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June 2002 - Cyclic Problem

As I'm sure many of you regular devotees will already be aware, I live in the depths of Wiltshire. As a county, it has much in common with many of the other counties of England in that it's fairly flat.

Okay, there IS the odd hill here and there, but nothing of any great consequence when compared with Everest, Ben Nevis or even Snowdon. It's your average, flattish sort of county, with the occasional lump in places.

So if Wiltshire, and most of the other counties around are mainly of the smoother persuasion, why has one particular item become so immensely popular of late with the younger generation?

It's been puzzling me for quite a while now; so I've decided to share that puzzlement with you good folk, in the hope that between us we might work out some sort of solution.

The subject for in-depth analysis in this month's edition of Nick Harvey's Comment is therefore the question of why so many of our children need to travel so far afield before they can make any use of this new item in their huge list of possessions.

Now, many eons ago, when I was at school, most of the pupils arrived on their bikes; but I assume this cannot still be the case as we launch ourselves headlong on an unsuspecting twenty-first century.

At least, I have to assume that no children ride their bikes to school any more, based on the fact that most of the schools I pass on my travels are roughly on a level with all the other parts of the towns they serve.

I do apologise madam; I'm not making an awful lot of sense as yet, am I? Perhaps it's about time I explained my current dilemma.

The bulk of my confusion has come about quite recently, but that most definitely wasn't the start of it all.

For some years now, I've heard about these youngsters who seem to have this urgent need to cycle up and down mountains. But, where your average young lad or lass goes to find these mountains is beyond me.

Okay, if you just happen to be a wee Scots lassie from Fort William, or a strapping young Welsh lad from Ffestiniog, then it isn't that far to carry your bike until you can ride it; but for the lasses of Birmingham or the lads of Wiltshire there's a much more complex problem to be solved before you ever get round to putting bum to saddle.

How do you get to your mountain?

Now, in the olden days before that nice Beeching chappie doctored our railways, you would throw your cycle over your shoulder with gay abandon and carry it to the station down the road. There you would pop it in the guard's van, pop yourself in a carriage and let the train take the strain, all the way to your nearest mountain.

But not any more I fear!

The station down the road is now the local antique shop and the track which once led to it has long since been turned into the ring road.

For your average modern cycle user, the first step on the way to a quiet day's cycling is a phone call to the local taxi company to book one of those huge six-seaters to take him to the nearest station, which is now well over thirty miles away.

The six-seater is essential so there's one seat to sit in; and the other five to rest the bike on.

Having paid off the taxi fare and lobbed the driver a tip of suitable proportions to offset his bill for cleaning the chain oil off the seat, it's off to the ticket office to book one of those cheap day returns to the nearest station to the nearest mountain.

Said station will be best part of fifty miles from the mountain, so the next phase of the day's fun and enjoyment will be waiting on the station taxi rank for the six-seater for that end of the journey to return from taking Mrs Jones and her five children back to their cottage.

Second taxi fare and huge tip dealt with, there you are at the bottom of your mountain, complete with bike.

Now, at last, it's time to place rear end on seat, feet on pedals and start the real excitement of the day, riding up the mountain.

Having got to the top, it's just about time to ride down again and find the phone box to order the taxi again and retrace your steps all the way back to your front door. The bike then gets put away in the shed for another day; and you're exhausted.

Now, I know we're practically half way through this month's load of old nonsense, but this, you'll all be grateful to hear, is where I actually get to the point.

Why can't you go out and buy an ordinary bicycle any more? Why is it that the only things they sell; and the only things the youngsters seem to want, are these specialist mountain bikes?

I know, as a nation, we're becoming totally reliant on motorised forms of transport, but what was the matter with the good old days when you could get bikes that you could ride on the flat, on roads and such things?

It seems totally pointless to me to sell bicycles which are only suitable for riding up and down mountains.

It's even more stupid when, as I mentioned at the beginning, so little of our glorious country is actually mountainous.

Someone told me that the Dutch are a race of cyclists. How the heck do they get on then, with a country as flat as a pancake and mainly below sea level? I'll take a pound to a penny that you must be able to buy an ordinary bike over there!

So why not over here I ask myself. I did a bit of a survey with a mate of mine a couple of weeks ago and he was telling me that the mountain bike is the successor to something called the BMX. He's into bicycles in a big way you see, and knows about these things. I gather the mountain bike is a sort of copy of the BMX, but bigger and better and more rugged and things.

"So what was the BMX then?" I asked him; but he didn't know for certain. We even tried to work out what the letters stood for, but never really came up with a sensible solution to that either.

The best we managed was based on the fact that the word Xerox tends to be synonymous with the word copy nowadays, so it might just possibly have stood for "Before Mountain Xerox".

On the other hand, they couldn't possibly have known the mountain bike manufacturers were going to copy it when it first came out, so they wouldn't have given it that name then, would they?

I gather the BMX bikes were suitable for riding on ANY sort of rough ground, not just mountains, so why I wonder have things now got so specialised?

At least a BMX would have been suitable for little Johnny and Janey to ride to school round this neck of the woods. Rough ground is a quite excellent description of most of Wiltshire's roads since all the cutbacks to keep the Council Tax within manageable proportions.

But now, with not so much as a hillock between home and school, it's mum's taxi to the rescue again.

At least I suppose it doesn't mean dad has to spend nearly every Sunday fixing little Johnny's punctures as it was in the good old days; with mum's best serving spoons pressed into service as makeshift tyre levers.

I expect both mum and dad are quite pleased about that. But who picks up the bill for all the taxi and train fares to the mountains I wonder?

I'd have thought that, at the end of the day, it would have been better to have a bike which could be ridden around town as well. Surely a couple of new serving spoons every few months must work out cheaper than all the fares.

And, while Johnny and Janey are cycling round the block locally, they're not up to the sort of no good which goes on up mountains.

Surely it's time for our bicycle manufacturers to return to basics and provide us with nice, simple machines to potter round town, or go to school on.

Who needs thirty-two automatic sets of gears anyway? The people I've spoken to seem quite happy to ride around in the same gear they've been wearing since they got up in the morning, plus perhaps an overcoat.

It all seems to have got totally out of proportion. If our bicycle suppliers over here can't produce anything that's fit for anywhere but a mountain, then perhaps it's time for me to open up the Nick Harvey Ordinary Bicycle Import Company and earn a few honest shillings for myself into the bargain.

Either that, or we'll have to move all our schools onto mountain tops.

Anyway, that's enough of this tripe for this time round; it's time for me to cycle off in search of the subject for the next edition of Comment which will glide into view at the beginning of July.

Assuming I ever get down from the top of my mountain, I'll catch you all then. Right, I'm off, where's me bicycle clips?

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