Women In Cycling – Caroline Brown

Introduce yourself (and your bikes…)

I am Dr Caroline Brown, an academic working at Heriot-Watt University. My main research interests revolve around urban sustainability and health –active travel and cycling fits very nicely into this. I have one bike. It’s a fairly ordinary hybrid, which my husband bought me a few years ago as he decided I need to upgrade from the £30 bike my dad bought me while I was doing my PhD. Although I have only one bike, with 3 children of various sizes in the family, our bike shed is bulging with Islabikes. At the last count we had 5…

What is your connection to the world of cycling?

I have had a personal and academic interest in cycling for a very long time. Perhaps the most influential experience was studying in Utrecht in the Netherlands as part of my undergraduate degree. I spent 6 months cycling happily in a place which made space for cycling, and which had dedicated infrastructure for cycling. When I was doing my PhD in Liverpool, I was an active member of the city’s cycle forum and was a proud supporter of the city’s first bike café set up in the early 1990s. I have been a regular cycle commuter in several places (Liverpool, Bristol, Leicester) and am a Director of the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, which came about following a twitter conversation between me and Kim Harding in 2012.

What got you into cycling? (or back into it?)

I cycled as a child, as a teenager and as a student. As I stayed in academia when I completed my studies, I kept those cycling habits – and when I moved, I chose where to live on the basis of cycling distance/routes to work! My cycling is currently heavily constrained by family life and the challenges of multiple pick-ups and drop-offs each day – not to mention the issues of school catchments influencing where we live, rather than how easy it is to cycle to work. The upshot is that – at the moment – most of my bike trip are short across-town journeys getting me to meetings or social events.

What would you say was your most significant achievement (so far!)?

The answer is: writing to Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2016, just after the Festival programme was published. I wrote – on behalf of WCFS – pointing out that they had managed to pick an all-male panel, with 5 men talking about cycling but no women. Ironically, they also had Laura Bates there too – author of Everyday Sexism. In my letter I listed lots of amazing women who have written wonderfully about cycling. Nick responded immediately, acknowledging the problem, plying us with tea and cake, and inviting us to help. Although we couldn’t get any women authors into the programme in 2016, we suggested some interviewers, and Lee Craigie and Susan Swarbrick both appeared at the Festival in discussion with Tim Moore and Chris Boardman (result no 1). Without giving anything away, I am really proud to say that Edinburgh International Book Festival 2017 includes some amazing women talking about cycling (result no 2). All because I sent an email…

What’s your biggest frustration?

As an academic and professional planner I am aware of the considerably body of research evidence, and the experience of other countries in delivering good quality urban environments that promote walking and cycling. It is really frustrating that local authorities, politicians of all kinds and practitioners in the UK often seem to be ignorant of, or dismissive of this evidence and experience.

If you could wave a magic wand, what’s the one (cycling-related) thing you’d wish for?

Ring fenced monies for cycling in the transport budgets at all levels of government. Edinburgh City Council’s commitment to dedicate 10% of their transport budget demonstrates that it can be done without the sky falling in, and that it has a positive impact.

What’s your typical day/week on cycling? And what are the rides you dream about?

If I’m lucky I’ll manage a couple of short trips on my bike to get to meetings in town. I organise this for the day that I work at home when I don’t have to worry about picking up or dropping off children.

I dream about finding the time and fitness/endurance to take on a big ride without any children in tow!

One of the purposes of the Women’s Cycle Forum is to promote women who are in cycling and make them more visible – and particularly to see the end of the dreaded all-male panel. Would you be interested in speaking more on panels or at conferences and if so what about?

Yes. Always happy to talk at events. My other tip on this is to organise your own events, and invite yourself to speak 😉

Who are the women in cycling you’d like to hear from next and why?

I’d love to hear from Ruth Anna (@bikesandbabies) and the Hackney family cycling library. It sounds like a really practical and pragmatic approach to getting people cycling with their families.