It is an often repeated maxim in cycling circles, but I cannot help agreeing with HG Wells’ words:
‘When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.’
The lack of a true cycling culture that has entered the mainstream has been frequently lamented. While Time Trialling and other disciplines of the steel steed have always had their niche supporters, the very everyman nature of the bicycle somehow slipped away with the advent of affordable motors and only now seems to be recovering.
This recent revolution in cycling now sees the UK’s roads increasingly populated with cyclists in all their forms and styles, and it is truly inspirational. For many, like myself, cycling has been a voyage of rediscovery. A simple activity enjoyed in earlier years has now returned as not only a means to experience the beauty of the world, but also as a viable means of commuting and travel.
I have often wondered whether a focus, or even gentle encouragement, for cycling at a school level would have meant less of a personal rediscovery, and more a continuance of habit, not just in myself but in others. Encouraging cycling to our youth makes sense in many ways, and would have that valuable trickle down effect into the public consciousness that is so needed.
Breeding mutual respect for all road users needless to say is necessary. The cycling and walking lobbies will, perhaps rightly, say that for motorised traffic this is especially crucial if we are to safeguard our more vulnerable road users. To my mind, developed over one ride, one of the best ways to do this is to make cycling a part of the home. This means through our youth.
By no means am I suggesting “Operation Child Shield”, where we push our children onto the roadways to watch them mown down by the passing traffic. I want to stop any “kindermord” before it can happen. What I propose is more in lines with the recycling initiatives of my childhood.
I have vivid memories of taking great delight in collecting all the recyclable objects from the bin and telling my parents the rights and wrongs of their rubbish habits. Such stern telling off from their youngest clearly clearly made an impression, for thirty plus years on they are still avid recyclers – even if in need of a little guidance now and then.
If we can impassion our youngsters from an early age, such that passion and awareness is shared through that special child-parent osmosis which exists, and we can maintain our commitment for the years to come, then acceptance for cycling and mutual respect, I expect will in turn follow.
Campaign groups, such as Sustrans, clearly see the benefit of “getting them hooked” early, as can be seen by the veritable peloton of Bike It Plus Officers stretched across the country. This initiative engages with local schools to increase awareness of sustainable travel options, which presumably would also save the parentals from what I believe is the “dreaded” school run.
However, any number of NGOs are not enough by themselves to change a public mindset that is blind to anything which might smack of “anti-car”. Grassroots support is needed to convert political will into action. So I say, lets start ’em young and enjoy the fruits of our labour in our ripe old age.