Any petrolhead who is annoyed with cyclists for daring to delay them for a few seconds would be amazed to learn from Carlton Reid’s “Roads Were Not Built for Cars” that it was cyclists who campaigned for and funded better roads.
While you are unlikely to have the time to explain this history to a petrolhead as he or she shouts abuse out of an overtaking vehicle, motorists have been known to spend some time outside of their vehicles – and still put forward their anti-cyclist views. A good read of “Roads Were Not Built for Cars” will stand you in good stead with some petrolhead rebuttals.
But you wouldn’t want to read this book just to prepare for battle with petrolheads; the book is meticulously researched and a well written history of the late 19th Century cyclists who founded clubs such as the Cycling Touring Club in the UK (who now use the brand name Cycling UK) and the Wheelmen of America to campaign for properly paved roads and in a number of instances raised funds for just that purpose, such as the “Midland Road Fund”: a pot of cash raised by cyclists to pay for road repairs as well as legal action against local authorities for neglecting roads.
Roads had, of course, existed long before one Herr Karl Benz added a motor to a tricycle and Reid points out that cars were viewed as the unwanted trespassers, with MP Sir Ernest Soares telling parliament in 1903: “Motorists are in the position of statutory trespassers on the road … roads were never made for motor-cars. Those who designed them and laid them out never thought of motor-cars.”
A number of keen cyclists who were involved in bodies such as the Roads Improvement Association (formed when the National Cyclists Union and Cycling Touring Club decided to merge their lobbying activities) were wealthy young men who could also afford an early motor car and consequently went on to have leading roles in motoring organisations and local highway boards.
While the book provides many useful discussion points for your arguments with a petrolhead, there is also a wealth of amusing cycling related trivia (Sir Alfred Bird, custard magnate, was a champion tricyclist and lobbyist for better cycling roads) along with some interesting social history details. Hitler, for example, hated bikes but Fabian socialists Beatrice and Sydney Webb, George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells all loved bikes.
The Webbs are quoted as writing in 1913 “the passage of a wheeled vehicle remained … an exceptional event of the day” and “the motor car, which habitually travelled at three or four times the speed of the bicycle, with a load ten or fifteen times as great, and with fifty times the momentum, came as a serious menace both to the highways and to their frequenters … The turning loose on our roads of tens of thousands of heavy vehicles, often travelling with the speed of an express train, amounted to a real aggression on the safety and comfort of all the other users of the roads. … The King’s Highway ceased to be a place in which people could saunter, or children play.”
So while the numbers of vehicles and their speeds have increased significantly since 1913, the problems have remained. Roads were not built for cars but the cars and the petrolheads in them have taken over, assuming that these are “their” roads.
It was intriguing therefore to see that the foreword is by Edmund King, the President of the Automobile Association, who is quoted on the rear cover as follows “The fascinating insight into the origin of roads will break down some road ownership issues, and help promote harmony for all road users whether on four wheels or two.”
Does this mean that, in the interests of harmony, I have to stop referring to petrolheads?
Carlton Reid has an enviable reputation in the cycling world and reading this book confirms why.
Roads Were Not Built for Cars is available from Amazon.