This post originally appeared on the Charlie’s Freewheels blog


Research by the Toronto Cycling Think & Do Tank has taught us that bike campaigns aren’t enough to increase cycling in Toronto. While education does the work of inspiration, a number of barriers continue to stop people from actually getting on their bikes.

Barriers can be a lot of things. Would you ride your bike to a party if all your friends were driving there? If you couldn’t afford to buy a bike and maintain it? If you were scared of biking on busy city streets, even if there were bike lanes?

Identifying barriers and helping people overcome them is essential to building a strong and safe bike culture.

Students often start our program saying they’re afraid to ride their bikes through the city. Having to negotiate speeding cars, huge trucks and street car tracks is enough to make a reasonable person choose another way to get around.

Despite evidence that shows biking to be as safe, if not safer than driving, fear can be so strong that it triumphs over the benefits of biking.

While fear of biking mostly comes from experience, it is also exaggerated by the “prevalence of cycle and road safety training courses that focus excessively on cycling’s risks”, finds the Toronto Cycling Think & Do Tank. The language of our current regime of road safety courses contributes to fear as a real emotional barrier to cycling.

Charlie’s Build-a-Bike program includes road safety courses that use positive language to teach safety skills. And with group rides that encourage a supportive and fun cycling culture, we are helping them overcome their fear of riding by actively harbouring a love of cycling.

In fact, despite initial fear of cycling, we’ve seen a 70% rate of ‘regular bike usage’ (5-7 times per week) by program graduates, 6 months after completion of the program!

From the hundreds of students that have completed our Build-A-Bike program, we’ve learnt that a cycling culture of love – not fear – is essential for increasing biking in Toronto.