I’ve been trying to sum up Pedal on Parliament for the last couple of hours now, and I’m still struggling for the right words. For the last few days we’ve tentatively been saying we were hoping for a thousand people to turn out on their bikes, based on nothing more concrete than a bit of a buzz on the internets and a general sense that doing all that work for anything less would be a disappointment.
On the day itself, our nerves were beginning to shred. Would anyone come? Would enough people come? The first cyclists – including round-the-world cyclist Mark Beaumont – began to assemble on the Meadows in the spring sunshine and a keen east wind and we started to hope. And then more came. And more. And more. When we started to line the bikes up for the off we filled the bike path all the way across the meadows and round the corner and beyond and still the bikes were everywhere and still coming.
I was towards the head of the ride,* so it was hard for me to appreciate the scale of it until I got to Parliament and was standing directing cyclists onto the grassy area, keeping them moving forward so that the bikes could get off the road. After 10 minutes shouting myself hoarse, the bikes were STILL coming and the police directed the bikes around a corner to keep it flowing. I went up to see how many more were expected, 40 minutes after we’d all set off
‘The last bikes are only just leaving the meadows now’, the policeman said. If you want to know what 3000 cyclists looks like (that’s THREE THOUSAND CYCLISTS, people), then imagine a mass of them stretching a mile and a half through Edinburgh’s cobbled streets. It’s a lot…
There were the usual sorts of ‘characters’ there you would expect on a bike protest: a unicyclist concentrating fiercely going uphill on cobbles at a slow walking pace, a man with a chicken on his head, a dapper gent in tweed, a recumbent tandem complete with guitar player, cargo bikes, racing bike, the lycra-clad and the scary yellow jacket crowd. But there were also massed families out and that was what made the day for me. A girl who’d dressed up as a lobster because, well, why wouldn’t you? A tiny boy who did the whole ride on his balance bike. They’d come in their hundreds to say they wanted to cycle too, and not just when they had a police escort.
And then, when the speeches started, and the adults listened, the kids (some bigger than others) cut loose and headed for the parliamentary fountains for the real business of a sunny April day: to paddle on parliament
To everyone who came: thank you from the bottom of my heart. You made the day amazing. There will be a long road ahead before that wee boy on his balance bike can safely cycle every day – he may be on his first full size bike by then – but for now I’m just going to wallow in our astounding success and worry about the next battle when it comes.
*As I came up to Holyrood I WAS the head of the ride, and that was when I realised I hadn’t quite worked out which way the procession was going. Fortunately the police had it all under control at that point. Oops.