Thoughts From The Third World of Cycling

'It's Christmas time.......'

According to Wikipedia, ‘the term “Third World” arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned or not moving at all with either capitalism and NATO (which along with its allies represented the First World) or communism and the Soviet Union (which along with its allies represented the Second World). This definition provided a way of broadly categorizing the nations of the Earth into three groups based on social, political, and economic divisions. The term continues to be used colloquially to describe the poorest countries in the world’.

The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club would like to take this and place it purely in a cycling context;

‘the term “Third World of Cycling” arose during the rise of the motor car to define countries that remained non-aligned or not moving at all with either walking, cycling and infrastructure (which along with its allies represented the First World) or ‘just getting on with it’ and the Soviet Union (which along with its allies represented the Second World). This definition provided a way of broadly categorizing the nations of the Earth into three groups based on social, political, and economic divisions. The term continues to be used colloquially to describe the poorest countries in the world for cycling’.

The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club is going to assume that the Netherlands and Denmark represent the First World; they have seen the benefits to society as a whole when they are given the freedom to move without let or hindrance on a bicycle for transport in an increasingly motorised age – the car has its place, but the people come first. Large tracts of the World represent the Second World; whereby they just get on with it and would look at someone on a bicycle in the same way they would look at a horse-drawn cart or a car or a vase or an episode of ‘Friends’.

This leaves us with the Third World of Cycling. These are countries that have followed a particular aggressive agenda with all the necessary investment and infrastructure required that limits movement of other forms of transport, alienates communities and damages health – the people have their place, but the car comes first. I would put Great Britain firmly at the top of this list. There are countries making movements; China is trying to move from the Second World to the Third World and maybe back to the Second World again of Cycling, whereas pockets of the USA are trying to move from the Third World to the First World, no less.

In the Third World of Cycling, British cycling infrastructure is the shantytown of transport options – the aim was to clear it’s users out of the way of the ruling elite and not to benefit mass transport or freedom in any way. Those that choose to share the roads with the ruling elite are usually, to quote Mikael Colville-Andersen on Copenhagenize ‘male-dominated, testosterone-driven and that lacks basic understanding of human nature. They expect that everyone should be just like them – classic sub-cultural point of view – and that everyone should embrace cycling in traffic and pretending they are cars. They are apparently uninterested in seeing grandmothers, mothers or fathers with children or anyone who doesn’t resemble then contributing to re-creating the foundations of liveable cities by re-establishing the bicycle as transport’. Like the real Third World we see oppression of the more vulnerable in society while the few treat something as simple as getting from A to B as a form of gladiatorial combat with all the body armour to match. And the ruling elite carry on regardless, withstanding the slings and arrows of blatant fact and outrageous spin.

Sometimes monetary aid does try to trickle through, but like real Third World aid, it sometimes gets channelled off – in this instance, ‘Consultancy Fees’ from experts that don’t cycle or to just plug other holes in council budget such as pothole repair benefitting the ruling elite and those willing to do battle with them. The oppressed get a bicycle symbol painted on a pavement or a strip of red, green or blue paint that stops where the danger starts.

I think it’s time we called for foreign aid. I’ve set up (with the aid of fellow campaigner Anthony Cartmell) a website for a Cycling Embassy of Great Britain that will hopefully grow and grow with help and goodwill. The aim is simple; to act as a conduit for best practice around the World and get more people on bikes as transport. Unlike alot of Cycling Forums and groups, we even have female representation (and a big hat-tip to Sally Hinchcliffe for her input to date). If we don’t do something we will continue to languish in the Third World – the real one can be ignored by changing TV channels and the cycling one can be ignored by keeping the car windows closed and turning up the radio. For the price of a High Speed Rail Link, we can get the nation properly moving again in every way.

That was a bit heavy wasn’t it?! I’m sorry, but cycling on the Old Dutch has suddenly presented me with a lot more time with my thoughts. I leave you with yet another view of Dutch rush hour traffic to lighten the mood. People of all ages, creeds and colours just going about their day.

However you celebrate this festive season in whatever World you’re in, Happy Cycling!

7 thoughts on “Thoughts From The Third World of Cycling”

  1. Bloody Noras Jim – quite an analogy you present there – I really hope that we turn a corner in the next year or so.

    Hope you are enjoying your new set of wheels! To my mind, they use a few different leg muscles, but you soon get there.

    Merry Christmas & atb for 2011 :>)

  2. Hmm a spurious analogy in my opinion, your comparison of purely politi-economic classifications is extended to glaze capitalist sentiment and instead apply to a subjective, albeit widely mischaracterised, snootish sentiment concerning the ‘developing’ worlds economic, moral, and ethical characteristics.

    Ultimately, your comparison polarises ‘first-world’ with good and ‘third-world’ with bad. Whilst this is the unfortunate tacit understanding conveyed amongst the unfortunate and benighted elements of the press a la the Daily Mail and their ilk; I have read enough of your blog to know that you are a sensible and considered writer who will understand that words are loaded and must be chosen carefully, especially if used symbolically.

    The irony is that the bicycle enjoys far more reverence in the second and third world as it plays a key role, think of the taxis-bikes of Uganda, or the mass commutes across China. Proper use of the bicycle is seen as a peculiarity in the majority of the first world, and that is why the Netherlands enjoys the reputation as quaint, novel, or simply iconoclastic. The reason why the car is so revered amongst the ‘developing nations’ is because of the well-sponsered image of the car as a tool of 1st world progressive citizenry, once you have one you have made it, now you can get one over the ‘Jones’ (excuse my imperialist turn of phrase 😉 The car is for the rich, the bike for the poor is a sentiment not only reflected across the 2nd and 3rd world but also the mantra firmly embedded within the psyche of the 1st world, especially amongst the middle and working class of the UK.

    So keep up the good work, but please re-consider your choice of words, after all the third-world despite its problems seldom features depression or the collapse of community as their problems. In the end shoddy inept work fuelled by apathy is just that, this occurs within the ‘developed’ world, as you note, as well as the developing world.

    1. Thank you for your understanding and examining the context of the words I chose.

      Obviously there is artistic licence. The piece stemmed from two things; firstly the perception of cyclists from a class point of view which I examine here

      The second was me playing around with the rather over the top language we see today from the media and our leaders – specifically I refer to the perceived ‘War on the Motorist’. War to me implies Mankind at it’s worst; of death, pain, suffering, torture, fear and oppression. That’s not really applicable to an argument over on-street parking or the ‘Road Tax’ debate is it?! I also regard it as an insult to our armed forces serving overseas at the moment (whatever your standpoint).

      Obviously a direct comparison between ‘cycling’ and ‘The Third World’ would be pointless and you are correct when you point out that the feeling of dissolution and collapse of community are more First World characteristics than Third World ones. It is no small irony that Royal Mail bikes are being shipped out to the various nations in Africa where they will probably serve many years loyal and happy service (although now they are switching to vans in the spirit of ‘progress’ this will have a knock on effect on the supply of bikes to the people that would happily use them).

      I shall be writing further explaining all this but I definately take your points. In a way, I’m glad I wrote it in particular because it prompted your response!

      1. Thank you for the response, I apologise for the tone of my initial post – it now appears more confrontational than I had initially intended.

        I agree with you about the unfortunate use of hyperbole amongst the media, and our politician, especially considering the ‘War on…’ rhetoric. This is why calm and considered pieces, such as this blog, do stand out as they make valid points rather than follow the all too easy option of ranting about nothing from the perspective of nowhere.

        So keep up the good work, I’ll post up when I manage to get my own Roadster 🙂

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