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Memorizing the City from the Bike: How Cycling Memory influences the Lived Experiences of Students and their Intentions to cycle in the Future


Academic year: 2023

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Memorizing the City from the Bike:

How Cycling Memory influences the Lived Experiences of Students and their Intentions to cycle in the Future

Author Floris van Rutten

Student Number 11288736

University of Amsterdam Thesis Article, Research Master Urban Studies Department Graduate School of Social Sciences

Supervisor Dr. António Ferreira

Second reader Dr. Kim Carlotta von Schönfeld Intended journal Mobilities

Word count 10456

Date 16-6-2022




3 Abstract

Mobility scholars often approach memory from a methodological perspective, discussing its values and limitations for data collection. However, the active role that memory plays in mobility choice has been understudied. To address this research gap, this paper takes an interpretivist stance towards memory and proposes the concept of “cycling memory”, consisting of episodic, semantic and procedural memories of cycling. Through autobiographical interviews and ride-alongs with 23 students in Amsterdam and Brussels, the influence of memory in mediating lived experiences and intentions to cycle in the future is explored.

Approaching Amsterdam and Brussels as distinct sociotechnical cycling environments enables to identify local social understandings about infrastructure use. Cycling through these infrastructural settlements requires different skills in different places. Infrastructural settlements that are perceived as familiar or improved compared to previous memories lead to feelings of safety, joy, relaxation, and freedom. Infrastructural settlements that are perceived as less-developed lead to feelings of unsafety, stress, and fear. Memories of specific events, or of perceived benefits of cycling as habit also influence intentions to cycle. This paper suggests that these varied emotions should be taken into account by scholars and policy makers for cycling to become a viable transport mode for a wider public.

Keywords: Cycling, Memory, Mobility Biography, Sustainable Mobility, Lived Experiences, Individual Decision-Making.




1. Introduction ... 5

2. Theoretical framework ... 7

2.1. The cycling city as an assemblage: sociotechnical cycling infrastructure ... 7

2.2. Mobility biographies and cycling ... 8

2.3. Mobility biographies and memory ... 8

2.4. Cycling Memory ... 9

3. Research Methods and Sampling ... 11

4. Findings ... 16

4.1. Episodic memory ... 16

4.2. Semantic memory ... 18

4.3. Procedural memory ... 20

5. Conclusion ... 25

5.1. Discussion of findings ... 25

5.2. Future Research and Policy Implications ... 25

6. References ... 28



1. Introduction

Many cities consider urban cycling an effective measure to overcome pollution and road congestion, to reduce carbon emissions and to create healthier and more active populations (Darnton 2016; Fishman 2016; Simpson 2017; Spinney 2020). Recently, terms like “starter cycling city” (modal share of cycling below 10%), “climber cycling city” (modal share between 10% and 20%) and “champion cycling city” (modal share greater than 20%) have been introduced to understand which policies fit different cities best to increase their cycling rates (BYPAD 2008; Dias et al. 2022; Silva et al. 2019). “Starter cycling cities” have implemented pop- up bike lanes, bike sharing and bike subsidies to incentivize people to cycle (Dias et al. 2022;

Hahn and te Brömmelstroet 2021; Oviedo and Sabogal-Cardona 2022). These investments are primarily targeted at physical cycling infrastructure, while social norms, cultural setting, and local mobility politics can be just as important to make or keep cycling a widely used mode of transportation (Nello-Deakin and Nikolaeva 2021). A focus on infrastructure provision alone provides only a partial understanding of the relationship between people, cities and bikes (Vivanco 2013). Recent developments in cycling research have started to understand these relationships as assemblages of social, cultural, technical and human infrastructures (Amin, 2014; Brenner et al. 2011; McFarlane 2011; Star 1999). Social arrangements of how to use physical infrastructures are formed in infrastructural settlements: “dominant, shared, and received as commonsensical notions of how certain infrastructural networks should be used”

(Latham and Wood, 2015: 305). An existent “human infrastructure” of cyclists can shape these settlements towards becoming more cycling-friendly (Lugo 2013). In relation to cycling, certain cities have developed in such ways that these human, social, cultural and physical infrastructures form a mutually constitutive whole that favors cycling and makes cycling an obvious choice to move around (Nello-Deakin and Nikolaeva 2021). While such assemblages might be present in “champion cycling cities”, these are most likely not present in “starter cycling cities”.

This research focuses on the lived cycling experiences of 23 students in both a “starter”

(Brussels) and “champion” cycling city (Amsterdam) to find the differences in sociotechnical environments, and especially how these relate to the choice to cycle of individuals. Such a comparison has not been made yet, but can elicit if similar decision-making processes play a role in choosing to cycle. In transportation research, key events like starting university, graduating, and/or undertaking a residential move are considered to be able to change habitual mobility behavior (Müggenburg et al. 2015). In a globalizing world, there has been an increase in (inter)national mobility of students (Beine et al. 2014). The exposure to a new city, mobility culture (Klinger and Lanzendorf, 2016) or sociotechnical cycling infrastructure (Nello-Deakin and Nikolaeva 2021) might lead students to a reconsideration of their cycling behavior. Within the field of mobility biographies research, it is common to use retrospective methods (Müggenburg 2021). Common critiques on these methods focus on the reliability and validity of memorizing these choices (Lanzendorf 2003, 2010; Müggenburg 2021). Taking an interpretivist stance towards memory allows to overcome these critiques by considering memory itself as an active agent in mediating mobility experiences and behavior (see Degen and Rose, 2012). It is hypothesized that memory itself shapes the lived experiences of cyclists and, therefore, the decision-making process through which an individual decides to start, stop, or continue cycling after a key event.


6 This paper specifically aims to answer the question of how memories of cycling influence the lived cycling experiences of students and their intentions to cycle in the future. The analysis shows that students relate their experiences in their new environment to memories of previous experiences. The extent to which students find it difficult or easy to adapt to their new cycling environment is dependent on these memories. This paper thus adds to the current cycling literature in proposing the value of “cycling memory” in understanding why and how people decide to cycle on a regular basis. Further, it adds to the literature on mobility biographies by approaching memory not as a methodological issue in the search for objective information, but as a valuable personal agent in perceiving sensory experiences, leading to behavioral change.

This article is structured as follows: First, the theoretical underpinnings of “cycling memory” will be discussed. Starting with literature on cities as assemblages of sociotechnical infrastructures, the concept of infrastructural settlements is explained. Then, the use of mobility biographies in transportation research is discussed and how such an approach helps to understand the cycling experiences of students in relation to the infrastructural settlements they cycle in. Lastly, the methodological value of considering memory as an active agent in mobility behavior will be discussed before the concept of “cycling memory” is presented. The third section includes the sampling strategies, data collection and a brief description of the case studies. The fourth section will include the findings of this research. Finally, a short conclusion is presented, and directions for future research and policy are outlined.



2. Theoretical framework

Research on cycling has recently seen an increase in interest from transportation researchers and urban scholars. This research field seems to develop along three different lines of inquiry.

First, many scholars have approached cycling from a statistical perspective, focusing on measures of bikeability (Winters et al. 2013), infrastructure provision (Xu and Show 2019) and accessibility of destinations (Gehrke et al. 2020). The qualifications of “starter”, and “champion cycling cities” fit into this line of research (Dias et al. 2022; Silva et al. 2019). Second, several scholars argue that the experiences of cyclists should be given greater attention, for example by looking at how cyclists perceive environmental characteristics (Willis et al., 2015), or how the view from the bike mediates the relationship between cyclists and the (urban) environment (Forsyth and Krizek, 2011). Third, the “mobilities turn” has brought focus on the embodied or lived experience of cycling, which highlight the personal and emotional meanings behind movement (Spinney, 2009), for example through so-called “sensescapes” (Van Duppen and Spierings 2013), While this paper studies cycling from a qualitative perspective, it aims to bridge the three streams of literature by focusing on the experiences of cycling in areas that are quantified as different cycling environments.

2.1. The cycling city as an assemblage: sociotechnical cycling infrastructure

The categorization of “starter” cycling cities and “champion” cycling cities follows a logic of seeing the city as a cohesive whole, albeit with a focus on quantification and infrastructure provision. Following the influential work of Deleuze and Guattari (1987), scholars have started to question the assumption that physical urban infrastructures are inert and stable. Instead, infrastructures are socially (re-)produced. Star (1999: 381), argues how “infrastructure both shapes and is shaped by the conventions of a community of practice”. A city should be seen as being both a social and a technical arrangement (Amin 2014). In line with this, cities can be understood as sociotechnical assemblages, made up of social entities and technical infrastructures. An assemblage is not defined by the properties of each specific component, but rather by how they co-function (Deleuze and Parnet 2007; McFarlane 2011). It is through interactions between human and nonhuman components that an assemblage comes into being (McFarlane 2011).

Considering the city to be a sociotechnical assemblage means looking at cycling through a lens that acknowledges the interconnections between the built environment, local mobility culture and social life. Urban streets often embody tensions between mobile, public and sedentary functions, and space for one mode of transport might reduce the space for other modes or functions (Von Schönfeld and Bertolini 2017). In their work on cyclist behavior in London, Latham and Wood (2015) coin the term “infrastructural settlement” to refer to “a dominant, shared, and received as commonsensical notion of how a certain infrastructural network should be used” (Latham and Wood 2015: 305). Often, infrastructures show obduracy in relation to elements that are new to them, such as an increasing amount of cyclists on roads that are designed for the separation of motorized traffic and pedestrians (Hommels 2005; Latham and Wood 2015). Often the rules and infrastructures in place simply form barriers to a smooth cycling experience, but cyclists try to use formal road regulations to their benefit by either breaking, bending or creating rules to be safer or faster (Latham and Wood, 2015).


8 When infrastructural settlements are adapting, because of a growing amount of cyclists on the road, this in turn enables more people to choose cycling as their daily transportation mode (Chatterjee et al. 2013). The presence of humans on bikes in the streets forms a human infrastructure, which can mobilize politics in favor of cycling (Lugo, 2013). If a human infrastructure of cyclists exists for an extended period of time, such as in Amsterdam, the sociotechnical environment invites or even forces newcomers to take up cycling (Nello-Deakin and Nikolaeva 2021). The quality of the cycling infrastructure, the embeddedness of cycling in local culture and social life, and some level of group pressure are all interrelated elements that make Amsterdam a city that favors cycling (ibid.). Moving to an environment that is conducive towards a certain transportation mode, can thus strongly influence the mobility choice of individuals.

2.2. Mobility biographies and cycling

The mobility biographies approach developed from a need to understand specifically why, how and when people change their mobility behavior, for example from car driving to cycling (Lanzendorf 2003; Chatterjee et al. 2013). It argues that behavior does not stem from personal attitudes and motivations alone. Rather, mobility behavior consists of internalized habits that are stable over longer periods of time, and the mobility biographies approach specifically focuses on how key events, such as residential relocation, can change the mobility behavior of individuals (Müggenburg et al 2015). A wide variety of key events has been found to be impactful on the discontinuity of habits, such as childbirth (Lanzendorf 2010), changes in employment (Beige and Axhausen 2008, 2012), and residential relocation (Klinger and Lanzendorf 2016). External factors, such as changes in infrastructure or mobility culture, can facilitate behavior change as well (Chatterjee et al. 2013; Klinger and Lanzendorf 2016).

For students, starting at university in a new country or city presents them with dilemmas in transportation choice. In regards to the student period, scholars have looked at the key events of starting higher education (Klöckner 2005), staying abroad for an extended period of time (Burbidge, 2012), or graduating (Fujii and Gärling 2003). The student time is relatively short, but can form very important and life-shaping experience, where mobility habits are discontinued and new habits are constructed (Cattaneo et al. 2018). In a globalizing world, there has been an increase in (inter)national mobility of students (Beine et al. 2014). When students start or continue cycling after their arrival in their university city, positive cycling experiences in their student period might give them a more positive attitude towards cycling for the future (see for example Friman et al. 2018). In order to understand how students experience cycling, and if they will continue to cycle in the future, scrutinizing how they remember their cycling experiences can therefore offer relevant insights.

2.3. Mobility biographies and memory

In mobility biographies research, memory is often approached from a methodological perspective (Müggenburg 2021). By using retrospective methods, such as surveys and biographical interviews, researchers try to construct the biographies of participants. The data collection then relies on the ability of the research participants to memorize key events, and how these key event led to tangible changes in mobility behavior. The focus of mobility researchers is then on explicit memory, the memory that can be actively recalled (Müggenburg, 2021). Researchers try to retrieve autobiographical memory, which is concerned with knowledge of the self in the past and entails a recollection of past events and experiences


9 (Baumgartner et al. 1992; Tung and Ritchie 2011). The directive function of autobiographical memory involves planning ahead and solving problems. It is considered as a source of information, motivation, and inspiration (Pillemer 2003).

Autobiographical memory contains both episodic and semantic elements. Episodic memory refers to personal experiences of specific events, of which an individual can recall the activity, the time, geographical location, associated emotions and other contextual information.

Semantic memory entails the knowledge of facts, meaning, and ideas (Müggenburg, 2021). In practice, episodic and semantic memory overlap often, especially in case of regular repetition of events, when different memories can intertwine to form a cohesive story or script for the individual. This is one of the main reasons why the reliability and validity of memory can be questioned (Lanzendorf, 2003; 2010). As it is difficult to recall memories from the past, individuals have a tendency to remember these events inaccurately, for example by accidentally changing them in the process of recalling. In short, memory is fallible and highly subjective – an issue that some methodologists consider a source of research bias and something likely to downgrade the reliability of empirical materials recounted by research subjects (Müggenburg, 2021). Miles et al. (2014) counter this positivist stance towards memory by stating that recalling memories is a meaningful experience in itself, as it is colored by the present context and thus offers key insights about an individual’s worldview in a given time and place (Miles et al. 2014).

Degen and Rose (2012) highlight how memories themselves can become active agents in mediating the sensory experience of walking through the city. As people walk through areas that they have known for years, they reflect on how a place changed or stayed similar, or compare the places they are moving through with other places. Being on the move can thus elicit memories of the past that mediate present experiences (Degen and Rose 2012).

2.4. Cycling Memory

“Cycling memory” then refers to how lived experiences of cycling in the present are relational to previous cycling experiences (figure 1). The sensory experiences of cycling in a given time- space are processed based on previous experiences of cycling in different time-spaces. All these experiences make up the autobiographical cycling memory of an individual. Specific episodes of cycling, such as buying the bike, or a particularly pleasant or dangerous bike ride are remembered vividly. These events on their own influence the daily lived experience of cycling.

Day-to-day cycling can be remembered as a pleasant or uncomfortable routine, that comes with certain benefits or disadvantages. By cycling regularly, a semantic knowledge of the cycling infrastructure and the effectiveness of cycling in a given time-space develops. Both episodic memory and semantic memory thus work together to build the overall cycling memory. While their influence can be quite strong, episodic and semantic memory are not the only =factor in determining cycling uptake or continuation. The physical activity of cycling deserves attention too.

The activity of cycling itself is often referred to as a motor skill, a function which involves a substantial level of embodied engagement (Higgins 1991). The specific movements needed for cycling are saved as procedural memory. Once learned, an individual can usually cycle without thinking consciously about this activity. However, as mentioned before, each city has its own infrastructural settlements in place. Moving through these settlements requires specific skills (see Latham and Wood 2015). Recalling these skills through procedural memory means revisiting the circumstances in which skills are learned, which is referred to as “state-dependent


10 learning” (Proteau et al. 1992). Reaching peak performance in a physical activity is easiest when the circumstances are similar to the learning environment (Movahedi 2007). Flow can be described in similar words. “The state of the flow (often referred to as ‘optimal experience’) can be characterized as one where sensorial, motor, cognitive and emotional processes are orchestrated in a way that not only facilitates the achievement of the ongoing task, but also gives an intrinsic sense of well-being and personal fulfilment” (Te Brömmelstroet, Nikolaeva, et al. 2021: 7). The procedure of cycling through the city has to be learned, and this specific skill is saved as procedural memory. In infrastructural settlements that are similar to those stored as procedural memory, an individual will most likely reach peak performance or flow, while in infrastructural settlements that are not aligning positively with memories, cyclists will experience stress and confusion. Similarly, when cycling is memorized as an activity without flow, an improvement in infrastructural settlement can be experienced as reaching a state of flow.

In the present, cycling memory is updated by new events, semantic knowledge of a city, and the process of cycling through that city. This process of updating only works well when memories align, or when an improvement towards earlier memories is experienced. As mentioned before, positive experiences with a certain transportation mode lead to positive attitudes towards this mode (Friman et al. 2018). When the daily lived experiences of cycling align with cycling memory, or when they form a significant improvement in relation to how cycling is memorized, positive intentions towards cycling are to be expected. Similarly, when the new reality of cycling does not match with the cycling memory, cycling is experienced negatively. This leads to reduced or no intentions to cycle in the future.

Figure 1: Conceptual Model



3. Research Methods and Sampling

To examine how students related their current cycling experiences to experiences and memories of the past, three qualitative methods have been used for triangulation purposes:

cycling diaries, ride-alongs and biographical interviews. Research participants were contacted through a variety of online and offline sampling techniques. Some respondents were acquaintances of the researcher, others were found through Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp messages in groups for international students. Finally, some participants were randomly approached at university campuses. In total, 23 students participated, twelve in Brussels and eleven in Amsterdam. The students who could participate in the study were sampled based on two criteria. First, they had to be living in either Brussels or Amsterdam for at least one semester, to make sure they had time to adapt their cycling behavior to the city (see Nello-Deakin and Nikolaeva 2021). Second, the students had to consider the bike as a main mode of transport. The final amount of interviews was determined by the concept of

“saturation”, the point at which more data collection ceased to offer significant new findings (Saunders et al. 2018). Table 1 provides an overview of the research participants. It includes their age, gender and study program, as well as information on where they had lived before and what they had used their bike for. The table offers a quick insight into how the cycling habits of the students developed. By utility cycling, cycling as a means to get to places and activities is meant (Heesch and Sahlqvist 2013).

After having given informed consent for participation, the students were first asked to keep a cycling diary. Travel diaries are widely used in transportation research and have proven to be successful in retracing mobility habits (Hägerstrand 1970; Kamruzzaman et al. 2011). In this research, the cycling diary provided qualitative data on the lived experiences of cycling, for example feelings of safety, feelings of enjoyment or stress, and choice of route. However, despite multiple attempts to motivate the students to write these diaries, only half of them did so. The cycling diaries thus do not form a major part of the data collected.

Secondly, ride-alongs with each student were carried out by the researcher. Ride-alongs have become a regular research method for cycling research (see for example Latham and Wood 2015; Spinney 2009, 2011; van Duppen and Spierings 2013). They allow researchers to join informants on their natural outings (Kusenbach 2003: 463; Degen and Rose 2012). To create circumstances as natural as possible, the ride-alongs represented cycling trips that were regularly taken by the participants. Mostly, the trips were between home and university, or vice versa. In some cases, the students took the researcher on trips along several locations they often cycled to. The specific routes of the ride-alongs can be found in figure 2 and 3. The ride- alongs were captured by a mobile phone camera attached to the handlebar of the researcher’s bike. The camera provided a wide-angle frontal view and captured the most common perspective of the cyclist as well as the direct cycling environment. The shortest ride took around eight minutes, and the longest ride around 30 minutes. Directly after the ride-alongs, field notes were taken.

The videos were analyzed in the following way: descriptions of how the participants had rode were written up, relevant statements made during the ride were noted, and stills of specific behavior were taken for further analysis, and comparison between participants. It was also tracked if the researcher could indeed ride-along with the participant, or if the researcher had


12 to follow the participant. The videos therefore proved a rich source of information about how the participants inhabited different infrastructural settlements.

Lastly, right after the ride-alongs, semi-structured biographical interviews were held with each participant. These interviews lasted on average 40 minutes. First, questions were asked about the experience of the ride-along itself, and how it was experienced in relation to memories of the same route. Then, questions followed about the individual mobility biographies of the participants. As discussed briefly in the theoretical framework, biographical interviews are a standard qualitative method in mobility biographies research (Müggenburg 2021). The questions included a discussion on past cycling experiences and habits and the conduciveness of previous lived cities towards cycling. Then, interviewees were asked about their residential relocation to either Amsterdam or Brussels, and how they decided to start cycling. Further, the participants were asked about what they had to get used to while starting to cycle in either Amsterdam or Brussels, and how this had been influencing their experiences of cycling. Lastly, questions were asked about the intentions for cycling in the future, first for the city that the students were living in; and secondly for the city that they had come from. The biographical interviews helped to stimulate the participants to recall specific memories related to cycling and allowed the respondents to immediately compare their current cycling experiences with those of the past.

Inductive methods were used to analyze both the cycling diaries and the biographical interviews. More specifically, inductive thematic analysis was used to allow for the examination of the perspectives of different participants and to highlight similarities and differences between them (Braun and Clarke 2006; Nowell et al. 2017). Following Nowell et al. (2017), several steps were taken to increase trustworthiness. First, the researcher familiarized himself with the data by transcribing all interviews and taking notes to find differences and overlaps between interviews. Second, the interviews were coded inductively. During this phase, memory came forward as a key theme, and reflection with other researchers led to the coinage of the specific term of “cycling memory”. This led to a revisit of mobility biographies research and a review of literature of memory, after which coding was specified along the lines of the specific forms of memory. The interviews and cycling diaries were checked for comparisons between previous experiences and current experiences, based on the dimensions of cycling memory as discussed in the theoretical framework. Combining the cycling diaries, interviews and ride- alongs, allowed to get an intricate picture of how students remembered cycling before coming to either Amsterdam or Brussels, and helped to get an insight into how the specific infrastructural settlements of both cities were experienced on the bike.


13 Cases

Before turning to the experiences and memories of cycling in Amsterdam and Brussels, both cities are briefly introduced in relation to cycling. The case selection was made on the basis of the difference between these two cities in regards to cycling. Amsterdam can be understood as a “paradigmatic example of a cycling city” (Nello-Deakin and Nikolaeva 2021: 292). The Netherlands in general are the global leader when it comes to cycling rates (Goel et al. 2022).

Although cycling in Amsterdam has seen declines throughout the twentieth century, cycling rates are increasing since the 1990s. In 2019, right before the covid-19 pandemic, the modal share of cycling was at 38% of all trips made by residents of Amsterdam (Gemeente Amsterdam 2021: 34). Following these statistics, Amsterdam can be considered a “champion” cycling city (Dias et al. 2022).

In stark contrast to Amsterdam, the Brussels Capital Region had a cycling rate of around 4% of all trips before the COVID-19 pandemic (Derauw et al. 2019). Where Amsterdam is often heralded for its safe cycling infrastructure (Copenhagenize 2019), Brussels’ infrastructure is often ridiculed, for example in popular Youtube videos (Brussels Bike Jungle 2015). Brussels has


14 recently started to accelerate investments in cycling infrastructure through an ambitious 15- minute city plan (Hunt 2020; Brussel Mobiliteit n.d.). Around 40 kilometers of dedicated bike lanes are constructed to make a wide range of activities more accessible by bike. These investments have almost doubled the amount of cyclists in 2021 compared to 2019 (Bruzz 2022;

Groenwals 2021). These numbers and investments indicate that Brussels can be considered a

“starter” cycling city (Dias et al. 2022).

As table 1 indicates, students saw an opportunity to change their mobility behavior and opted to start cycling in both cities, despite their initial differences in sociotechnical cycling infrastructures. Both cities seem to offer an environment that is favorable to cycling for some students, although other students in Brussels actually cycled less regularly than before. The differences between Amsterdam and Brussels can highlight whether or not similar processes of decision-making are followed, and which sociotechnical elements play a key role in these.

Figure 2: Ride-Alongs in Amsterdam


15 Figure 3: Ride-Alongs in Brussels



4. Findings

The findings will be presented following the three identified dimensions of “cycling memory”:

episodic, semantic and procedural memory. In practice, these memories often overlap.

Participants are referred to by name, and where they had lived before coming to Brussels or Amsterdam. For more information about them, please consult Table 1.

4.1. Episodic memory

As explained before, episodic memory refers to personal experiences, often memorized as specific events, of which an individual can recall the date, time and/or location. As argued by the mobility biographies approach, key events can be disruptive, and these disruptive events are often a good starting point for questions about mobility choice (Müggenburg 2021). Some of these events were experienced and memorized similarly in Brussels and Amsterdam, other events were memorized as being particular for a specific city.

Similarities between Amsterdam and Brussels

As expected, the key event of moving to either Amsterdam or Brussels was remembered well by many students. After arriving in their respective cities, transportation choice was one of the first questions that the students were confronted with. Confirming the theory that residential relocation leads to a reconsideration of mobility behavior, most students started to use the bike more for utility cycling than before. For some, it was even the first time that they used the bike this way (see Table 1).

The initial choice of taking up cycling was often already made before coming to the specific city.

Many students recalled how they had looked up information about transportation in general, and cycling specifically. Tomas (24, Prague) was already quite enthusiastic about cycling in Brussels before coming, because of what he had read online. Similarly, some students recalled how conversations with friends or family had driven them towards trying cycling as their daily transportation mode. Prisha (27, Latur, India) recalled how a friend of hers, living in Europe, was using his bike for almost everything. He inspired her to do the same in Brussels. For Thanh (21, Hanoi), this role was played by his father, who had lived and cycled in Amsterdam for a while.

Amsterdam-specific episodic memories

In Amsterdam, specific events that were memorized very explicitly and had a long—term impact on lived cycling experiences were often related to specific interactions with other road users. One example that reflected a common frustration was given by Giulia. In the bike lane, a motor scooter had collided with her and her friends. From that moment onwards, the thought of having to share the bike lane with motor scooters again scared her, and the need to be alert to motor scooters in Amsterdam is still something that frustrates her. Although no other students experienced similar accidents, many showed frustration with the fact that motor scooters were still driving in the bike lanes, even when in many places this is forbidden. The lack of space, and the high speed of motor scooters caused frustration. Despite this frustration, the participants, Giulia included, did not reconsider taking the bike. However, several respondents hinted at the fact that experiencing a particular dramatic event, such as an accident, could


17 eventually have lasting impacts. For Elisa, for example, cycling in Amsterdam had been a positive experience “because fortunately (…) I have never really had any accidents”.

Brussels-specific episodic memories

Brussels was quite often considered to be an unsafe environment for cycling. Some students experienced unsafety through specific events. Joao (40, Curitiba) had felt very safe cycling in Brussels, and had experienced no dangerous situations up until one certain afternoon. While crossing a road, a car driver had not checked for cyclists and he was almost run over. This experience made him much more aware when riding on roads without dedicated bike lanes, but did not lead him to reconsider his cycling habits.

For Arthur (22, Ghent/Leuven), arriving in Brussels quite literally coincided with cycling in Brussels, as he had come from neighboring Leuven in Flanders by bike. He remembered arriving in Brussels quite vividly. Coming from a town in which “cyclists rule”, he described how he had to maneuver in between rows of cars on one of the arterial roads of Brussels. He had understood this immediately as a striking difference between Leuven and Brussels, and adapted his behavior accordingly.

One very specific, but interesting event was experienced by some of the Dutch students in Brussels. They attended several rides by Critical Mass, a grass-roots initiative that forms a temporary human infrastructure by cycling on the roads with hundreds to thousands of participants. For both Mark and Sara, cycling had been so ingrained in their daily lives in the Netherlands and now it had suddenly become a political act in Brussels. It changed how they looked at their daily cycling routines:

“I noticed that it is a privilege that it is this normal in the Netherlands to take the bike, and that you grow up with the bike being a part of your daily life (…) I notice that when I take the bike in Brussels, it is as if I’m making a statement” (Mark)



4.2. Semantic memory

Semantic memory refers to the l knowledge of facts and concepts, but it also entails scripts: the memory of repeated experiences. In their study of cycling uptake by newcomers in Amsterdam, Nello-Deakin and Nikolaeva (2021: 306) presented several reasons why newcomers to the city started cycling that were also named by participants in this research. “Cycling is more competitive than other forms of transport” was mentioned for both cities. “The city is built for cycling” was often mentioned in interviews in Amsterdam, and sometimes in Brussels as well.

Finally “cycling is part of the lifestyle” was only referred to in Amsterdam. Understanding these reasons as semantic knowledge, or factual knowledge about cycling in the city enables one to reflect on how the city is memorized.

The Competitiveness of Cycling

For all students in both cities, cycling usually was perceived as a more competitive mode of transport when compared to their other transport options, which were usually limited to walking or public transport. This competitiveness was especially measured in time. Going by bike saves time, and allows to make more complex trip chains, or to attend multiple activities in one day, they claimed. Further, it allowed the students to be independent from public transport schedules. The newcomers to utility cycling showed enthusiasm about their new- found routines, comparing them to their previous experience with transportation. Ellen (29, London) experienced this as “liberating” and “life-changing”, compared to her previous experiences with transportation. This sense of freedom was also experienced by Noémie (21, Lyon) and Amelia (Geneva/Durham)

“I know I can rely on my bike at any time” (Noémi)

“I never plan… I can just do whatever I want by bike.” (Amelia)

These students valued this previously unknown competitivity of the bike to an extent that made them more likely to also cycle in places they would previously not have cycled. Ellen, for example, described how she gained enough confidence to try to bike in London, something she had not done before.

The City is built for cycling

The comment that “the city is built for cycling” seems to directly refer to an understanding of the city as an assemblage that favors cycling, where different components of social, technical and human infrastructure come together.

For many students in Amsterdam, the abundance of separate bike lanes in Amsterdam reflected a “city that was built for cycling”. They experienced these lanes as incredibly useful, safe and pleasant. Next to the bike lanes, the large amounts of bike storage space, traffic lights that automatically adapted to cyclists, and the flat topography of Amsterdam were also named as reasons. For Thanh, all of this combined was very impressive, and it had made cycling in Amsterdam easy and effortless.

Not all parts of Amsterdam were considered to be “built for cycling”. Students often considered the city center to be different from the rest of Amsterdam, because of a lack of adequate space


19 for cyclists. Remembering their first rides in the center as chaotic, often made students decide to avoid the area altogether. Mila (24, Ghent) would rather ride around the center, or park her bike at the edge. Sanne (24, Haarlem) on the other hand usually took the metro when she had to be in the city center to avoid frustration. These findings show that specific geographical parts of cities can exist outside of the overarching sociotechnical assemblage, and that its users adapt quite dramatically to it.

In Brussels, conflicting answers were given by the respondents. On the one hand, Prisha (27, Latur) stated that she had been “presented with the infrastructure”, which had enabled her to bike. She related this directly to her background in India. On the other hand, Arthur (22, Leuven/Ghent) found that many pieces of infrastructure were lacking compared to his memories of Ghent and Leuven. Specifically, he dreaded the absence of good bicycle storage space near train stations, which made it impossible for him to combine the train and the bike.

Students also pointed at the topography of Brussels as a relatively hilly city, which limited the ease of cycling. Good knowledge of specific steep roads was needed to avoid them and to cycle more comfortably.

In summary, respondents who saw a city as built for cycling were most likely to cycle more, whereas those who saw the city not built for cycling, had to reduce the amount of trips by bike.

Cycling is part of the lifestyle

A main reason to consider cycling a part of the lifestyle of Amsterdam for students was the fact that they witnessed a very diverse set of cyclists heading to a wide range of activities. The sight of men in suits riding to their office, and kids riding to school in the same bike lane had made them experience a certain cycling culture in Amsterdam. Elisa (23, Madrid) remembered how

“unthinkable” it was in Madrid to go to school by bike. Sofia mentioned how she cycles more in Amsterdam than in Berlin, “because it’s so integrated here”. The fact that many students had already decided before coming to Amsterdam to cycle was also related to considering cycling as a part of the Amsterdam lifestyle. For Amelia, one of the reasons to study in Amsterdam was its appeal of being able to go around by bike, living what seemed to her a healthy and stress- free life. Finally, the simple fact that students often cycled together to activities was also seen as a symbol of cycling as a lifestyle. The fact that everyone has a bike enabled students to always take the bike.

While cycling was considered part and parcel of the lifestyle in Amsterdam, none of the participants in Brussels had this feeling. On the contrary, for Arthur, one of the things that he noticed most when comparing Brussels with Leuven was the “absence of a sort of cycling culture”. Some of the things he mentioned in this regard were the lack of children, women and people with migratory backgrounds on bikes, whereas these had been a common sight for him before.

For many students, this sociocultural aspect of cycling was important in considering to cycle in the future. For many of them, a visible human infrastructure of cyclists gave them confidence to cycle. First of all, because it implied that other road users would be more aware of cyclists, and secondly, because it allowed them to cycle together with others.



4.3. Procedural memory

Procedural memory can help understanding lived experiences better. The implicit memory of how to inhabit infrastructural settlements is hard to measure, but feelings of stress and anxiety, or happiness and enjoyment were relatively easy to recognize during both the ride-alongs and interviews. Because of the specificities of the infrastructural settlements in both cities, Amsterdam and Brussels are discussed separately.

Procedural memory in Amsterdam

As seen in figure 2, Amelia, Sofia and Elisa rode a largely similar route in Amsterdam. On almost their entire route, they do not have to interact with cars, except at crossings, or in one so-called Fietsstraat, where cars are seen as “guests” (see figure 4). Note also that the participants are not visible in these pictures, as the researcher was cycling right next to them, engaged in conversation. The fact that these students had “Dutch bikes”, which allow the cyclist to sit upright, made chatting easier. The infrastructure and the bikes enabled cycling to be a social activity, which many of the students in Amsterdam actually enjoyed, and were introduced to for the first time in their lives. On average, the ability to cycling together led to positive experiences.

The cycling infrastructure as shown in figure 4 also allowed for relatively easy and effortless adaptation. Having cycled in many different places around the world, Sofia (28, Berlin) recalled learning new rules and environments as an unconscious, yet exhausting, experience. However, in Amsterdam, she had felt very little exhaustion compared to other places. For Sanne (24) and Luuk (23), cycling in Amsterdam felt very familiar to their cycling experiences in Haarlem, a provincial town close to Amsterdam, with the exception of more crowded bike lanes.

Meanwhile, the contrast between cycling in Amsterdam, and his memories of cycling in Hanoi could not be larger for Thanh. In Hanoi, he had cycled for only one year as a kid, and he had to be constantly aware of car drivers and motor scooters as he navigated the wide, congested roads. In Amsterdam, he never has to be aware of cars, except at crossings. Cycling in Amsterdam had become a very intuitive activity for him.

Most of the students in Amsterdam referred to other cyclists needing most of their attention, especially when they first cycled in Amsterdam. Arjun (19, Munich) was named a “f***ing idiot”, after cutting someone off on his first ride in Amsterdam. “I was constantly in the way of other people”, he said. Amelia (25, Geneva/Durham) referred to “having to learn the unspoken rules”

quite regularly during her interview. She had rarely cycled in an urban environment, and recalled having difficulty to find clues of the rules. For Giulia (24, Milan, Tilburg), the unspoken rules formed a “rhythm”: “usually if this rhythm is interrupted it is because there is a tourist, or someone that doesn’t usually cycle here, but because people are used to it, there is never anything going wrong.” This seems at first in contradiction with the memory of Arjun. However, he was not involved in any accident, as the other cyclists in Amsterdam knew how to adapt to him. So, while cycling was an activity that required alertness to the direct environment, the students in Amsterdam also experienced that problems arising problems would be solved relatively easily by the human infrastructure of cyclists in Amsterdam.

For several of the students, their positive experiences in Amsterdam and the gradual learning of how to behave in its bike-friendly infrastructural settlement, taking the bike in a less cycling-


21 friendly environment sounded undesirable and unlikely. For Matis (24, Kaunas, Lithuania) it is unthinkable to cycle in his hometown, as he would feel unsafe on the roads after he had become accustomed to the separate bike lanes in Amsterdam. Confronted with his memories of cycling in Hanoi, Thanh was quick to dismiss cycling as a viable option once he would return. Recalling her exchange period in Boston, Sanne said that she never even tried to cycle there, as she found the roads too dangerous, and there were only few people cycling.

Figure 3: Stills from the rides of Amelia, Elisa, and Sofia at some of the key points along their routes.


22 Procedural memory in Brussels

Brussels provided a highly confusing and challenging cycling environment for Mark (27, Amsterdam), Sara (25, Rotterdam), Arthur (22, Leuven, Ghent) and Leon (23, Leeuwarden).

They all recalled cycling in infrastructural settlements where the bike had conquered a strong position, but saw their flow being disrupted in Brussels several times during their regular rides.

Mark pointed out “the worst designed bike lane ever” in front of Brussels Central Station. What starts as a dedicated cycling lane, turns suddenly into a bus stop, where people would be waiting during rush hour (see figure 5). Along Avenue Rogier, following the cycling lane would be so confusing and frustrating for Sara, that she would rather use the main road (figure 6). For her, the process of cycling through Brussels was not only intensive in relation to the physical infrastructure, social aspects played a major role as well. She often felt that she was one of the few women who cycled in Brussels. Several times while cycling, men had commented on her

“being a feminist”, or “being a left-wing activist.” These specific memories had made her see the traffic in Brussels as “masculine”, and she adapted her cycling style to show how women could take their space in the streets as well by cycling at breakneck speed, overtaking buses and cars in the middle of the road. She experienced high levels of stress during her rides. She would often need to calm down after cycling to regain energy for her work, an experience she never had when cycling in Rotterdam. In fact, she now often dreaded cycling, because of its emotional efforts, while cycling in Rotterdam had been a meditative and relaxing experience.

For Arthur, cycling through the city was a constant process of “waking himself up” by sudden movements of cars (see figure 7), or road imperfections. It made him trust the roads less, and cycle in a more alert state. He reckoned that Brussels was a city built for cars, in contrast to his previous university city, Leuven, where cyclists ruled. Mark actually invented his own rules for cycling in Brussels, for example by skipping lines of waiting cars by using the sidewalk (see figure 8) for his own safety and to increase the pleasantness of his ride. He argued that the unique qualities of the bike enabled him to do so, and that his behavior “should be allowed”, because he’s a cyclist. Leon (23, Erfurt/Leeuwarden) reported how his flow was interrupted at the Schuman roundabout next to the European Commission, despite having an indicated cycling lane, many car drivers ignored him and - out of shock - he slammed one of the cars, as to make clear that he exists (see figure 9).

Their longstanding and strongly positive memories of cycling in different places in the Netherlands and Belgium had made these students willing to continue cycling. In fact, they often still cycled “just to make a point” (Lukas). A growing number of negative memories was accumulating at the time of the ride-alongs and interviews. For Gijs (23, Amsterdam), having experiences in both Amsterdam and Brussels, cycling had lost its appeal in Brussels, because of his positive memories of Amsterdam, and his negative memories in Brussels: “In Amsterdam, it is possible to cycle in an easy way, you have to watch out, but you don’t need to be super alert all the time, or to make strange maneuvers.” Gijs rarely cycled anymore, which might point at a possible threshold of negative memories, after which a person stops cycling until conditions seem to be aligned with positive memories again.


23 For other students, the process of cycling in Brussels could be similarly exhausting and frustrating, but it made them reason the other way around. Both Ellen and Camila (22, San Sebastian) reflected that if one could cycle in Brussels, one could probably cycle everywhere, reflecting a widespread notion among many students who cycled in Brussels that they would keep cycling in Brussels, as well as try to cycle in different cities in the future.

Figure 5: Mark cycling through the bus stop at Brussels Central Station.

Figure 6: Sara cycling through heavy traffic Figure 7: Arthur navigating in between parked cars and driving cars

Figure 8: Confronted with limited space to cycle on the road, Mark relatively easily gets on the pavement to pass the buses, until he perceives he has enough space to pass them and other vehicles on the road again.


24 Figure 9: Navigating the Schuman Roundabout in Brussels with Leon.



5. Conclusion

5.1. Discussion of findings

This paper started by highlighting the global increase in investments in urban cycling to create cities that are more livable, more sustainable and healthier. As cities invest in incentivizing people to cycle, much focus has been dedicated to infrastructure provision, rather than the lived experience of cycling through the city. By asking the question how memories of cycling influence the lived cycling experiences of students and their intentions to cycle in the future, this research has tried to put attention on lived cycling experiences, without losing sight of the specific sociotechnical infrastructure that cyclists inhabit daily.

The analysis shows that students go through similar decision-making processes when it comes to taking up cycling, continuing cycling, or reducing cycling. These decision-making processes are based on “cycling memory”: by experiencing cycling for an extended period of time in a certain context, individuals internalize habits, the context-specific process of cycling, and its associated sensory and emotional experiences. In a new context, the cyclist is faced with a challenge to adapt, and to update their cycling memory. While the research participants showed different lived experiences, and different intentions to cycle in the future, they all related back to memories. This explains why Brussels was a suitable environment to start cycling regularly for some, while students who were used to a more developed cycling environment struggled to align their daily experiences with their memories. The associated emotions with the (mis)alignment of memories influence to an important extent the conditions under which students are willing to cycle in the future. The key event of residential relocation in the student period in itself can be a catalysator for a modal shift, or continuity of cycling, but the daily experiences on the road finally define the perceived long-term viability of cycling.

5.2. Future Research and Policy Implications

This research proceeded inductively, and the discovery of memory playing such an important role was initially not foreseen. Rather than using memory as a methodological tool to retrieve data, memory is interpreted as having active agency in mediating cycling experiences.

Acknowledging the influence of memory on mobility behavior brings a new perspective to the scholarly debates. Future research on cycling specifically; and mobility in general, could greatly benefit from this perspective in order to find cues about how, why and when people change their mobility behavior. Future research could start specifically from this perspective of memory, and focus on how mobility in general is memorized, adapted and/or reproduced in different contexts. While some of the students involved in Brussels showed signs of reduced cycling compared to their habits before coming to the city, this study has not taken people into account who have quit cycling, or who did not try at all. An important other question would be how these ex-cyclists would find new means of transportation, and how they are experiencing those means.

It is important to note that there are differences between the perceived benefits of cycling as a means of transportation (semantic memories) and the actual daily process of cycling (procedural memories). While the benefits of cycling were often considered as liberation, freedom, and flexibility, the daily experiences on the road might limit some cyclists to benefit from these advantages of cycling. The experience of strong emotions while riding a bike shows


26 how mobility is not only a derived demand, but can be an (in)valuable experience (see Te Brömmelstroet, Nikolaeva, et al. 2021). The relation with flow theory here is apparent, and a tighter connection between psychology, kinesiology, and transportation research could prove useful to give better insights into how flow is experienced in different contexts by different cyclists. This research then also explicitly links to a small but growing body of work that proposes to look at mobility from the perspective of flow, and how a meaningful mobility experience can be supported by understanding the flow of being on the move better (see Te Brömmelstroet, Nikolaeva, et al. 2021).

Policy makers might find a focus on flow, and its related emotions relevant as well, as such a perspective enables to scrutinize how cycling infrastructure can be built according to the preferences and experiences of a wide variety of cyclists. With the increased urban focus on cycling, a deeper and more qualitative inquiry into how cycling is experienced by its citizens might help municipalities plan for infrastructural settlements in which different cyclists have a place to enjoy their rides. This can also be done by “soft” measures, such as awareness campaigns for car drivers to increase safety, but also by “harder” measures, such as improving road conditions or reducing obstacles to flow. Similarly, it might prove helpful to actively look for people who have intentions to cycle, but feel limited by elements of the sociotechnical cycling infrastructure. In the end, an improved experience of cycling can make even the most stubborn citizens cycle. Elisa, one of the research participants said: “cycling used to be an activity that I detested, now I ask my friends to go cycling, because I love it so much.” Finally, the role of an enthusiastic human infrastructure of cyclists can thus also not be ignored by policy makers, as these cyclists may in their turn motivate others to take the bike as well.


27 Acknowledgements: I would like to thank António Ferreira, Anna Nikolaeva and Luca Bertolini for their supervision at different stages of this research project. I would also like to thank Lou Rosenkranz, Miriam Matthiessen and Anaelle Bueno Patin for their valuable feedback on earlier drafts of the paper.



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