A Pause for Thought

KingsThere’s a guy I see most weeks rides an old Raleigh Twenty Shopper around town. Like everyone else doing their own thing around town, once he’s parked up you wouldn’t know whether he’d walked, ridden or driven there, unless you happen to take a particular interest in people that ride classic british utility bicycles. Should that be allowed? To remain anonymous I mean.

Many think not, and what’s becoming most disturbing to me is that it appears to be some of the self identifying champions of ‘cycling’ who are the most vociferous in calling for mandatory measures to make people on bikes stand out in the crowd. I’ve got a theory about the tension between an individual’s natural desire for self preservation and the negative effect that has on the group of individuals as a whole – it’s like an arms race where apparent gains are wiped out by an accelerating mutually assured destruction – but it doesn’t explain why someone would care about a stranger’s wellbeing at least as much as their own. What’s in it for them?

Is it about fairness? Hell, if I’ve got to carry around all this extra stuff and stick out like a sore thumb then why shouldn’t you?

Is it about trial by association? Those people jumping on bikes and going places without a second thought are giving me a bad name. Make them stop it!

Is it about personality? A certain proportion of the population are intrinsically rule based – everything would work perfectly if everyone would just follow the rules all of the time. Which while being undeniably true is also a never ending source of disappointment for those afflicted with it on account of the rest of the human race being round pegs. Creating a law to force people to follow their rules would surely solve the problem.

Whatever it is, it’s a distraction. The question we ought to be asking is is it desirable, is it even possible, to get large numbers of people to dress in a particular way most of the time?

Looking around, people who are required to wear some form of identifiable clothing are either paid to do so, are participating in a sporting activity, are children, or are being persecuted for political ends. One of those is usually backed up by the use of a police force to coerce compliance.

Making short journeys by bike normal and convenient requires using a bike to be normal and convenient. Making cycling abnormal and inconvenient for the majority will do what? Well, it’ll prevent more people being killed and injured on bikes by the tried and tested method of keeping people off bikes in the first place.

If we’re at all serious about making bikes a useful decongesting mobility aid for the short journey, the very niche where it has the most chance of success, we need to start with a common understanding of what normal and convenient is along with some measures to ensure that convenience doesn’t come at the expense of an unacceptable increase in risk of injury.

A solution predicated on discrimination won’t work and isn’t worth having. If we can agree on that I can get on with part 3 of Using a Bike for Short Journeys. If we can’t, you’re wasting our time.

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