HAVE you heard the one about the cyclist who caused an accident?

Probably. If you’re lucky enough to be spotted in so much as a sniff of your bike fatigues, you’ll likely earn a stranger’s anecdote. Just yesterday, my partner and I were treated to a lengthy diatribe from a cashier about a cyclist with no lights on a dark road. In her need to impart this, she’d amassed a queue of five impatient shoppers. She finished the story. This is such a regular occurrence, I’ve started playing Evil Cyclist bingo: no lights, didn’t signal, no helmet, no road tax, never liable. I’ve completed the scorecard many times over.

As the number of cyclists on Scottish roads is increasing, resistance is growing. Cycling has an image problem: we’re still enemy number one on the roads. The consequences of this demonisation are far-reaching and will continue to impede the adoption of greener travel by the masses.

Saturday 23 April saw Scotland’s fifth Pedal on Parliament: a protest cycle from the Meadows to the Scottish Parliament. At the other side there’s a minute's silence for fatalities, and then the politicians appear to make insipid "elect me!" promises about what they’ll do to improve Active Travel. We sit on the grass in our thousands. We ring our bells in agreement with the speakers. We buy our commemorative T-shirts. We gather together in all our flavours and ride through the city, and make cycling front and centre for a couple of hours. It feels good. It’s an important annual event. But it’s starting to frustrate me.

When our Transport Secretary, who’d been previously, but never cycled in, joked about tarmacking the cobbles after his ride from Haymarket, I sighed. Willie Rennie made another insipid speech, followed by others. Quickly, the importance of the event seemed diminished. The novelty wore off and I wanted to leave. It dawned on me how little has changed since my first political cycling pilgrimage. Cycling is still marginal. The people who make our decisions don’t consider it important enough to think beyond polling-friendly budget promises. No-one’s making the effort to open it up to everyone. It’s a boxed to be ticked for political brownie points with the existing community.

So why has so little changed when we’re making so much noise? We’re putting 100 per cent of our efforts into the particulars (infrastructure, spending, improvements and access). If we only come at the issue from this angle, we’ll be having these same conversation in twenty years. Why? We have a fundamental problem to address: people don’t like cyclists. Until we change that idea, nothing will change. We need to devote some of our efforts to good old fashioned reputation management.

My first trip to Belgium was an eye-opener. I borrowed a brakeless granny bike from my hosts, and set off on the seven-mile trip to Bruges through rural Flanders. There were bikes everywhere. There was no Lycra. No helmets. No agro. Everyone was just getting on with it. Groups of teenage girls with shoppers over their shoulders and gangs of boys cycling four-abreast into town. A pensioner in a sou’wester with legs like a heron. Men in suits. I couldn’t quite believe it when the traffic yielded to me. This was transport integration in action, happening like it was nothing at all. It was a shock to someone who commutes along main roads, dodging potholes, tram lines and angry drivers.

THE Netherlands was similarly impressive. Amsterdam and bikes are like motherhood and apple pie. But not only that, cycling is top of the pecking order. Parents and kids dart about in cargo bikes. Girls ride side-saddle on their friends’ pannier racks. Couples hold hands as they cycle side by side. Cycling is cool. That’s why the same people who hate us at home hop on two wheels when visiting. Cycling here – like Belgium, like Denmark – is for everyone. It’s normal. Every year I visit Europe’s cycling epicentres. I do this to remind myself how cycling can work in cities, and to feel like part of the furniture.

Here, we’re separate. We’re other. And we’re even divided within our ranks, though few cyclists will admit it. Remarking at my everyday clothes, an acquaintance once said “Edinburgh doesn’t have cyclists – you’re just people on bikes”. Add this to the colleague who advises me on what to wear in the bike shed, and the other who asked why my bike was stolen when it was so "cheap".

Cycling tribalism is rife in Scotland. There’s a pecking order, with the Lycra elite and the rest of us somewhere further down. No-one wants to talk about it, so we can keep up appearances as one happy community. A unified community, with a set of cohesive demands the government can provide. It’s nonsense. We have work to do ourselves. We’ll never become a welcoming space to new cyclists if we look down our nose at one another. And that’s just the insiders.

To everyone else, cycling is seen as an act of social martyrdom. Owning a bike has become political. It’s an indicator of where you fall on the social consciousness spectrum. That’s a problem. It draws the battle lines, with each disparate group claiming sovereignty over the roads. There are people shouting on both sides, widening the gap between us. As many of us learned during the indyref, being a shouty political type doesn’t always win you friends. Quite often, passion reads as sanctimony, pushing people further from your cause. Cycling needs to be reframed. We need to take down the fences and become road users. To become just road users, we need cohesion.

Mikael Coleville-Anderson, Denmark’s "bike ambassador" and urban mobility expert, describes our streets as democratic spaces.

He explains how they were extensions of our homes where we transported ourselves, came together, socialised, sold goods and played. Since the dawn of the automotive industry, we’ve made the car king, and designed people out of our streets.

Why is the car still king when it’s not working for us? Why do we design our streets around a product and not around a lifestyle we know we need?

There’s a whole suite of damning reasons why cycling needs a rebrand. Everyone knows it’s healthy, we all know the environment needs a breather, but no-one is talking about the scale of injury and loss of life from cars. It has become an accepted norm.

In the last year, 21,287 cyclists were killed or injured on our roads. On the other side, there were 194,477 casualties involving cars: a number that’s rising. We’re venting our road-use frustrations in the wrong direction. In Denmark, 33 cyclists were killed in traffic in 2013. In 2014, there were 113 in the UK. Given how many of the population cycle comparatively, those statistics become even more worrying.

Until we change the perception of cycling, we’ll never have a cycling culture. If we don’t have a cycling culture, those statistics will remain our shame.

If we want cycling acceptance to increase, we have to fold it into every part of society. We need to see pensioners on bikes. We need to see kids cycling to school. We need mums collecting the kids on bikes. We need to see what our icons are riding. If cyclists remain ring-fenced, we’ll remain a subculture, and never become a priority. Infrastructure won’t happen, and we’ll never transform active travel. To make this happen, Scotland has to develop a true cycling culture, and that starts with making it open to everyone. Only then will our streets become “democratic spaces” we all have a say in.