Electric Bikes – Croydon’s next transport revolution?

By - Friday 29th November, 2013

Are Croydon’s residents missing out on a way to find freedom and equality? Neil Ridulfa explores

Image by Ray Wookey

Croydon has always been a place for pioneering transport. The town gave the world its first purpose built airport terminal, the world’s first public railway, and decades after the rest of the country gave up on them, Croydon took the bold step of bringing trams back to the borough. We find ourselves thirteen years into the 21st century and Croydon’s next transport revolution is overdue.

Less than one per cent – 0.6 per cent to be precise – is the figure that has emerged from University College London as the percentage of journeys taken by bike in Croydon by people in work aged 16-74. The same demographic in Hackney takes the bike out over six times as much. Croydon has some catching up to do.  Well, it’s not just Croydon. The UK needs to catch up, considering that in equally cold and rainy Sweden, 18 per cent of journeys are by bike. Even on the packed streets of Tokyo an estimated 20 per cent of journeys are made by bike.

Before the subject cycling is reduced to a mere crunching of numbers it would be good to reflect on the benefits of cycling. Of course, there’s traffic reduction but I suspect few people wish to read an article about traffic. What, therefore, are Croydon’s residents missing out on when they choose a car over a bike? Below are three things cyclists have, that drivers don’t:


Cyclists have freedom to transition from highway to pathway and from country lane to mountain trail. Cycling gives you freedom from bus and train timetables and freedom from the spiralling costs of motoring – even electric bikes which have a motor do not require insurance or an MOT. You can also escape that most boring of games ‘find the parking space’.


Not everyone has the money to maintain a car or place to park one but most can accommodate a bike.  From my experience, I’ve seen how cycling, especially with an electric bike, has enabled those with mobility impairments, to carry on life outside of the home. It must be such an uplifting feeling to know that you can get out into the world on your own terms again. Others, who have had to give up their cars in this time of austerity, can feel the simple pride of travelling under their own steam. Scholars have even argued that the bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else.


Trapped inside a car or even a train carriage, you don’t find the sort of camaraderie that seems to erupt spontaneously between cyclists.  That isn’t to say that there aren’t levels of snobbery within cycling, but sharing stories of your cycling adventures with fellow cyclists can galvanise the most disparate of two-wheel travellers. It is pretty tough to connect with your fellow human being from behind a windscreen. Cyclists are also more connected to the natural world. Feeling the sun, the wind and even the rain reminds cyclists that they’re part of the larger, living world.

There is a bike out there for everyone. If you’re a commuter, get a folding bike. If you need a boost up hill or for the final mile of your journey, get an electric bike. There are even bikes made for people with disabilities – ask our friends at Wheels for Wellbeing. Deciding to cycle takes courage but how can you turn down freedom, equality and connection?

Croydon Council offer free cycle training for anyone who lives, works or studies in Croydon, see cyclinginstructor.com for details.

Neil Ridulfa

Neil Ridulfa

A life-long resident of Coulsdon, but also a bike seller, event director, singer and part of the first wave of creative writing graduates from the University of Surrey-Roehampton. Find me on Twitter or working at Cycling Made Easy.

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  • Kristian

    Freedom, equality and that sense of connection to the place are facets of cycling that are often overlooked in cycle promotion articles, love that you’ve focused on those three here.

    • Neil Ridulfa

      Thanks Kristian. It was nice to write about such positive things. I think writers often overlook these themes because they’re difficult to measure; they don’t come with handy statistics. I suppose cyclists feel these facets intuitively and therefore they don’t immediately come to mind as something to promote; but they absolutely should promote them!

  • Terry Coleman

    Lovely article, reminds me of my younger days. In 1952/3 my dad bought me a brand new Coventry Eagle sports bike, Renolds 531 tubing, the business!. It was my reward for passing the scholarship to Stanley Technical School. The machine set me free, my mates had similar steeds too. We were soon down the coast most weekends and we cycled everywhere. I used that bike well in to my 20′s, every day for work and also domestic and pleasure.
    We were taugh; keep your eyes and ears open, look to the HighwayCode.
    Happy day. Keep safe.

    • Neil Ridulfa

      Thanks Terry. I’m glad the article brought back such good memories. Have you been tempted to try cycling again?

      • Terry Coleman

        I sometimes dream, when working the upright bike in the gym: On the old London Rd, pumping up Burgess Hill with a promise of an easy run down to Pyecombe to pick up the A23 for that final dash in to Brighton.
        Yup, think I just could.

  • Stephen Mann

    Interesting piece. Have you seen the stuff r.e. TfL and Electric Bikes for Muswell Hill etc? Would be great for tackling some of our steeper areas!

    Having a close relative who attends Wheels For Wellbeing it is also good to see them mentioned. They do fantastic work and I have seen the joy many users get out of being able to cycle around the Arena running track.

    • Neil Ridulfa

      Thanks Stephen. Yes, I read about the Muswell Hill scheme. It could be the biggest step in bringing e-bikes in from the margins. Glad to hear about your relative attending Wheels for Well-being. They were recently featured in a film at the Science Museum called ‘Life of the Bicycle’ (or something similar).