Very occasionally I’m asked how long I’ve been a cyclist.
If I’m feeling lazy I simply say “Forever”. But actually, I can remember the date quite well. It was July 1977 when, aged 11, I and two friends packed our rolls and pedalled out of Cumnock for a 16 mile ride up around Skares and Ochiltree. I had eaten all my food within 3 miles, beginning a lifelong pattern of eating my way on wheels – from my first 100 mile day in 1983, to 2 week tours across most European countries on my trusty 1953 Flying Scot frame.
But, of course, I was a cyclist before July 1977 in the sense that there was hardly a day went by without me being on my bike to go to see my pals or jump off precariously balanced pieces of plywood (Danny Macaskill, eat your heart out). So, I suppose I can trace my cycling days back to August 1970 when I first learned to wobble on my bike at Drummore campsite, just up from the Mull of Galloway.
In other words I can only hazily remember being alive without a bike. I have always relished the sense of freedom that a bike gives. However, as an adult, I did not really think of a bike as a means of transport (as opposed to leisure) until I came to Edinburgh in 1991. These days I cycle every day as part of my daily routine and only a bit more seldom do I use it purely for leisure purposes.
This meander into nostalgia has a purpose. My own oldest son has just turned 11, not far off the age I was when I went that first cycle trip. My own kids have been carted around on bikes since before they could walk and cycling up to 25 miles from an early age. But always in adult company. And I’ve just started letting son number 1 go further afield, only a mile or two and mainly along the canal path, but also having to negotiate road junctions and streets with cars as well.
I do that because I want my sons to have the same freedom that I enjoyed from a bike. But also with a lot of trepidation. This morning, I joined fellow cyclists at a sombre “ghost bike” event outside the Scottish Parliament (I’m the one with the pale trousers), to recognise the families whose lives have been forever changed by the loss of a loved one while cycling. Tragically, on this same morning, yet another cyclist has died, in the Highlands this time.
So I’ve been a cyclist for a long time. I think I am sensible, responsible and road-savvy, although I cannot guarantee that I won’t be mowed down by some lunatic who has not learned to control his or her ton of metal or to share space. But my worry is for my eldest son (and his brother after him). As he starts to branch out he will wobble, make mistakes, lose concentration and I want a transport system that allows for that – otherwise we have no chance in achieving the kind of travel transformation that a sustainable and healthy Scotland needs.
I don’t know the detailed prescription – more investment would help, much more. A network of protected lanes and spaces. Lower speed limits and proper enforcement of wayward driving. All of these things and a political will and long-term vision.
Much as I like the company of fellow cyclists, I really don’t want to spend more mornings outside the Scottish Parliament behind white-painted bikes.