What mystery is this? Letter upon letter praises cycling in local papers

It’s odd, isn’t it, that in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, various local papers from Alton to Harrogate all just happened to publish letters enthusing about cycling? Cycling UK's campaigns information officer, Cherry Allan investigates.

How could this be? Why did so many letter writers feel compelled to put pen to paper to emphasise such similar points: how good it was to ride on quieter roads, how fresh the air felt, what healthy exercise cycling is for both children and adults?

Were they all carbon copies? No:

“The air along the Butts Road and Normandy Street is now pleasant to breathe again,” Janice Montgomerie told the Alton Herald, “it’s easier to cross the road, and many more people are discovering the local woods and lanes for walking and cycling.”

Thanks to Ian Hallett, browsers of the Harrogate Advertiser read: “The streets round Harrogate and Knaresborough are wonderfully quiet, and walking and cycling for daily exercise and necessary travel feels much safer and more pleasant.”

Mr Hallett, we learn, is a member of Harrogate and District Cycle Action. 

In the next issue, we find Malcolm Margolis eloquently agreeing with him: "I have revelled in some of the silver linings of this grim pandemic - walking in our neighbourhood and cycling in the glorious countryside west of Harrogate.”

Meanwhile, on the southeast coast of England, Paul Humphreys of Cycle East Sussex and Bespoke Cycle Group (Eastbourne) urged readers of the Eastbourne Herald to see travelling by foot or bike as "something that is part of everyone's daily life. Reducing our reliance on cars is part of the Eastbourne Local Plan and supports a Carbon Neutral 2030.”

All writers shared much the same vision too, captured in a missive dispatched by Kenneth Pallant to the Braintree and Witham Times: “With a bit of thought and reflection we can all do something to make sure the ‘normal’ we return to after the end of this crisis is better than the ‘normal’ we left behind. I for one will be switching the car for the bike.”

The Eastern Daily Press even accompanied a cycling-related letter with a photo of Transport Minister Grant Shapps pointing to the sky in stirring, speech-making posture. This was no doubt because the letter writer, John Thompson was struck by the increase in the number of people cycling, 'both for utility and leisure purposes' which is part of a much wider picture, stressing the central funding needed for the 'green transport revolution' the minister wants to see.

Nothing about any of this, of course, was in the least bit odd.

It’s not odd to love cycling and broadcast how much potential it has to help us all, especially at the moment. And the flurry of letters was not coincidental, but concerted sofa campaigning

When I realised that so many members, volunteers and supporters would have time on their hands during the current crisis, we were keen to come up with things they could do from their sofa to support our national campaigning and make it relevant locally.

Duncan Dollimore, head of advocacy and campaigns, Cycling UK

Huge thanks to everyone who took up the challenge, including those who did so as 'microvolunteers' through our volunteering platform, Assemble.

Cycling UK's head of volunteering, Alex Cuppleditch said "It was wonderful to see the outcome of our microvolunteering tasks and witness the success of the letters in action. These letters were a prime example of the great work our campaigning volunteers generate."

Duncan commented "Writing a letter to your local paper about how life’s better by bike was one of our first sofa actions, and it was incredible to see how many passionate and inspiring letters were printed."

For anyone tempted to follow suit for the first time, we’ve prepared a guide to help.

And why not choose another of our microvolunteering tasks?

You could, for instance, write to your local authority urging them to create more space for cycling and walking (UK-wide) or, if you're a parent or guardian, ask your council to make street conditions around schools safe for cycling (England).

It all adds up.

Mystery solved.