Life

Lockdown Diary: The potential is there for a golden era of cycling but there needs to be a thought-out policy

We ask people how they are faring in the coronavirus crisis. This week, Austin Brown (54), a keen cyclist and owner of Belfast Bicycle Workshop, who lives in Carryduff

Austin Brown – 'Why should a car with one passenger in it have priority? Bicycles are a far more sustainable form of transport'. Picture by Mal McCann
Jane Hardy

How have you been affected professionally?

I have scaled down my business and am only working three days. I am type 1 diabetic and have to be careful, especially since my premises are small so it's hard to socially distance. You also have to wash everything down before and after people come in to the shop and all payment is contactless. I don't have a driving licence and rely on public transport normally, but not now. Financially, it's had an effect but I am not applying for government money as I can still work. I feel challenged – my business has a good reputation and was always booming. But I know I am lucky as I have a roof over my head, food on the table, and enough money to cover my needs even though we haven't benefited from the bike sales boom as we don't actually sell bicycles. After the virus, the business will be even busier, I think.

What about personally?

It' been a quick change and I'm experiencing unfamiliar emotions. I am scared, if I'm honest, and find myself very anxious. Not all the time, but sometimes the situation will just hit you and even being in work makes me feel anxious. When I go to the supermarket to do the shopping for my partner Susan's mum and dad, I feel vulnerable. You just can't wait to get out. I do a lot of work round the house and am repairing our eaves. A lot of people get a bit annoyed when you can't do the work for them you normally do because of the situation. But things have changed. It's all about acceptance and patience now.

Austin Brown – after the virus, the business will be even busier, I think

Are there any positives in this?

The ability to spend time at home. Also having a new work-life balance, and when this is over I won't be working so hard, I'll move from a six-day week to a five-day week. The obvious benefit is to the environment. Noise pollution has ended and we're on the Ormeau Road, one of the busiest commuting roads. The potential is there to enter a golden era of bicycling but there needs to be a thought-out policy, not piecemeal ideas. If the government can get together with Sustrans and the Green Road Cycle group they could produce a considered policy. We need more space for cyclists. It's absolutely not a land grab by us and pedestrians, as some have said. Why should a car with one passenger in it have priority? Bicycles are a far more sustainable form of transport. All you have to do is look at Holland and Belgium.

What keeps you going?

Bicycling. We all miss contact with family and friends, which is stressful. But if you head out for a 20-mile bike ride, you stop ruminating about the coronavirus. You're out of your head yet in your body. On your bike in the countryside, it's a completely different sense of being. I remember the feeling, aged seven, of getting on my first bike and it's the same now. There's freedom on a bike.

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