If politicians want to get more of us cycling, they should banish today’s silly bikes and bring back their sensible ancestorsby Andrew Martin / April 26, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
A silly bike, making trouble
If I ruled the world, the government would give out grants for the manufacture of sensible bikes. It might also consider issuing every adult in the country with one as the swiftest means possible of curtailing traffic and relieving the burden that obesity and ill-health puts on the NHS.
All three major political parties say they want to promote cycling, but there’s a discrepancy between the numbers of people who own a bike and the numbers who ride regularly. This is because bicycle retailers sell silly bikes. The features of a silly bike are easily recognised in contrast with those of a sensible one.
For much of my adult life, the bike market was dominated by mountain bikes. Are these good for riding up mountains? I don’t know because, like most owners of mountain bikes, I’ve never tried. Call me indolent, but I don’t much fancy the idea of cycling up a mountain. I do know that these bikes are very hard to ride up hills because I have tried that, only to be slowed down by their weight, their fat, squidgy tyres and their forward-leaning (therefore back-breaking) riding position. Mountain bikes have tough names like “Streetfighter,” “Psychopath” and “Recidivist”—as I have noted when I see them propped outside greengrocers’ shops with carrier bags dangling from the handlebars.
The other main type of bike favoured by male riders (most cyclists are male) is the road bike. A road bike is meant to be ridden on a road. So far, so good. But they are lightweight, and therefore breakable. They have drop handlebars, which on the plus side allow an aerodynamic riding position, but also prevent the rider from seeing where he is going. The rider pays a high price for the speed of a road bike. He must do without lights, bag, basket, or mudguards, the last of which means he gets soaked when—as sometimes happens in Britain—it rains. Accordingly, the rider of the road bike usually…