Sir David Attenborough has not been holding back while narrating Our Planet, a nature documentary series detailing how climate change has been impacting all living creatures. Given a freer rein than he has on the BBC, the Netflix programme has not pulled its punches, brutally broadcasting footage of walruses falling to their deaths thanks to decreasing sea ice levels.
Meanwhile, over Easter the streets of London were filled with thousands of protesters on the Extinction Rebellion protest and marches, closing down bridges, rendering them traffic free for days and therefore temporarily cutting pollution levels to less life threatening levels (UK air pollution could cause 36,000 deaths a year, fact fans). In days, the protesters have done what the newly introduced Ultra Low Emmission Zone (ULEZ) is aiming to achieve, perhaps optimistically, for that same city.
Despite growing publicity around the movement to cut pollution, the environment has thus far not really affected the bottom line of any bicycle industry company. There are some exceptions, for sure, but in markets like the UK, USA and Australia in particular – with their emphasis on sport over A-to-B cycling – it has largely been about faster and more exciting product for cycle enthusiasts, rather than a drive to cut pollution, climate change and keep its riders healthier.
However, environmentalism is finally beginning to impinge on the industry, even the UK one. With the aforementioned ULEZ and e-cargo bike grants giving businesses a good reason to turn to bicycles over cars, suddenly the profits of bicycle businesses may well benefit from the environment and those aiming to make their business less polluting (albeit strong-armed to through legislation).
There’s a line in the Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson-starring ‘90s sitcom Bottom, that goes something like: “I won’t let the birth of the son of God get in the way of my Christmas.”
Sometimes, it feels like the cycle industry has taken a similar approach to the environment. Two wheels are generally greener than four, but in this way the bike business has been environmental by default, rather than by design.
In a previous life, a publisher asked us to run a regular feature on environmentally conscious brands in the bicycle world. Needless to say, the series ran out of steam in a couple of months. Had we been running the feature in CIN today, would we still be struggling to find any likely brands to include?
Both for those that care about this kind of thing and for those that like to turn a profit, urban mobility may finally be a way for the cycle industry to move closer to being an environmental hero rather than an environmental also ran.