BY: DEXTER BROWN
Boneshaker began from a desire to tell human-centric stories about bicycles and how they can change people’s lives. Accordingly, James Lucas and John Coe, the founders of the Bristol, U.K.-based magazine, took 300 copies of its first issue to London—as many as they could fit in James’s bike trailer—and sold them to bike and book shops around town. When they sold the last copy they had on the train ride home, they knew they had something.
Mike White joined Boneshaker (cyclist magazine) right after the first issue came out, and, by sheer coincidence, he already happened to know creator John Coe. By the next issue, he was editing the magazine.
Now available in more than two-dozen countries, Boneshaker has developed a loyal following among cyclists worldwide. Before the release of the 15th issue of Boneshaker, White spoke with The Plaid Zebra about cycling in the U.K. and Europe.
Bristol is a bit of a special case in the U.K. It was designated the U.K.’s first official cycling city back in 2008 and was given extra funding to promote behavioral change and build infrastructure and so on. So in Bristol, where Boneshaker is based, there’s quite a strong cycling culture and a fairly robust self-defining cycling community. Elsewhere in Britain, it varies very much, but mostly it’s pretty undeveloped, I think. The acceptance of cycling as a means of transport or even a thing to do for fun is nowhere as good as some other parts of Europe.
Does the U.K. rely on automobiles a lot more than it needs to?
Most people really do rely on cars. I think it’s partly [due to] a lack of imagination, partly laziness, and generally a perception of danger…. If they all just went one day, ‘Ah, actually, okay, I’m not going to do that, I’m going to get on the bike,’ and everybody did it, the roads would feel wonderful and safe and quiet and friendly, but it takes everyone to do it at once.
In Canada, it seems that there aren’t enough bike lanes, so it’s difficult to cycle everywhere you need to go. Does the same problem exist out there as well?
In the U.K., generally, it’s a big problem. In Bristol, it’s slightly better because we have a few dedicated cycle paths and there’s a national charity called Sustrans (Sustainable Transport UK), who were the first people to build a national cycle network. They’ve created about 40,000 miles of dedicated cycle paths since they started back in the late ’70s, and they’re based in Bristol. The first sections of that network head out from Bristol, so we’re lucky here. They are doing their best to make things better, to connect places with decent cycling infrastructure, but we’ve got so far to go compared to places like Copenhagen.
Have you been cycling outside of Bristol or the U.K.?
The only other places where I have been cycling are in the south of France and in Amsterdam.
How was that different from what you’ve experienced in the U.K.?
Amsterdam was awesome. They took very seriously the need to change people’s general transport choices about 40 years ago, and they’ve been investing heavily ever since. I think that has really paid off. Obviously their topography and their geography helped. It’s very flat and all those canals and bridges mean that you can’t put in big roads everywhere, so it makes sense for bikes for lots of reasons. They’re pleasant and safe and quiet and non-polluting and all the other reasons that make them great. Riding in Amsterdam—apart from the treacherous tramlines, which always upend new cyclists at least once—was just a joy.
How does cycling fit into your lifestyle? Does being adventurous and cycling go hand in hand?
I don’t know if I’m especially adventurous, but cycling definitely just fits with all aspects of my life. It’s certainly, in a city, the fastest way to get from one place to another. I also love being directly in contact with the world around me to get that sensory experience of travel. The wind and sun on your face, the smells and the sounds—just not being compartmentalized, having the world filtered through the neutering glass of a windscreen. I always feel like I’m being shipped around like cargo—you know, like a sack of potatoes or a tin of tuna—when I’m in a car. But when you’re on a bike, you are the engine. You’re so much more dynamically involved in the journey and it allows for serendipity, the sort of the freedom to just go, ‘Now I’ll go that way. I’ll cut across the park.’ If you see someone you recognize or a thing that looks interesting, you can just stop immediately and pull over. There’s none of that worrying about where you’re going to park. It gives you freedom that other means of transport don’t.
Boneshaker issue #15 arrived on September 24. Click here to subscribe or purchase individual issues.