A weekly guide to all that’s rotten about car ownership, plus some good bits
The end of the combustion engine?
I think we are in a second golden age of the automobile. But this time around we might not be dominated by Big Business Petroleum that cramped new forms of propulsion. For decades big oil companies had a stranglehold on innovation. The combustion engine, it could be argued, reached its apogee by the mid sixties, bar electronic ignition.
Car enthusiasts who follow this site and my occasional articles on car trends, electric cars, car design, and skulduggery in the industry, know I prefer we all drive small cars in cities. If seats were limited to two, one behind the other, cars could be skinny as hell, freeing up our over-crowded roads.
I acknowledge people are getting fatter, some so fat they have their own postcode. Seats have to be wider than in the past, cars bigger, but what a waste of space.
Now that a lot of cities are anti-car, or like Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, reducing speeds to the strolling pace of 20 mph, we might as well restrict our big engine lumps to long distance travel and use a small or micro car for daily trips. Or we could try a bicycle. Why not? The Chinese managed to run a nation using bicycles and a slow pace of life.
Some of my best friends are cyclists
Allow me to get a few things out of the way before the screaming cycle lobby appear to accuse me of being a fascist, Dr Crippen, or a shill for Exxon Corporation.
If I have any physical strength it was exercised to Olympian perfection on a bicycle, a maroon 21 inch Raleigh Tourer 3-Speed, to be exact. You sat bolt upright on it like a tractor driver, or riding a horse, not head down over racing handlebars like today’s ass-in-the-air Lycra addicts. I cycled everywhere. I lived roughly where I live now on the Firth of Forth side of town, and that meant a lot of uphill legwork, often with a full shopping bag on each handle. (Shopping was called messages in those days.)
I was never the sporty type, but getting in and out of Edinburgh produced the figure and speed of Icarus on two wheels. When I was a student earning holiday money as a catwalk model lustful women made a grab for my legs. They couldn’t get enough of them. Yes, I owe a lot to Raleigh. (Clears throat and shuffles feet.) I loved that bike as I do my cars, and looked after it just as well.
All that happened in the days when cars were fewer, slower and less intimidating. There was lots of space on the roads. I didn’t need a cycling lane, a helmet, and elbow and knee pads. The only extras bought were a front and back light, a small leather pouch that hung from the rear of the seat – a real status symbol to hold a wheel spanner, a tube of tyre seal, some penny Dainties or fruit gums for energy, and a pair of cycling clips. I did without regulatory cycle clips. I was still in short pants.
That was then, this is now
You defy death every minute cycling on roads. Drivers blind you in their headlights, soak you in rain spray, choke you in diesel fumes, cut across your path, open their door on you as you try to pass them, squeeze you towards the kerb and a head-over-heels tumble, or get out of their car in homicidal fury and punch your lights out. That’s if you are not crippled when your cycle tyre gets trapped in a tram rail.
I would not resort to a bicycle in today’s winner take all traffic, unless it was an electric one. You might as well go swimming in the local docks for all the good cycling brings to your health and well-being. And that brings me to my next grumble.
Cyclists emulate bad driving all the time. The code of the gentleman and lady cyclist was tossed away with the propelling pencil and the car phone the size and weight of a brick.
Anybody any age can hop on a bicycle without knowing a thing about the Highway Code. There is no cycle test. You can gain a cycling proficiency certificate, but who does?
Cyclists cross junctions against red lights, cycle down pavements at pedestrians and mothers pushing prams, reject lights in the dark, wear black so you can’t see them in the rain, fly down the inside of you so you cannot detect their approach, don’t look behind them when overtaking parked vehicles, hitch to the back of lorries, forget to signal, ride two abreast, chain their cycles to ornamental railings and to lampposts at crossings for the blind seeming to assume they are the only road user. As I said, like car drivers they are self-centred, preoccupied, and anarchic.
Cycles are aesthetically pleasing, cyclists less so
As a small car owner, the sort that was designed to get through narrow gaps and not clog up the streets, I am restricted to a single lane. I am hemmed in because my council has, quite fairly, screwed up road aesthetics with special red lanes for cyclists, and horrible pseudo sculptures directing them to cycle only alleyways and paths. Bicycle parking frames and cycle hire stands are appearing all over cities. Improvements designed to encourage more cyclists to use the road cost a great deal of funding.
I pay an annual tax, a vehicle excise tax, (VED) that goes to the UK Treasury, though it’s no longer used specifically for the upkeep of road surfaces. I also pay insurance, by law. If I damage another car or injure driver or passenger they will be compensated. I also pay an annual tax to have my car MOT’d, ensuring its road worthiness and emission friendly. Cyclist pay nothing, yet drivers pay local taxes to install dedicated cycle lanes. If one scrapes my car en passant I cannot claim for repair. There is no exchange of insurance company names. He has no insurance.
Here are my 10 proposals for cyclists that should be mandatory by law.
- Create a Cycle Licencing Department, (CLD) to register owners and makes.
- All cycles should be registered like cars, a number stamped on the frame.
- Sale of cycles between owners should be recorded by the CLD.
- Pay an annual road levy no matter how much or how little they use roads.
- Carry mandatory insurance (a) to compensate damage to vehicles, (b) injury to pedestrians, and (c) repair to their cycle in the event of accident or theft.
- Make mandatory the wearing of helmets and hi-rez jackets.
- Make mandatory illumination front and rear light at all times, day and night.
- Ban use of trailers carrying young children behind their cycle.
- Be fined for speeding, or cycling under the influence of drink or drugs.
- Be fined for cycle aggression, having a cyclist’s ego like a raging tooth.
As I said earlier, it will not matter to the cycling super lobbyists that I make plain I have no argument with cyclists. I am not inviting a punch up. For the most part, cyclists feel freedom of choice means freedom from taxation and responsibility.
But co-existence is getting more difficult by the hour as cyclists multiply like flies and motorists are corralled. The car owner is getting frozen out of everywhere, micro car ownership makes no difference.
For lots of good reasons we can’t all be cyclists, or take three buses to work. We can’t encourage motorists who want to own the road, or cyclists for that matter. That isn’t a realistic proposition. It isn’t a matter of them or us. It’s a matter of good solutions.