I was once very, very keen on cycling. This was when I was thirty or so and living in London. That was in 1982 and 1983, thirty-odd years ago. It was an interest I embraced suddenly, and then discarded just as suddenly - for good reasons.
I should explain that I never owned a bike in childhood, and did not learn to ride one until I was thirty. That's why I was so smitten. It was much more than just a novelty, it was a revelation, something I'd missed out on, and like any convert I was fanatical. I instantly fell totally in love with the whole notion of cycling. It was a city thing, but it could take you out into the countryside, and it had connotations of freedom and rebellion. It was obviously good for physical exercise. Pedal power seemed in every way wholesome and virtuous. It did not pollute the roads with exhaust fumes. It seemed also to have a philosophical element to it, or at least you had to change your mindset in a good way.
I bought inspiring books about cycling. I bought glossy cycling magazines. I added accessories, becoming a saddle fetishist, a pannier fetishist, a lighting fetishist, a tyre fetishist, a bike lock fetishist. I bought reflective belts and ankle straps, to ward off the city traffic. I had mirrors, so that I could see what was coming up behind. I was going to ride hard and fast, and cut through the London buses and taxis with confidence. For I was now a Road Warrior.
I learned to repair punctures, to replace cables and to use special brake blocks. I tried various styles of handlebar. I even experimented with different gear ratios. I found bicycle shops that catered for the cycling enthusiast - not the old fuddy-duddy enthusiast, but the younger kind that were fired up by the latest technology. The term 'mountain bike' was still new, and the notion of a tough, go-anywhere machine had a magical appeal. I couldn't afford one of those: but I went through two more ordinary bikes in quick succession.
I deferred renewing my Underground season ticket. I would save money by cycling from Wimbledon to Victoria and back every day. An hour's journey. I started when it was late summer, in sunshine. It seemed ideal. I noticed the extra cash in my pocket. But the days got shorter. As soon as the light level fell, I realised how vulnerable I was, how invisible. I had a couple of very close shaves. And then a spate of punctures. The potholes and bumps were a nightmare in near-darkness. I gave up. This was stupidity. I was going to get knocked off and hurt. And as it grew colder, so the trains seemed more and more sensible. The bike was put away, never more to be ridden. I sold it a few months later.
I was disillusioned, and I have remained disillusioned. And from being avidly pro-bike, I have become firmly a champion of four-wheeled transport. The advantages of having a wheel at each corner of a covered platform with seats on it seem overwhelming. You are large enough to be seen; you are protected from weather and impacts; you can't fall over; you can carry passengers; you can carry a useful load; and given the right kind of engine and fuel, you can travel a long way very quickly. Pedal bikes can't do any of that. Even if it had to be a car that looked like a weird Mars rover, it would still be more versatile, and safer, than a bike.
Bikes scare me. Every time I see a bike rider, I am scared that I will witness a dreadful accident as frustrated car drivers ahead of me take risks to get past. I am afraid that one day, when I am passing, a cyclist will swerve to avoid a pothole, or a crack in the road, or a dead squirrel, or wobble as cramp strikes in a leg muscle, and we may connect with ghastly results.
Cyclists face a hazard overload. Really, I can't see how it's possible to enjoy doing what they do. In fact I think that cycling is a type of suicide, certainly an activity that will inevitably put you in hospital sooner or later. Nothing would induce me to get on a bike again.
I can't see why little children are allowed onto any road where traffic might go. They may wear helmets, and they may be shadowed by a parent, but in reality they are horribly exposed to death or serious injury. I shudder to think what would happen if they wobbled and fell as a car passed. Whereas if these children (and their parents) were all in four-wheeled buggies or carts, they would have a much better chance of survival.
But I really want to propose that cyclists should be banned from all roads that cars can use. Lives are at stake. Cars and bikes simply do not mix. Nor, for that matter, do cars and horses, or cars and pedestrians. Each needs their own roads and paths and ways that none of the others can use. Of course it won't happen.