popular appeal and asked for Lorraine, we were delighted that she accepted”, Harrison recalls. “She is a keen walker and cycled as a young reporter. She also did a couple of press interviews for us and we were really pleased with her involvement and obvious understanding of the issues. She was also very good at putting across a potentially complicated message in an easy to understand style.”

To enter family life and make a difference, it seems hiring well-known role models is a very good start. Cause-related marketing is another approach being tried.

Sustrans has worked with Kellogg’s with families collecting tokens from cereal packs and sending away for a free cyclometer. Kellogg’s even advertised the ‘Cycle10 Challenge’ on packs of its cereal. The company, which has previously received admirable feedback over their ‘walkometer’ giveaway, encouraged its loyal family customers to cycle together for 10miles per week and be in with a chance of winning a new bike for their efforts.

By teaming up, both companies received the positive results they desired. Kellogg’s maintained its image as a leading breakfast brand, putting their words into practice and looking after their consumers’ health. Sustrans benefited from reaching Kellogg’s customers.

Carrying on from using the theme of everyday life, they encourage not only the ‘fun weekend’ cycling aspect to the consumers (who are predominantly adults) but aim to bring it into children’s day to day lives.

With the news stories about obesity being a ‘ticking time bomb’ with children’s increasingly worsening diets, Sustrans takes the message to children where they can be most readily influenced – at their school.

‘Bike It!’ works daily in hundreds of schools. The officers use a fun range of activities to encourage cycling with fun competitions including ‘Bikes with Bling’, whereby the children accessorise their bike using recyclable materials such as cans and tin foil. This practical, personal method generally appeals to the children rather than relying on the factual approach.

By encouraging children to include a healthy regime into their daily school journey, parents are increasingly aware that Sustrans is offering something positive to their child. The mums who love to hear about their kid’s day have been known to become involved within the biking activities.

In terms of results, ‘Bike It!’ has been one of Sustrans’ projects which has met its aims. According to Gill Harrison: “The project began around four years ago and can be measured by the expansion of the number of our ‘Bike It!’ officers. We started with just four and the team has now expanded to 25, working with hundreds of schools. It’s also increasing the levels of cycling – by June 2006 an average of 10% of pupils in ‘Bike It!’ schools, ten times the national average.” states that over 75% of the UK’s population lives within two miles of a cycle route – maybe we should follow the Dutch and the Danish and hop on the bike more regularly. We have already switched the thermostat to 20 degrees and taken out our recycling so maybe it’s time we went backwards instead of constantly forwards in transport terms and not only improved our health but our social lives too.

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