Cycling requires honesty. That climb hurt? You haven’t trained hard enough. That descent was slow? You’re not brave enough. A vote for Brexit, a fear of immigrants the rise of extremism? Democracy has failed. Our elected representatives have taken the easy options.
Cycling from London to Luxembourg (330 miles in 3 days / 4 countries in 3 days) had everything. Gruelling climbs and exhilarating descents, beauty and decay, physical devastation and mental strength. Everything together on one ride. A country is a bit like that: rich and poor, rural and urban, young and old. All having to rub along in the same space and time.
10 hour cycling days afford a lot of time for reflection. By the end of the trip I knew exactly what needed to be done.
My 53/39 Chainset needs to be swapped for 52/36, the corroded Di2 battery needs replacing and 11 speed would be nice. Whilst I’m at it I need to take a long hard look at myself, dropping some weight (obviously), strengthening legs and training intelligently wouldn’t leave me falling out the back of the peloton every time the road goes upwards.
A simple systematic and honest approach.
I’m hoping whoever holds the keys to 10 Downing Street tomorrow morning does the same. A map of poverty in the UK would be a good place to start. It would correlate strongly with maps of sub-standard housing, low life expectancy, high unemployment, entrenched benefits dependency and hot spots for extremism.
Put simply, if people live in a decaying, degrading, demoralising environment they will become disillusioned, despairing and dangerous.
Take the challenge head on, no short cuts.
The most deprived areas of the country need to be prioritised for fundamental improvement. Improvements in housing, healthcare and education infrastructure. All would bring better standards of living, employment and have a positive impact on communities (and lesson the anger).
Charleroi, sits approximately half way between Calais and Luxembourg. It’s Belgium’s 4th largest city and the largest in the region of Wallonia. As we cycled the last few KM of a 200KM+ ride, make that dragged ourselves homeward, we passed through the imposing remnants of Charleroi’s heavy industrial past.
The rusting hulks of factories and plants were as breath-taking as they were imposing as they were sad. Those derelict machines are not coming back to life, the jobs they demanded likewise. Monuments to the past are their best role now.
The UK has tracts of Industrial Legacy too. A map of these would correlate to that map of poverty too.
Yesterday lunchtime, for the first time, the UK sourced the majority of its energy from renewables (50.001%) and in doing so provided a glimpse of the future and a solution for now.
The UK’s rich industrial heritage needs a reboot. Rather than mourn the loss of jobs in 19th/20th Century Industries, reminisce for the glories of the Industrial Revolution, there should be investment in the industry, manufacturing and technologies of the future, centred on the map of ‘communities targeted for rebirth’.
Taking the lead in 21st Century technologies – renewable, environmental, lifesaving – would give the UK something to be proud of and believe in. Other Nations would take note and follow.
If you put the hard miles in, work intelligently there is no need to feel fear or anger for the future.
Of course this isn’t a Manifesto for Cycling. Where are the demands for investment in segregated cycle-ways with super smooth tarmac and priority traffic lights? Sometimes the needs of others need to be prioritised first and the 10 Downing Street key-holder needs to put the needs of their supporters aside to break up current divisions and make a real and positive change.
(My bike is in for a full groupset re-haul with the best of the old groupset being donated to the mechanic doing the work so that he can build up a bike and join us on our rides, just maybe not the 330 miles in 3 day ones).