Thursday, March 06, 2008
The London Commuter
There has been a trend in the last few months in that my blog gets consistently more and more hits from Great Britain.
For every thousand hits from the US I get roughly a third of that number from the UK on any given day.
Considering the US has five times the population (Over 300 million compared to 60 million.) I find this both satisfying and surprising.
I am left to wonder are there more cyclists per-capita in Britain? My Stat Counter lists the number of hits from different cities around the world; London is consistently number one.
Therein I think lies a clue; I keep reading how more and more Londoners have switched to the bicycle as their mode of transport to and from work each day. With gas prices around $7 a gallon, plus a fee to drive into the city.
At what point does a person start riding a bicycle out of necessity, then become a bicycle enthusiast to the extent of seeking information on the Internet?
I think of my father who never owned a car, or even learned how to drive; a bicycle was his sole means of transport. It got him to work each day, and to the pub in the evening or weekends. However, he was never a bicycle enthusiast.
Growing up in the 1940s and 1950s I never saw him read anything about bicycles, or talk about them. He never looked at, or showed any interest in my lightweight bike, or asked to ride it.
His bikes were always old and rusty, probably from the 1920s or 1930s. He would lubricate and maintain his bike; buy new tires and brake blocks, and occasionally a new chain.
He never had a new bike, or took it to a bike shop for repair. If something was seriously wrong he would ask around the neighborhood or people he worked with, and someone would give him a bike, or he would buy another, equally as old and rusty for very little money.
He never locked his bike, and I don’t remember him having one stolen; why steal a bike when it had little value and you could get one for free?
He was born in 1910, so all his life it was the norm for a working man to ride a bicycle. Like a man blind from birth, who does not know darkness because he has never experienced light; my father never experienced joy from riding a bicycle or became an enthusiast, because he had experienced nothing else.
Now we have several generations who have never ridden a bicycle past their childhood; never rode to school or to work, and owned a car from the moment they were old enough to drive.
Some forced to ride a bike through economic reasons, or because they can no longer take the congestion or the expense and the frustration of finding a place to park. Public transport also becomes an expense and hassle.
Some start cycling out of necessity and in doing so experience the joy and the freedom of riding a bike. Like the blind man who can see for the first time. Not everyone will experience this; some go back to their cars and public transport.
I started cycling out of necessity and rode my bike to school and later to work. I may have followed in my father’s tire tracks, but I discovered the beauty of the racing bicycle; I wanted to own one and ride one. That is how I became an enthusiast, the bicycle and riding it became a passion.
Only a minority get into the sport this way; I remember out of all my friends at school, only one shared my enthusiasm and got a lightweight bike the same time as I did, but even he did not continue and soon lost interest.
I think this is how most cyclists in the US get into the sport; first, it is the attraction of the equipment, the bike itself, then riding it becomes a passion. Some drop out; some never get past the ownership stage, and actually riding the bike is secondary.
I can’t see any widespread trend of people being forced out of necessity to ride a bike to work in the US anytime soon; except maybe in some of the larger cities. The UK is far more populated than the US, and London especially.
One fifth of America’s population but the whole of Great Britain is an area about the size of California, and with roads never designed to handle the volume of today’s traffic.
Here’s to the British cyclist and in particular the London commuter; may your numbers increase so that motorized traffic may decrease, and may the bicycle continue to give you joy. Lastly, I hope more and more of you find your way here to my blog.
Pictures from BikeForAll.net
Posted by Dave Moulton at 3/06/2008 05:50:00 AM