Eamon Ryan is the new Irish Government Minister for Transport. His brief also includes ‘Climate Action.’ Mr Ryan is a member of the ‘Green Party.’ I have given you three clues to my next question: How does Eamon Ryan transport himself around Dublin? Is it (a) your established perk of a ministerial state car, or (b) an eight years old bicycle?
No prizes for correct answers – but all I will say is that our new minister has done more for the humble bike since Mr Raleigh. Mind you, Jimmy Weldon has done the same for the bike in La Zenia!
Katie Melua’s song tells us there are nine million bicycles in Beijing. I have been there – and whilst I didn’t count them all, a rough scan would bear out this figure. There are twenty million inhabitants in Beijing and the only reason there are not twenty million bicycles is because only nine million people can afford one. China produces fifty million new bicycles every year, with exports to over a hundred countries. Enough about China …
It is a terrible pity that the humble bicycle was allowed to fall into such disfavour here in Ireland. Once upon a time it was an Irishman’s proudest possession. You could get away with insulting a guy’s sister easier than casting aspersions on his bike: If the ‘slagging’ started and the word bike was used, it could turn quiet serious as soon as the words ‘crock’, ‘scrap’ or ‘bone-rattler’ were used, because it was very personal to insult a man’s bike!
At one time there were surely a couple of million bicycles in everyday use here. Rows upon rows parked against each other outside churches or dancehalls indicated where the action of the moment was taking place.
Nowadays there are chains of stores specialising in ‘Accessories for Men’, whilst back in those days all they would need to carry were trouser-clips, bicycle pumps and flash lamps. But it was not only the men who put such value on their bicycles. When my parents got engaged, my father offered my mother an engagement ring or a new bicycle: She choose the bike! (She knew she would get a ring later – and she did!)
A generation earlier, around the year1900, there was huge controversy over what was appropriate clothing for a woman to wear on a bicycle. Petticoats and corsets wasn’t the most suitable for the saddle and soon they introduced divided skirts and bloomers in America. This attire was called ‘Rational Dress’ in these islands, but long dresses were worn by ladies on bicycles until after the First World War.
I suppose that when the wheel was invented it was only a matter of time before the bike followed. In 1817 Karl Von Drais came up with what he called “The Hobby horse” and this is sometimes claimed as being the first bicycle. It was made of wood, you pushed it along with your feet and it was easier than walking.
Like the steam engine, the Scots claim to have invented the first bicycle, when in 1840, Kirkpatrick MacMillan put pedals on an improved version of “The Hobby Horse”. A big advance came in 1861 with the invention of “The Penny Farthing” as it was known, by Pierre Michaux. The “Safety Bicycle” came in 1885: This was designed by John Kempt and popularised by the ‘Rover’ company.
This was the first chain and gear-driven rear wheel. But really it was the introduction of the pneumatic tyre, patented by John Boyd Dunlop in1888, which improved rider comfort and helped to encourage public acceptance of the bicycle.
Bicycles became a popular form of transportation from the early 1930’s when a combination of rising wages and falling production costs made bicycles affordable for working people.
The more recent “Mountain Bike” once again increased the popularity of the bicycle to another generation. The past ten years has seen tremendous diversification, with far more varied designs, tailored for a variety of uses being produced. From the youngest to the oldest member of the family, there is a bicycle to suit us all.
Just think of the benefits if we all went back to using a bicycle when we could. Look at how good it would be for the environment: Our roads would not be clogged up with motor cars and road rage would be cured.
We would be much fitter and healthier, while enjoying the pleasure of not being insulated from the world of nature by our car. There would be a huge saving in our budget after reducing the cost of household motoring.
Of course we would still need the car, but what a much better country we would have if we only used the motor car when it is necessary to do so? Give it some thought folk; you can do it: So, off with you – ‘on yer bike’!
Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.