November 28, 2020

Article

If you’re a fan of the historical notion that progress doesn’t move as a straight, upward line but tends to be a bit more wiggly, then there was an article about cycling in this week’s Mail on Sunday that very much proved the point.

Anti-cyclist pieces in the Mail are not exactly uncommon, but this one was notable because its key argument was that cyclists should “pay road tax”.

If this blogpost were a film, this would be the moment to insert a sudden, soundtrack-halting needle scratch, with a narrator filling the sudden silence to say: “Yes, road tax.”

You know the one. Abolished in 1937. Replaced by vehicle excise duty (VED), which is, as has been explained countless times, very much not a tax to pay for roads – the money goes into the central pot, as do almost all tax revenues.

VED is also based on exhaust emissions, meaning that even if cyclists were liable for it, bikes would be, as with dozens of electric and hybrid cars, charged precisely £0 a year.

The idea that cyclists are freeloaders because they don’t pay “road tax” has been so thoroughly debunked over so many years that, these days, it is mainly the preserve of anonymous Twitter accounts.

And yet it has returned. Even more notable was the author of this Mail on Sunday opinion piece – Nigel Farage. And to find Farage weighing in on the subject of cycling interests me.

In political terms, we are currently amid what could be called version 3.0 Farage. Brexit is all but over, and his plan B of being a Donald Trump camp follower/media pundit took a significant dent at the weekend.

But Farage is nothing if not adaptable, and is currently reinventing himself as something of an all-purpose, hard-right, populist culture warrior, whether warning about an “invasion” of asylum seekers in the Channel or battling lockdown.

His article on cycling is both at times openly ludicrous – he opines that the “vast majority” of road cyclists frequenting the Kent lanes where he lives are also most likely remainers – but also illustrative of the language adopted by rightwing populists, featuring dehumanising terms such as likening cyclists to “a strange swarm of insects”.

Farage has, presumably, held these golf club bore opinions about cyclists for many years. So why air them now? The clue comes later in the article, when he condemns government spending on ways to boost walking and cycling amid lockdown, such as temporary bike lanes and so-called low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs).

This is the key. Cycling is in the news, and it means that once again we must face a rash of unsavoury anti-cyclist opinion pieces, among which Farage’s is just the latest.

A fortnight ago, a columnist in the Times used proposed changes to the Highway Code to better protect vulnerable road users to complain about cyclists “stamping their feet”, saying “the fact they’re pedalling the eco-friendly option has already gone to their heads”. This is another

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bicycle,

light, two-wheeled vehicle driven by pedals. The name velocipede is often given to early forms of the bicycle and to its predecessor, the dandy horse, a two-wheeled vehicle moved by the thrust of the rider’s feet upon the ground. Probably the first practical dandy horse was the draisine, originated c.1816 by Baron Karl Drais von Sauerbronn, chief forester of the duchy of Baden, to facilitate his inspection tours. Introduced into England in 1818, it was slowly improved, and c.1839 Kirkpatrick MacMillan, a Scottish blacksmith, developed a machine propelled by foot treadles and incorporating cranks, driving rods, and handlebars. The French inventor Ernest Michaux introduced in 1855 a heavy crank-driven bicycle. This was perfected c.1865 by Pierre Lallement, whose velocipede, known as a “boneshaker,” ran on ironclad wooden rims, the front wheel larger than the rear. Major improvements followed rapidly, including a light, hollow steel frame, ball bearings, tangential metal spokes, and solid rubber tires.

By the 1880s the front wheel had attained a diameter up to 64 in. (163 cm). Although the larger the wheel, the greater the potential speed, size was limited by the length of the rider’s legs, and speed by their strength. The safer tricycle, a three-wheeled vehicle similar to the bicycle, also enjoyed a vogue in the 1880s, especially among women and short men. The safety bicycle, with wheels of approximately equal diameter and a sprocket-chain drive connecting the pedals with the rear wheels, was first manufactured at Coventry, England, c.1885 by the English machinist James Starley; following the invention of the pneumatic tire in 1888 by the Scot John Dunlop, the safety bicycle superseded the high-wheeled form. Subsequent modifications include the freewheel (a rear wheel that turns freely when the pedals are stopped), the coaster brake, the hand brake, variable drive gear, and adjustable handlebars. Electric bicycles, with a battery-powered electric motor to assist the rider or fully drive the bicycle, have been developed; although the concept dates to the 1890s, the development of lighter weight batteries since the 1990s has made for more practical electric bicycles.

In the 1880s cycling became a fad of major proportions in the United States and Europe. Bicycle clubs were formed; both sexes participated in rides into the country, often on tandem bicycles. The League of American Wheelmen, organized in 1880, was a leader in the agitation for good roads. Although cycling declined in the United States with the introduction of automobiles, it has recently grown in popularity, notably since the introduction in the 1970s of wide-tired, off-road “mountain bikes.” In many parts of the world the bicycle remains a more important means of transportation than the automobile. See also bicycle racingbicycle racing
or cycling,
an internationally popular sport conducted on closed courses or the open road. Track racing takes place at a velodrome, usually a banked 1,093.6 ft (.333 km) oval.
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; motorcyclemotorcycle,
motor vehicle whose design is based on the bicycle. The German inventor Gottlieb Daimler is

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