Friday, 3 October 2008

A (red) herring in the shower

A few days ago I was asked by Tom Vanderbilt, author of the very readable and interesting book Traffic, to write a piece for his blog summarizing my thoughts on bicycle helmets (thanks, Tom).

Karl McCracken has written some interesting words on the subject as well today. The thing I'd like to pick out of his post is the issue of showers. Like Karl, I have again and again heard people say "Oh, I'd love to cycle to work but we don't have any showers so I can't." Let's have a little look at this, shall we?

When I was doing work on how drivers overtake bicycles, I needed somewhere in Bristol to store my bicycle between testing sessions. I called Sustrans and asked them if they had somewhere I could keep my bike. "Yes, we'll find somewhere," they said. "Just turn up."

When I arrived, where do you think was the one place in the building - a building where everybody cycles to work - that was unused? The shower. And sure enough, that's where the bike was stowed.

Item 2. Last year I attended a meeting at the CTC's headquarters in Guildford. Again, this was a building where everybody cycles to work each day. I saw their shower, and I don't think it had ever been used once.

I think we can learn something from this. Here are two buildings in which the whole staff cycle in every day, and in neither is the shower used. It is clear that showers are a red herring. Like bad weather, they seem a huge concern to people who do not cycle but, after only a little experience, everybody realises it is just not the issue they thought.

So heed my words, people! Of course you'll be a little sweaty the first couple of times you cycle to work because you're not fit! Give it a fortnight and it will no longer be an issue. My workplace is on top of a mountain and I've never showered after getting there. If I have been a little sweaty, simply rubbing it off whilst it's still wet is all that's needed to avoid any smell. And cyclists: spread the word. We need to fight this barrier by showing people that it's just a non-issue if they will only try.

Or could it be that people know showers aren't really an issue, and use a lack of showers in their workplace as a way of justifying a no-longer-acceptable preference for driving? Oooh, what a cynical thought.