COLUMN: Thank Bike

I see you, fellow motorists. Snickering at me. Laughing under your breath and gesturing rudely as I ride my bicycle, Lycra-clad and forced by legislation to don a ventilated piss-pot as headgear in an attempt to not to get my melon squashed under your tyre. You jeer at the swollen pockets on my back, bursting with energy jellies, multi-tools and perhaps a spare tube. I dodge your attempts to shove me into a taxi and I wear your rooster tails of rain water and gutter tripe in proud defiance. I feel your scorn and ridicule and I understand. Because first and foremost, I am one of you.

Cycling is a recent interest of mine, but I’m still an avid-as-they-come petrolhead, so I too regard the asphalt as my own personal plaything. And like everything else I’m partial to, I can get quite possessive about it.

Now, two things. Firstly, some of you lot are bloody scary! Secondly, I think we need to change our attitude towards the humble bicycle. Having said that, with carbon-fibre and lightweight aluminium construction, sophisticated suspension, ventilated disc brakes, 30-speed derailleurs, and so on, they’ve become about as humble as your average Japanese supercar.

In fact it was at a Japanese car manufacturer’s event when I first noticed that car companies have starting to acknowledge the importance of the simple two-wheeled commuter. In droves, because it happened on at least four occasions just this year. At the launch of the Lexus IS350 a R100 000 carbon road bike was unveiled to the oohs and aahs of several of my peers who had been keeping their bicycle affliction quiet up until then. Then, at the international track drive of the Mercedes Benz A45 in Bilster Berg, Germany, AMG invited us journos to test their newest, over-engineered mountain bike. Which several of us promptly did, until our clothes were very muddy and we were forced back into the cars. Then at the launch of the Opel Corsa OPC Nürburgring Edition we were alerted to the existence of an Opel MTB, which you’ll be able to see up close at the Johannesburg International Motor Show. And why not? The firm built a reputation for itself as a bicycle manufacturer long before they started on the four-wheeler angle. Then, at the launch the new Cerato Koup in South Korea, the Kia spin-masters detailed the company’s evolution from a maker of hand-crafted bicycles in the early 1940s to their building of the first mass-production bicycle plant in 1951. You know, progress.

That’s my tally in 2013. The list of car makers for whom the wheel started turning as a bike manufacturer is longer than you’d imagine. Peugeot, Rover, Daimler and Triumph? All guilty. Plenty of car makers have also gone the other route and tried their hand at crafting two-wheeled counterparts. BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, I’m looking squarely at you.

My point? Almost all of car creation started out as bicycles. They exist on the same timeline as a sort of ancestral patriarch, yet we’re loath to share space with them on the road today. Same as the motorcycle really, a similarly hated species whose protagonists have upgraded from Lycra to leather and sport significantly bulkier headgear in their pursuit of two-wheeled thrills.

Shame on us. Shame, shame, shame! Where’s the diversity?  Look, I have a plan to right the wrongs, cross the divide, and bring unity to all of us road users. The solution is cycling of a different sort. It’s very ambitious. So listen.

I propose a new piece of legislation. It’s actually dreadfully simple, but I will need your buy-in for it to be successful. And it boils down to this. In order for us to better appreciate each other’s mode of transport, we need to formulate a swapping system. What will this cost you? Absolutely nothing. In fact if you’re a motorist you might even save some money and a bit of the environment too. It’s like this, car driver. Enjoy your car on a Monday, swap it with a cyclist’s pride and joy on a Tuesday. On the Wednesday morning you can swap the cycle for a motorised bike, before returning to your four-wheeled whip on a Thursday. Repeat. You following?

The benefits are obvious: experiencing your favourite roads in a new way, growing tolerance for other types of road users, gaining better health and even picking up a new skill or two. The same goes for cyclists and bikers who will get to experience our four-wheeled chariots of doom and smog. And who knows, perhaps they’ll eventually share our love of all things petroly too. They might even join us in the long run. Either way, I bet you’d be looking at a remarkable conversion rate from one tribe to the other, and with all that public awareness running rife it’s bound to improve the respect we have for each other.

What do you think? Have I solved it? Yes, I realise this leaves those with school runs and long-distance commuting in a bit of a pickle, but surely we can find a way around that too? Yes? No? Not interested? You cold bastards…

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