Here is a scenario that is typical in low-cycling context. For one reason or another someone begins to bike to work, school, local shops etc. Occasionally that person may get questions or observations along the following lines: ‘wow that is brave!’ ‘it is amazing that you cycle!’ ‘i wouldn’t’ do it.’ The recipient of those remarks can then react in any number of ways: dismissal, defense and so on.
What is going on more broadly in such a scenario? On one level, there are micro social-psychological moves around mobility identities. The one who is queried for cycling may feel that their choice to cycle and therefore their sense of self is under attack. The one who queries may also in probing may feel their sense of self is also indirectly ‘challenged’ by the choice of the one who cycles – here take for example if they have environmental worries.
At a macro level, the remarks or observations which in one way seem to query the choice of the one who cycles in a low-cycling context I think can be understood as ‘infrastructures’, ‘fences’ or any other material obstacle which suppress change in mobility practices. They are part of a social discursive field as ‘hard’ as any ‘thing’ such as lack of dedicated cycling infrastructures which prevent many from taking to two wheels. In this way they can also be understood as part of the fabric of or elements of what Scheiner (2018) calls ‘mobility socialisation.’ These are elements that make it very difficult for individuals to depart from dominant mobility practices in given contexts.
What could be done? One solution is to provide some cognitive protection (Longhurst 2015) to outliers in a low-cycling context. Such protection – such as connection to others who also may choose to cycle provides psychological ‘okay.’ Socializing with such others offers affirmation that it is not so strange or weird.
At the same time, I think more broadly from a bicycle planning perspective it is crucial to create ‘protected’ (Smith and Raven 2012) micro-spaces in low-cycling contexts that can offer visual proof of concept; eg “just go to that neighborhood and look at all those people cycling around.”
There is also a case to be made for ‘trying’ (Strömberg et al. 2016) on cycling even in small steps in low cycling contexts because of the associated travel satisfaction (Paige Willis, Manaugh, and El-Geneidy 2013) which is one answer as to why ‘outliers’ persist.
Longhurst, Noel. 2015. “Towards an ‘Alternative’ Geography of Innovation: Alternative Milieu, Socio-Cognitive Protection and Sustainability Experimentation.” Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 17 (December): 183–98. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eist.2014.12.001.
Paige Willis, Devon, Kevin Manaugh, and Ahmed El-Geneidy. 2013. “Uniquely Satisfied: Exploring Cyclist Satisfaction.” Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour 18 (May): 136–47. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trf.2012.12.004.
Scheiner, Joachim. 2018. “Why Is There Change in Travel Behaviour? In Search of a Theoretical Framework for Mobility Biographies.” Erdkunde 72 (1): 41–62. https://doi.org/10.3112/erdkunde.2018.01.03.
Smith, Adrian, and Rob Raven. 2012. “What Is Protective Space? Reconsidering Niches in Transitions to Sustainability.” Research Policy, Special Section on Sustainability Transitions, 41 (6): 1025–36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.respol.2011.12.012.
Strömberg, Helena, Oskar Rexfelt, I. C. MariAnne Karlsson, and Jana Sochor. 2016. “Trying on Change – Trialability as a Change Moderator for Sustainable Travel Behaviour.” Travel Behaviour and Society 4 (May): 60–68. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tbs.2016.01.002.