Running a Candidates’ Bike Ride

In this guest blog from Walk Cycle Vote supporter Cycling Dumfries, Convenor Sally Hinchcliffe explains how to run a candidates’ cycle ride (and why you should):

Candidates for last year's Scottish Parliament elections assemble in Dumfries
Candidates for last year’s Scottish Parliament elections assemble in Dumfries

Getting your local council candidates onto bikes to see for themselves a local barrier is a really powerful way of getting your point across – and it’s not that difficult to organise either.

Cycling Dumfries have now run candidates’ rides for local authority, Westminster, and Holyrood elections in Dumfries and we’ve always had a reasonable turnout across parties. The candidates seem to enjoy it as well as getting a real insight into problems that you may have struggled to get across in emails or in meetings.

How to organise one

1. Choose your route

You’ll need a clear idea of what the problems are that you want them to look at and design a route accordingly. Don’t be too ambitious – some candidates won’t have ridden a bike for a while, and even if they are regular cyclists, you will want to stop and talk about the problems en route. The general rule of thumb is, take whatever you think you can manage in the time available and then halve it. Even then, have a contingency plan to cut out part of the ride in case you overrun – it’s only polite to get the candidates back when you have said you would, as they will likely have other events to go to.

A big issue in Dumfries is the route to the new hospital, just at the end of the cycle path, but across a busy 60 mph road
A big issue in Dumfries is the route to the new hospital, just at the end of the cycle path, but across a busy 60 mph road

Don’t make the route too challenging, either. You don’t need to ride them along the verge of a busy A road to show them how dangerous it is – just looking at it will be enough. Similarly, don’t include too many hills as that will just reinforce the idea that cycling is difficult! Ideally, part of the ride will be quite pleasant so that they understand what works as well as what doesn’t.

2. Set a date and time

We’ve had good success running rides just after school run time – meeting up at around 4 or 4:30. This allows families to take part (it’s really effective to have kids along although this will affect your route choice) and it also neatly slots in between daytime canvassing and evening hustings events for the politicians. Make sure you will be finished before it gets dark, especially if you’re running it before the clocks go forward. We tend to allow around an hour and a half – an hour for the ride itself and any discussions, and half an hour getting everyone ready, doing a photocall, fixing bikes etc.

3. Invite the candidates

Details will be on the Walk Cycle Vote website “find a candidate” page, but your council website should have all of the official nominations for each constituency. To avoid any suspicion of bias, you need to invite everyone who is standing in the relevant area (which might cover two or three constituencies) – even parties you don’t think will be interested or ones you find abhorrent. You can drop off invitations at the local constituency office, email them, or tweet, or ideally a combination of all three. Local media will be reluctant to cover the event if you don’t have candidates from all of the major parties attending as they also have to be even handed in their coverage. If you’re not having any luck getting anyone from a particular party, a few strategic tweets can work wonders, especially if you can get two or three other constituents to join in. It may be helpful if you can provide loan bikes for the candidates – let them know if that’s an option, especially if they are making excuses!

4. Spread the word

Now you need to spread the word about the ride – posters, social media, blog posts, emails to supporters and so on. Posting on local party facebook pages might also be helpful, as they’ll want to put up a show of strength. Once you are confident that you will get a good spread of candidates, send out a media release. Emphasise the photo opportunity aspect of it and say when and where you expect the candidates to gather. Let the local police know, and invite them to send an officer if you have any cycle police in your area – they can be brilliant and they can bring their own perspective to some of the issues you’re talking about.

5. On the day

It might be helpful to send your candidates a briefing and reminder a day or two beforehand, letting them know how the event will happen and what they’ll need to be prepared for. Remind them it’s not a race, won’t be difficult or dangerous, and that they won’t need to dress up in lycra to come. It may be helpful to bring spare gloves, helmets (whatever your opinion on the topic, some politicians may be wary of being photographed on a bike without one).

Top tip - line the candidates up in alphabetical order so you can remember who was who afterwards ...
Top tip – line the candidates up in alphabetical order so you can remember who was who afterwards …

Make sure you organise your own photocall, even if the press are there taking photos, so you have something to put on your website (and write down everyone’s names!). Brief them about the ride, and the issue(s) you’ll be looking at and why they’re important. Try and greet all of the candidates and introduce yourself and have a friendly word with all of them – these days you never know who’s going to get elected.

Allow plenty of time for repairs!
Allow plenty of time for repairs!

During the ride, you’ll need a ride leader and ‘tail end charlie’ to make sure nobody gets left behind. If some of the candidates are on a tight schedule, arrange to have someone guide them back to the start if they need to leave early. Again, try and chat to all of the candidates during the ride, and keep it friendly.

At each point where there’s an issue you want to discuss, stop, explain briefly what the problem is and how it could be fixed, and leave a bit of time for discussion. It might be helpful to have other members of the group chip in as well, if they’ve got a particular issue such as a disability, cycling with children, or working shifts.

At the end, thank them all for coming, take them to the pub or a cafe if they have time, and make sure they have your contact details for any follow up.

6. Follow up

Email each candidate afterwards thanking them for coming, wishing them luck in their campaign, reminding them of the points you raised, and maybe picking up on anything they said during the ride (good or bad – but be tactful). Send them any nice pictures pf them on a bike they might want to use in their literature and a link to your own website or social media posts about the event, and also tweet your thanks to each one for coming (they love retweeting that sort of thing) or post it on their FB page, and on your own.

After the election, email to congratulate the winners, and perhaps asking for a meeting to talk further about some of the issues you raised on the ride. A few congratulatory tweets with pictures from the ride also helps remind people of any promises they may have made. Even if they haven’t been particularly forthcoming with policy pledges, a friendly congratulations email helps build bridges for later.

Even just getting this many politicians on bikes can feel like an achievement ...
Even just getting this many politicians on bikes can feel like an achievement …

If you or your group are planning doing something similar – or even just taking a local politician or official out on to the streets to show them a particular issue whether its for cyclists or pedestrians, let us know on and we’ll do what we can to help and spread the word.