In 1979, just after Maggie Thatcher became prime minister, Birmingham Friends of the Earth started "PushBikes" as a campaign group to further their efforts to promote cycling in the city. It was sparked by a report by the Council for the West Midlands on transport that paid little account of any provision for cycling and cycling infrastructure.
The first newsletter (November 1979) consisting of a single stencilled sheet seeks support and volunteers to respond to this omission. Within a couple of years PushBikes was well established, challenging council proposals and leading rides to demonstrate the poor quality and quantity of cycling routes across the city. Alongside campaign issues regular weekly social rides proved popular. By 1981 the first Great Midlands Cycle Ride was launched as a circular 50 mile route via Stratford with 1000 starters! These annual rides were successfully repeated and improved for the next 20 years. A series of Cycling in Birmingham routes sold 750 copies. One noticeable feature was the involvement of the then buoyant local press (always keen to have stories and provocative articles), and commercial sponsors to support the funding of events.
Membership grew to 300
What was obvious from these early years was the youthful enthusiasm and forceful attempts to 'push' the message. They were up against Council car culture, intransigence and ignorance and had to be streetwise in getting any hearing. Their publication, "A Cycle Friendly Birmingham: The First Stage", sharpened the Council's understanding of what was needed. For the first time cycling and cyclists were beginning to be taken seriously as positive contributors to the 'traffic' in Birmingham. Meetings with senior councillors promised action. Fine words followed but over time there was no money and little action, leading to disillusionment and frustration. Many of the social activities were allowed to wither and fewer activists were prepared to spend time and effort for little return. By the turn of the century, PushBikes still retained over 200 members, but struggled to find active participants.
And yet, despite the dwindling support, Push Bikes (as we now call ourselves) has gone on to achieve great things. The reason why the A34 and A38 cycleways are as good as they are is because Push Bikes pushed relentlessly for quality rather than quantity. We know this, because the council told us so. Your membership helps us to keep pushing.