What’s so captivating about bikes? What is it that makes people young and old, from all walks of life across the globe, fascinated by them? Belgian blogger Pascal Mageren started writing about all the creative bike projects he could find, and five years later he’s covered so many incredible designs that he’s made a book about them.
“The original idea came 15 years ago, when I was a student and I used to travel by bike on holiday with my two brothers,” says Pascal. “We travelled to the Netherlands, the south coast of England, Wales, Switzerland, we had two months in Iceland…”
It was on one of these trips that he had the idea of building a bicycle that all three of them could ride. The following year he and his brothers rode around Canada for five weeks, with a trailer pulled along behind to carry all their luggage.
And on that trip to Canada, he noticed something funny: “People were looking at the bike like it was magic, like they were children, it was really a special moment for me. So I started research on why people were looking at the bike in such a special way.” Thus, the Velosophe blog was born.
Pascal says that in the past five years he’s come across so many incredible projects that he’s regularly astonished by the huge impact that bikes can have on individuals. “When you know the story behind a special project, you begin to see bike culture emerging from it, and how bikes are really changing lives,” he says.
For example, Pascal did a presentation at the Spin Manchester cycling festival last weekend, and met someone who runs a cycle cafe and repair shop. A few years ago that person had been unemployed, and decided to enrol in a bike repair course. After completing the course, they managed to open a cycle cafe and repair shop that now employs two other people.
“Achieving small things each day can help achieve the critical mass needed to create change: for example, cyclists are much more visible in traffic now, and when you see something often, you are much more likely to get involved and follow the movement. You can give other people the idea to do the same, to use their bike instead of driving in the car.”
UK cycling culture
So what are the main differences between the cycling scene in the UK compared with continental Europe? “I don’t think there’s just one cycling culture in Europe,” he says. “There are many local cultures, it can be very different from London to Manchester, even from village to village.
“But I always consider cycle cafes a good barometer: when you see a cycle cafe in a city, you know there’s a minimum of cyclists using it daily. When I see how many cycle cafes there are in the UK, I think that bike culture must be present. You also see public investment in London, in bike sharing programmes and infrastructure, and that’s a good sign.
He also mentions a fascinating project being led by a radio presenter in the French-speaking part of Belgium. The programme is called ‘Le Beau Vélo de RAVeL‘, and they organise weekly tours in different cities across the country, just to get people on bikes.
“They only ride 30km and it’s free for everybody, so now you see thousands of people gathering each week, just because one radio presenters decided to use his power to make people cycle. It would be great to see projects like that in the UK.”
Half price tickets for Spin London
Pascal will be heading to the more established Spin London show on 20-22 May, where he’ll be doing another talk about his Velosophe blog and signing copies of his book (there’s a dual-language version in French and English).
“When I started the blog, friends thought it was a great idea, but that I would run out of material in six months, and have to stop. It’s been five years now, and I have enough new material right now that i could easily write for another year.”
I’ve realised that there are a lot of good, inspiring bike projects, but people don’t know about them. When I decided to publish the book, it was an opportunity to meet more people, and I got some interesting feedback.
Spin London will take place at London’s Old Truman Brewery on 20-22 May. Tickets are available now, and BikeRadar readers get them half price. To take advantage of this special price, simply visit the link below.