Garth George: On yer bike - not bloody likely

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So we are to have a cycle track running the full length of New Zealand. I suppose in this increasingly green-tinged world it's not so surprising, even if, at the jobs summit, it came out of left field.

Prime Minister John Key, who floated the plan, is, after all, also Minister of Tourism, and it is hard to deny that the green tinge is increasingly affecting the choice of destinations for foreign visitors.

However, should the cycle track go ahead there is at least one Kiwi who will never use it should he live to be 200 years old. That's me.

For I consider the bicycle to be the most inefficient, uncomfortable and unwieldy machine ever to have been invented.

As the champion American cyclist John Howard once said: "The bicycle is a curious vehicle. Its passenger is its engine." Aye, and there's the rub.

Long before, the 19th-century English novelist, Maria Louise Rame, put it thus: "If all feeling for grace and beauty were not extinguished in the mass of mankind at the actual moment, such a method of locomotion as cycling could never have found acceptance; no man or woman with the slightest aesthetic sense could assume the ludicrous position necessary for it."

I was given my first bicycle when in primary school and was forced to have one as my principal means of transport until I was able to buy my first car.

That was in Invercargill, which had the blessing of being mainly flat but also the curse of being perpetually windy. You could guarantee that when you biked to school (or, later, work) the wind would be in your face. And, when you biked home, it would have veered or backed to be in your face again.

As New York author and editor Daniel Behrman wrote: "You never have the wind with you - either it is against you or you're having a good day."

From the time I got a driving licence at 15, I constantly wheedled my father to borrow his car, for there was no way I could play slap and tickle on a bike, whereas the back seat of dad's (or the current girlfriend's dad's) car was ideal.

Since I bought my first car, I have never, ever, ridden a bicycle - and that was 50 years ago. I'd far rather walk, no matter how far it is. However, I concede there are some people who consider the bicycle the ultimate method of transport.

You see them dicing with death in our modern, motorised cities and bitching and moaning about the discourtesy of drivers. And you see them, too, on the open roads, struggling up steep hills, often in driving rain, burdened with backpacks and other accoutrements of travel. And as I cruise by in my warm, dry, powerful motor car I wonder what on earth it is that causes them to suffer such enervating discomfort.

They are, however, in good company, as will be those who use the national cycle track when (if?) it is completed. That masterful weaver of words, Ernest Hemingway, reckoned that: "It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.

"Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle."

If Mr Key wants a perfect model for his cycle track, then he should visit New Plymouth and take a look at that city's walkway-cum-cycleway.

Solid concrete and 3-4m wide, it runs several kilometres from the port along the seafront past downtown and the city's eastern suburbs.

Every day when the weather is kind, it is thronged with runners and walkers and cyclists and young mums pushing prams, all breathing the fresh Tasman air and enjoying the vistas of city and sea.

It will be interesting to see the details of Mr Key's cycleway. It is to be hoped its design is put in the hands of dedicated cyclists and not bureaucratic "planners", who would be guaranteed to mess it up big time.

It is certainly to be hoped, too, the infernal Resource Management Act has been streamlined before planning begins, lest the cycleway become bogged down in argument.

In spite of my antipathy to bicycles, I consider such a cycleway, if it provides 4000 jobs and costs a mere $50 million, would be a significant asset to the nation.

After all, the noted luminary H.G. Wells reckoned that "cycle tracks will abound in Utopia". And Mark Twain observed: "Get a bicycle. You will not regret it - if you live."

- NZ Herald

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