We’ve heard a lot recently in the news and online about a cycling boom both locally and in Scotland more generally. We’ve also enjoyed seeing so many more cyclists around locally in town and out on the back roads – with traffic levels down and people looking for things to do, it seems cycling has filled the gap, and long may it continue.
We wanted to put some actual figures beyond the one headline of a 29% rise in April in Cargenbridge (the only place where there’s a working cycle counter that we know of). So yesterday afternoon we did an informal count of cyclists (and other vehicles) at the Routin Bridge which is on a number of popular cycle routes and also a destination for those who like to admire the waterfall or go for a walk or a swim in the river.
We knew that there were a lot more bikes out – but the figures surprised even us. Over the six hours from 10 am to 4pm, we saw 121 cyclists, which is impressive when you consider it’s 7 miles away from the town centre. To put that into perspective we also saw 123 motorised vehicles (mostly cars – 16 were farm vehicles of some sort). We also counted 3 pedestrians and one horse rider.
Looking at the types of cyclists – there were more men than women, but not by a massive amount (48 women and 68 men). There were only 5 cyclists who looked to be under 18 – perhaps it’s a bit far to go for a day out with the kids if you live in Dumfries (but don’t tell that to this young lass who was out for a 20-mile round trip – via Dunscore no less – with her dad).
We did a (somewhat subjective) breakdown of riders into ‘sports’ (normally the ones who didn’t stop to admire the waterfall), ‘leisure’ (those who looked as if they were out for enjoyment rather than just fitness) and ‘other’ – including one couple who were commuting to their jobs in the hospital, as well as a few folk who were using their bikes as transport to get to the river to swim or walk. Unsurprisingly, leisure and sports dominated on this rural route, and it was clear that there were many more new or leisure cyclist than those who were out on serious training rides.
Sometimes it was hard to tell – after some discussion (with him!) we put Robin here down as ‘sport’ – he was riding as part of his recovery from prostate cancer, and he wanted to be sure to spread the word that if anyone reading this is in the same position then Prostate Buddies D&G are a friendly group providing support to and by men who are in a similar position (thanks Robin! It’s also good to share how useful exercise like cycling can be if you’re recovering from many serious health conditions conditions, including cancer).
There were a fair few who were clearly quite new to cycling, or perhaps returning after a long break – something which always gladdens our hearts to see. And there were at least 5 e-bikes, another sight we always enjoy as they open up the joy of cycling, especially on longer rural routes to folk who otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience it or who might find it too daunting.
So what conclusions can we draw? Well, first that the people of Dumfries seem to show no signs of stopping cycling even though traffic levels are starting to return to normal (123 vehicles is quite a lot for a rural backwater on a Sunday). And that there seem to be loads of people out there who are not serious ‘sporty’ cyclists – but just using bikes to get around and to get out to enjoy our countryside.
It also shows that our back roads are as important for people cycling as they are for motorised vehicles, and maybe we should start to reflect that in local policies. And especially as we start to open up our economy again after the lockdown, when attracting cycling visitors who want to come and enjoy our amazing network of quiet rural roads could be key to a sustainable recovery.
We’re now hoping to repeat the exercise but this time in the town centre – another place where we’ve seen bikes booming. We’ll undoubtedly see a different mix of riders but hopefully just as impressive numbers. If you want to help out with the counting, let us know!