When I was in the Netherlands recently, I saw lots of Halfords shops. UK readers will be familiar with this brand, as it’s the name of a national chain of everything-for-the-car shops. They also sell a lot of bikes which, in my experience, are usually at the back of the store. (According to their corporate site, they sell one million bikes a year – are these mainly childrens’ bikes, or do they get left in the garage? Where are these millions of cyclists in the UK?)
The branches of Halfords I visited in the Netherlands were a very different affair. The stores were generally smaller than the warehouse-sized UK shops, and the bike-to-car products ratio was reversed — it was mainly a bike shop which also sold car bits. They were very helpful places, with free bike tyre pumps by the door and they even lent me a spanner to tighten the seat on my hire bike, which had become slightly loose. Maybe they have more car-centric stores out-of-town, but the ones I saw were all in the centre of town.
(Halfords in the UK isn’t part of the same company as Halfords in the Netherlands and Belgium, as far as I can tell. I imagine that they were once joined, but it seems they were split some time ago, and now operate independently of each other.)
The UK Halfords bike page is all dropped handlebars and helmets…
…whereas the bikes page on the Dutch Halfords site is mainly about utility, with a large range of practical bike types (although it does have one section called “ATB” – I assume this means All-Terrain Bikes, or something). Note how all the bikes shown, except the ATB one, have at least a rear rack, mudguards and lights.
The most depressing bit about the UK Halfords site, however, has to be their cycle selector tool – you know the kind of thing, where the website asks you questions about what you’re looking for and then makes recommendations which may or may not be of use.
The first question asks whether you are male or female. Not being into bikes, I wouldn’t have thought this made much difference to the type of bike you could ride – after all, both men and women generally have legs, arms and a head, right? Anyway, it’s question 2 which stumped me:
Ignoring that the fourth option isn’t an answer to the question posed, what do I choose? I don’t want an electric bike, nor do I want to do jumps and/or tricks, I get enough extreme fun crossing the roads here in London, and I don’t want to get fit. I just want to buy a practical bike and use it to get about – go to the shops, that sort of thing. Is that such an unusual desire?
Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and choose the nearest match: Leisure/Fitness. Then you can choose from different terrain types – I chose Urban (as opposed to Rural, or Rocky Terrain), then I chose Non-Portable (i.e. not a folding bike), then Upright (of course!) and the site gives me a choice of “hybrid” bikes, none of which have any storage racks at all, or even mudguards! Completely impractical bikes designed for anything except utility.
To be fair, Halfords UK does have a range of what they call “classic” bikes, which resemble the standard Dutch-style bike, although they’re mostly labelled as “ladies’ bikes” and are treated like some kind of deviant purchase and kept under the counter. I could only find a link for them on the huge menu which appears when you hover over “bikes” at the top of the page (where you’ll also find encouraging phrases such as body armour, hi vis clothing, and hydration packs) – they don’t seem to be mentioned or recommended anywhere else on the site.
I’m not having a go at Halfords UK here – surely they’re just providing what the public wants? But it suggests that utility cycling doesn’t really exist here, and if it does then it’s dwarfed by sports cycling. Perhaps this is why, until recently, cycle campaigning in the UK has been dominated by the Right-to-Ride extremists blind to the needs of others – cycling is seen as a sport first, as an ideology second, and as transport third. (Sometimes the first two are swapped around.)
I don’t know really what point I’m trying to make here, except that looking at bikes on Halfords UK site got me down. Surely they hold a mirror up to our society? Or do they help shape it?
To finish off, I’ll leave you with the image that Halfords UK deem suitable for the top of their “Cycle2Work” page.
Update: I meant to link to this in the article, but this is the sort of bike they should be selling for practical cycling. I’m sure they would sell them, if we had the infrastructure to ride them on.