‘Driving a car is simpler than riding a bike, why that’s ridiculous!’ I hear you say dear reader. You’re right of course, but in the UK we persistently go out of our way to make the more complicated mode of transport simpler, and the simpler mode of transport more complicated.
I received a thought provoking response to an earlier post from a Lo Fidelity reader in Swindon who wrote the following,
‘….I think most people use their car because their car is more convenient. I’m a cyclist and even I do this. Two real world reasons for not cycling I’ve heard in my office:
– I have to drop the kids off at/pick the kids up from school on time
– I can’t be bothered to maintain a bike
Cars keep you dry and warm/cool, get you places quickly, don’t make you sweaty, don’t need any special clothing, don’t find hills a struggle, easily carry other people, kids and luggage/shopping.
I actually have to go to a lot of effort to cycle. If I wanted to make the 1.5 mile trip to my parents’ house right now I’d have to remember to take the lock, put some hi-viz on, put my gloves on, walk to the shed, unlock the bike, walk back down the garden, lock the back door, tuck my trousers into my socks, take stuff off when I got there and lock the bike only to have to unlock the bike and put it all back on again for the journey home. To drive I’d have to remember to put my glasses on, walk out the front door, get in the car and go.
YES, some of that is because of the bike I use and choices I make. But it’s a real faff!…’
Unfortunately, I think he’s right and has summed up British attitudes perfectly. Here is how I start the day as a cyclist;
Wake up, change The Boys’ first steaming nappy of the day, put on Endura Base Layer and Shorts plus jersey and three quarter length Endura baggy shorts (ironically to look less like a cyclist) with reflective Buff and Altura Night Vision jacket (in black) & Mavic MTB shoes, prepare lunch, get bike out of shed, walk it through house (ignoring The Wife gritting her teeth), put on helmet (only to make my wife feel better even though she doesn’t mind me not wearing one when I’m riding the Brompton) & gloves, check lights, ride to work, carry bike into office (I’m allowed to keep it inside as there is no covered parking so no need to carry a lock), shower (we have one at work), sit at desk.
Here’s how it could be if I decided to drive to work;
Wake up, change The Boys’ first steaming nappy of the day, shower (we have one at home), put on regular clothes, prepare lunch, grab keys, get in car (parked outside in the street at no cost), drive 12 miles to work, park in visitors bay, walk up to office, sit at desk.
The car sounds simpler doesn’t it? However that is me overcomplicating the simple and over simplifying the complicated.
Let’s now see how much simpler things would be if I adopted my Grandfathers cycling routine
Wake Up, wash, dress in work clothes, pick up lunch, get bike, ride to work, leave bike outside building.
All of a sudden cycling starts to look easy doesn’t it? I also bet that most cycle commuters on the European Mainland have a routine more similar to my Grandfather than me (even though he has been dead for decades), and that if they were to read my routine they would bury their heads in their palms.
My routine also allows for no spontaneity; I can’t just stop off at a pub to meet a friend because that involves finding somewhere safe to park my bike and not looking so much like a ‘cyclist’. Even stopping at a shop becomes a tiresome chore because I (and I’m sure any others in the UK through no fault of their own) become ‘locked in’ on the commute. In trying to get free of the rat race, I’ve created my own one.
The reason it’s so easy in a car is that UK politicians and society has bent over backwards to make things easy for the car from roads to parking to cost to out of town convenience. This has come at massive expense to communities, businesses and all other forms of transport that are often shoveled off the road onto crap infrastructure in the name of safety. What should be a simple bike ride into the centre of town often looks dangerous, circuitous and not worth the effort.
However, let’s look at my full routine for driving to work.
Organize finance, look for correct car, purchase car, buy insurance, check that car has MOT and the correct Vehicle Excise Duty (based on emissions), change The Boys’ first steaming nappy of the day, shower, put on regular clothes, prepare lunch, grab keys, get in car, check that there is enough fuel, pull out (although I’m loathe to surrender the space as I know it will be a struggle to park near my house when I return), get fuel, join queue of frustrated drivers trying to join A27, drive along racetrack that is A27 between Worthing and Brighton within the speed limit with full concentration thus incurring the wrath of ‘expert’ drivers of more powerful cars, leave A27 at Devils Dyke and join queue on slip road, watch other motorists drive alongside the queue slowly to nip in where a gap appears increasing the levels of rage and frustration of motorists immediately behind, make sure radio is on Classic FM to ease frustration and wonder how and why people do this every day at great cost to their health, wellbeing and environment, park in visitors bay, walk up to office, sit at desk.
Not so easy and pleasant put that way is it? Motoring advertisers will of course gloss over a lot of that last paragraph (many new cars come with ‘free’ VED too to save you the hassle but often calling it ‘Road Tax’ even though it hasn’t existed since 1937 and doesn’t pay directly for the roads).
We need to make motoring the expensive, dangerous pain in the arse that it actually is. We need to make our towns and cities civilised again by making walking and cycling more pleasant. We need to improve the nation’s sense of health and wellbeing. We need to reduce the amount of people killed or maimed on our roads day in day out. It has to be addressed in a positive way (because it is) or else it will be deemed by the Complication Merchants as ‘A War on the Motorist’.
By the same token, I am doing my bit to make cycling simpler for me – My bike is in my local bike shop to change it to a pleasing hub geared tourer/roadster. It’s time to enjoy the commute again – and cycling.
We have to make the complicated complicated and the simple simple. It’s really very simple. Not complicated at all.