As an experienced driver and also a long-time cyclist I am often asked which is best, motor car or bicycle, and I always answer clearly, precisely and definitively: ‘It depends’. Each form of transport has its merits and its drawbacks. I resolved to give it some proper thought because it is well overdue for the constant war of words, abuse and fists to stop and for motorists and bikeists to finally get along.
I have approached this scientifically and broken the issue down into component parts, the better to reach what I believe is known in some circles as a happy ending.
Bike saddles, especially sporting versions, can have a detrimental effect on the tender bits. Understandably, this would make anybody grumpy and liable to combustion. Once, leather saddles took so long to get broken in that the cyclist had often retired from a lifetime in the sport before they finally got comfortable. Saddle boils up the bum were common and caused considerable discomfort. One solution was to insert a nice piece of raw steak between the cheeks which proved to be very soothing and the real beauty of it was that, once back home, the cyclist could fry it over for a nourishing snack.
Those days are long gone but cyclists still have to contend with all manner of discomforts; weather, terrible roads, mad dogs, mad motorists and being seen out in public wearing bizarre clothing. Is it any wonder that they can get a bit testy? A car has proper suspension and a roof and a heater. Drivers do not have these discomfort problems, except perhaps for a little upholstery chafing depending upon the activity. Or when trying to exit the vehicle in a tight parking space from the low-slung and deep bucket seat in a Honda Civic Type R, (review on Wednesday btw) as I can recently attest.
Result: The car wins.
Bikes are on sale at all prices although the lighter and sleeker they become the more they cost. Nevertheless, cycling can be a very economical and ecological form of transport. It is also good for you. Even the top, most exclusive racing bikes on the planet only cost the sort of money that will only just buy you a modest motor.
Thanks to modern materials, punctures are less common and are cheap and easy to fix anyway. Maintenance costs just a few pounds and a decent, well maintained bike can literally last a lifetime. Fuel costs equate to what you eat and nothing more. Apart from lubricants (often an essential part of a cyclist’s life in some ways) bikes cause virtually no pollution except of the verbal sort. Traffic jams can be completely avoided by virtue of a blatant disregard for the rules of the road.
Result: The bicycle wins.
Society says that the automobile is the most anti-social of the two modes of transport. It is, we are encouraged to believe, the root cause of all the pollution in the world ever since the dawn of time. Some may question this in part at least, perhaps adding all the other pollutants of the world including cow farts and George Osborne, but they are shouted down those with a single pathological preoccupation with hatred for the motor car.
This has the effect of making some – repeat some – cyclists a little quarrelsome and likely to video your threats whilst deliberately winding you up like a scientology spokesman at a meeting of the General Synod. They won’t even back down if you threaten to phone Ronnie Pickering, so sure they are of their perceived rights.
There is a minority of self-righteous bikers who have given the cycling fraternity a bad name. It’s not fair but that is how it is. Certainly motorists have their own internal internecine issues but the ongoing debate about why we can’t all be sweetness and light on our roads is down to an intransigence on both sides so nothing can change until attitudes change and there is some meaningful action for sharing the roads. Until then there can be no winner. Geoff Maxted