Power to the bike

Some truly heartwarming sights from this weekend. Yesterday we saw two “cycling proficiency” type childrens’ events going on in Cordoba. About a dozen 8-10 year olds in each group, all with their shiny bikes, cycle helmets, and little orange vests, were being guided through the traffic on the main roads in the centre of Cordoba. Today as we were going through another town of Arroya, we found that they were having a “bike day”. Hundreds of people of all ages and sizes, with bikes equally of all ages and sizes, were converging on small patch of concrete in the sunshine. Maybe I am jumping to premature conclusions, but if this is the first evidence of government promoting a resurgence in cycling then I’m all for it.
Back in the UK, I find the following on the news:
“About 700 cyclists in various states of undress have cycled through central London in another leg of the World Naked Bike Ride in naked protest against oil dependency. The ride draws attention to the elegant simplicity of the bicycle, and celebrates the power and individuality of our bodies. It’s ‘as bare as you dare’ so full nudity is not required”.

Power to the bike. I think it is great stuff and I’ll say so to anyone who’s listening, and probably to quite a lot of people who aren’t.

Here bikes are the toys of the rich, and the transport of the poor. There is a big divide between the kids of the less affluent who walk and bike to school, and kids of the more affluent who are driven from door to door. Road accident statistics in Argentina are particularly shocking, at around 7,500 deaths a year. What is interesting is who these statistics include. For example, the poor kids who walk to school barely feature. The slightly less-poor kids who bike to school also barely feature. So who are the 7,500? By far the biggest group are young drivers and their passengers. The affluent kids who spent their childhood on the back seat, move to the front seat and kill each other. Ironically, the attempt at protection results in kids being denied the opportunity to develop the very skills that might have saved them. Wrapping kids in tin boxes is only at best a short-term safety feature, whereas allowing them to take graded risks in the short-term produces better odds for long term survival.

For a few years, I’ve been doing informal research on “why people drive their kids around”. Apart from the “safety” fallacy, see above, there are two other main reasons. One is the “99 lemmings” discourse; “everyone else does it, and I don’t want my kids to feel different”. This is an interesting hierarchy of priorities. Not hurting a child’s feelings becomes more important than the life-skills that might actually lead to their long-term survival. Little wonder we lack the ability to consider such wider details as frying the planet.

The second reason is that we have uncritically sold out to a secularised work-ethic which says that the highest ideal is to aspire to do as many things as possible. So driving ones kids becomes the tool that enables them to achieve their six extra curricular activities before tea. And again, no-one seems to find it unusual that the kid’s extra flute lesson occupies a higher priority than their long term survival skills, or ensuring that there is a planet worth surviving in. We live in strange times.

When I was a teen, and the older folk around me were doing the “youth of today” script, I used to find myself thinking “well so far my generation has not been in government, or started a war, or produced a serial killer”. I also used to think that as I left my youth behind, I would inevitably find myself understanding and identifying with the attitudes being expressed by those adults. In fact today I am even more convinced that it is just not valid to hold kids responsible for the outcomes of decisions taken by the so-called adults around them. So here we are, on the cusp of parenthood ourselves, wondering what uncritical attitudes we in our turn are going to foist upon our own off-spring. Fry planet fry.

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