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Hoy's dream: to see Scotland become a nation of cyclists

OLYMPIC gold medallist Sir Chris Hoy has said he believes Scotland could emulate the success of countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands to become a nation of cyclists.

Sir Chris Hoy, who was the first cyclist to test the velodrome in Glasgow which bears his name, would like the UK to follow the Netherlands' approach to cycling
Sir Chris Hoy, who was the first cyclist to test the velodrome in Glasgow which bears his name, would like the UK to follow the Netherlands' approach to cycling

Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Herald, Hoy, who unveiled the velodrome bearing his name in Glasgow last week, said that the sport's soaring popularity on the back of Britain's Tour de France and Olympic Games triumphs meant the time was ripe to embrace a bike-friendly ethos.

"The potential is there," he said. "It's not something that will happen overnight but we have to keep pushing and pushing. It's not just for one reason either, such as cutting down on road congestion or reducing carbon emissions. It's about the obesity issue and improving people's health. It's a social issue, too. Cycling can be purely about transport or you can make it a recreational activity."

He added: "If you look at somewhere like Denmark, for example, we can't use the excuse that it's the weather here. They have cold winters, too. It's about making cycling an easier and more pleasant thing to do. If you make things easy then people will do it.

"That means workplaces having somewhere to store bikes and changing facilities as well as creating clear bike lanes that are actually meaningful and not just a bit of paint on the side of the road which other road users aren't really aware of."

Edinburgh-born Hoy has already given his backing to the Pedal on Parliament campaign, which in April saw thousands of cyclists converge on Holyrood to lobby for improved safety and conditions on Scotland's roads. As part of its Cycling Action Plan, the Scottish Government has set a target of 10% of all journeys to be made by bike by 2020 – a number tied to its low carbon and obesity strategies.

According to recent statistics, 1% are currently made by bike, compared to 23% on foot and 46% by car. Over the next two years, £6 million has been earmarked to improve Scotland's network of cycle paths and provide training for schoolchildren.

Yet with less than 1% of the country's overall 2013-14 transport budget allocated to cycling, more investment is needed, say cycle campaigners, if we are to come close to matching the Netherlands and Denmark, where cycling accounts for 27% and 13% of journeys respectively.

Hoy said: "Fundamentally, I'm a cyclist. Yes, I race on the track, but I still use my bike to get about, for fun and other normal reasons.

"It is important to see the environment we cycle in improved, whether it's the road surfaces, bike lanes or attitudes from other road users.

"You hear horrendous stories about accidents and people losing their lives. You want to do what you can to raise awareness and make things safer."

Key to that, he said, is breaking the 'them and us' dichotomy between cyclists and other road users.

He said: "There is a car advert, which says, 'At the end of the day, we are all just people trying to get somewhere', and that's very true.

"Ultimately, cyclists have a responsibility too. They have to obey the rules and treat the road with the same respect.

"That's the frustrating thing. You don't remember cyclists who are law-abiding – you remember the one that jumped a red light or who was riding on a pavement. It's about everyone having a bit more respect for other road users across the board.

"The more people who cycle, the more other road users are going to think, 'I know what it's like so I'll give more space and respect'."

When it comes to Olympic legacy, another benefit he hopes to see is a sea change in how we as a nation viewed ourselves.

Hoy said: "For me a sign of success of the Games would be a change in attitude towards sport. That kids believe they can be winners and realise that in Scotland we're not just a nation of plucky losers – that we're actually talented, hardworking and have belief in ourselves.

"Take someone like Katherine Grainger, who won three consecutive Olympic silver medals which, in itself, is an amazing achievement. You wouldn't have begrudged her retirement after that, but she kept going and got her gold medal.

"Another example is Andy Murray who took a grand slam victory after so many defeats and setbacks. It's great to see that."

Pushing the agenda on the health benefits of sport is another issue Hoy is keen to see, not least with the UK having one of the highest levels of childhood obesity among developed countries.

In Scotland, recent figures show three in 10 children (29.9%) are overweight or obese.

Hoy said: "It is a big worry and issue. It puts a strain on the NHS. Everyone has a role to play – it's not one person's responsibility. It's about giving kids the right environment in which to enjoy sport as well as education about diet.

"There are so many positive spin-offs from sport and the obesity issue is one it would be fantastic to see an impact on."

As a Bank of Scotland ambassador for London 2012 and National School Sport Week, Hoy has seen first-hand the importance of grass-roots projects in inspiring future stars.

"It doesn't take much to inspire a kid to keep going," he said. "They try it, they love it but they need to be supported and given the chance to do it again and again. That comes from the parents, schools, governing bodies – everyone."

He laughed, though, when asked if he reckoned there was a chance of cycling usurping football to become Scotland's national sport.

"That's maybe a little bit optimistic," he said. "It is a nice feeling, though, when you ask people in Scotland and across the UK, 'What are we good at?' and cycling is one of the first sports they mention."

Being a role model...

"It's flattering to think kids would look at me and be inspired because I know what a difference having role models made to me. I was Graeme Obree when I was riding the bike and when I was playing rugby, I was Gavin Hastings. If I can be one, that gives me massive satisfaction."

Sport as a beacon of hope in times of austerity...

"You definitely saw that in London. With the Commonwealth Games, I hope it's going to be the same feeling. I'm sure the Glaswegians are going to put on a great show."

Unfulfilled ambitions...

"The 2014 Commonwealth Games. It could be the last race of my career but the first on home soil at a major championships. That's what drives me."

Whether the sporting talent pool in Scotland is sufficiently supported...

"It's improving, but there is never a stage where you can say, 'That's it, we've got it right'. It's like being a sportsman, you are always looking for ways to improve."

The Scottish cycling stars of the future...

"Callum Skinner won the British national sprint title last weekend and John Paul has already been a junior world champion."

His proudest moment ...

"Seeing the new velodrome. Not just having my name attached to it, but to have a facility like this."

On life off the bike ...

"Motorsport is something I'm interested in – I have a little track car. If I'm not training, it is all about physically doing as little as I can."

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