I wish I hadn’t worn a helmet when I cycled each day along the notorious Great Western Road in Glasgow when I did my MBA at Strathclyde (the busiest and wettest road I’ve ever had the misfortune to ride on). Because I was part of a fundamental destructive movement in the UK which is wrecking our society.
Even in the few decades since I did my MBA society has changed fundamentally as the recent proposed law in Northern Ireland to force cyclists to wear “safety” helmets shows. Back then, we were supposed to be developing a risk taking nation: training the young to be the enterprising risk takers of the future. But good risk-takers don’t just do anything that is risky. The skill of a risk taker is to know which risks to take and which to avoid! And that comes as much from life-long learning of what we’d otherwise call common sense, but these days is called a “bad anti-health and safety attitude”. The problem with modern society is that it no longer seems socially acceptable to expose children to any risk at all. Children can’t cycle without helmets, can’t climb trees without a rope and a qualified climbing instructor, can’t use toilet rolls in schools, can’t do cookery without protective glasses, many can’t even “risk” loosing a running race because sports and particularly competitive sports are frowned upon by the couch potato teachers of today.
The result is that many children are never exposed to any kind of risk and they are deprived of that vital learning experience of the risk taker: learning by failing or falling, which risks can be taken and which can’t. So, cycling 5 miles a day was not only an extremely good physical workout, it was also a great workout for the mind because a lorry thundering past you at 40mph with inches to spare, really puts into perspective all those silly media scares like Bird blu, swine flu, tombola disease or whatever it is called, salmonella in eggs and now global warming. Perhaps that is why I keep spotting these media scares and just can’t get taken in by such obvious twaddle.
Britain used to be a manufacturing nation, a trading nation a nation of risk takers. And then along came people like the BBC in their cosy risk-free jobs, the health and safety Gestapo with their petty empire building whose cry of “health and safety” could stop anything happening. Well it has. Village fêtes no longer take place because they can’t afford the insurance, you can’t find anyone to take children horse riding on Shetland anylonger for similar reasons. Kids roam about the streets drinking, taking drugs and having casual sex to pass the time devoid of any adult supervision because adults can’t even speak to children these days unless they explicitly approved by the state as being fit to talk to children. And don’t even think about starting a youth group – wanting to spend your free time with children for free – who on earth would want to spend time with children without being paid unless they were ….
When I was a child, the bike sat outside the house, and we literally walked out the door and got on the bike with the minimum of “extras” and it was like putting on a pair of shoes. It was as much a part of daily life as that. It was quicker to get on the bike to go 100 yards down the road than to walk, so obviously we rode our bikes a lot. These days, parents are being encouraged by the H&S Gestapo and zealous advertisers to don helmets, knee pads, arm pads, gloves, hi-visibility jackets and then weighed down they get on heavy bikes full of the latest gadgets which are so awful to ride that they are no pleasure at all even on the slightest upward slope.
For obvious reasons, most of the children of these “cotton wool” parents hate cycling. Unlike my own who now don’t say: “can I go out on the bike”, but say: “I’m going to my friends” and then ride off on their bike.
I’m a realist on oil. There may be plenty left in the ground, but also, given the highly dubious data on oil from very corrupt regimes, it is just as likely that there is far less than we expect. And, I’ve heard too many “of course technology can …. ” with renewables to accept the claims of vast reserves of petroleum from tar oils and shales until they can demonstrate that their: “can be turned into oil”, is the same as “can be practically turned into oil at an economic cost”.
So, I expect, that if I’m not knocked off my bike and crushed by a 20 tonne lorry carrying bike helmets, that I may live long enough to see a net decline in available petroleum. Or to put it another way: I may be part of the first generations to see a reduction in number of car miles rather than a steady increase. So, I would not be surprised if in the next forty years, car use decline in the same way it increased in the last forty and we turn from a country of car first for work and pleasure, cycle as a luxury (often first with a long car journey), back to cycle if you can, car if you need it. So, I think kids need to be taught to cycle as part of the basic skills they may need for their adult lives.
Because you have to learn how to ride a bike when young. Children pick it up very easily, they have a huge incentive to start cycling, because it gives them the freedom that other children only get when their parents let them out the car door. Starting cycling as an adult isn’t nearly so easy. It’s like jumping off a boat and expecting to be able to walk on water and not knowing you have to learn to swim: car drivers just haven’t got the muscle mass or control you need to be safe on the roads you would normally travel by car. They don’t know the tricks that keep cyclists safe (indeed they are actively hostile) – like not ever joining a queue of cars because that is the most dangerous thing you ever did! Instead making your way to the space in front of cars e.g. at traffic lights where you know they can see you: And, getting going before the cars start moving, because you know that when you start off, you wobble sometimes when it goes horribly wrong, well into the path of cars and that is when you are most likely to be run over!
So, if riding is going to be increasingly important as petroleum runs out, the last think we should be doing is discouraging children and adults by stupid rules on helmets! And, whilst I would personally encourage others the use of helmets, I personally find that they distract me when I cycle, and I’d rather not be distracted when that 20 tonne lorry of cycle helmets comes past!