Old bicycle lights ran on dynamo-power and the faster the bicycle moved, the brighter the lights … maybe we need to put in more effort to make the future brighter.
BY THE time I arrived on the scene and had learned to ride a bicycle, the restrictions had been relaxed.
Which restrictions, you ask?
Well, for one thing at the time when my parents and their generation were cyclists your bicycle had to be roadworthy.
What made a bike roadworthy? I am glad you asked; firstly a bicycle had to have a white reflector in front and a red reflector at the back – usually fitted down by the wheels.
Next, your bicycle had to have a headlight – and here’s the thing, battery-operated or rechargeable headlights were not around. Your light ran on dynamo-power. The dynamo had a tiny wheel that would be pressed up against the back tyre. That tiny wheel turned a magnet inside a coil which induced enough electricity to run the bicycle’s lights.
So the science was – the faster the bicycle moved, the greater the induced voltage, and therefore the brighter the lights.
When I was younger, I one day was privileged to ride a bicycle with a dynamo on the back wheel. I say ‘privileged’ but I actually mean tortured. It was like riding with the rear brakes engaged. And even then, after I got the bike moving, the light that was cast by the bulky light on the handlebars was dimmer than a single birthday candle.
I wondered how fast you’d have to pedal to be able to see the road in front of you.
So don’t underestimate the ‘ou balies’ you see shuffling around these days. Those folk were strong!
Oh, I digress, back to the roadworthy bikes. Your bicycle also had to have a working bell on the handlebars, to alert pedestrians of your approach, and an actual licence disc attached to the ‘vehicle’.
Then there were rules; you had to STOP at stop signs, and before stopping you had to raise your hand to indicate your intention to anyone behind you. Before turning you also had to indicate that with unmistakable hand signals.
If you didn’t you’d get into trouble with the law.
How do I know all this? The older generation that I mentioned earlier speak about those days with great fondness. And they bring up the topic whenever they see bicycle riders being irresponsible on the roads these days.
But let’s make a distinction – ‘bicycle riders’ are not the same as ‘cyclists’. Cyclists wear helmets, bright clothing, and have reflective strips and flashing lights all over their bikes … These folk want to be seen.
Bicycle riders are using their cycles as a mode of transportation and are using cycling to get from point A to point B and they don’t seem to think about safety. So both groups use cycles and sometimes, quite often actually, the overlap can cause a few problems.
On Wednesday evening I was out driving in my car after sunset and bicycle riders were swarming the streets of the city – no lights, no reflectors, dark clothing and no hand signals or intention of obeying traffic laws. Well, when I say ‘swarming’, I saw three – but on a five-minute drive that was a lot!
Here’s the point, the fact that our traffic officers do not get around to checking for reflectors, lights and bells on bicycles does not mean that it’s OK for bicycle riders to go crazy on the roads. The knock-on effect of going crazy is that another group, law-abiding cyclists are now in the firing line of their frustrated fellow road-users.
But this does not only apply to cycling. Cycling here, besides being literal cycling, is a metaphor for any and every shred of respect, decency and courtesy that seems to be turning to vapour these days. People are pushing back at every law and restriction possible, craving ‘freedom’.
US Actress Katherine Hepburn once said, “Obey all the laws and miss all the fun!”
But for those agreeing with Kathy, consider that this argument is bigger than traffic laws or any law for that matter.
Author Price Pritchett suggests that: “The legal system doesn’t always serve as a good guide for your conscience. You can step way over the ethical line and still be inside the law. The same thing goes for rules, policies and procedures – you know, the organisation’s ‘internal laws’. You can ‘go by the book’ and still behave unethically. Still not move beyond mediocrity.”
Then he adds: “High standards – the ethics of excellence – come to life through your basic values, your character, integrity and honesty.”
Followed by the zinger: “Obeying the law is the bare minimum.”
If people everywhere don’t get started on polishing up our basic values, characters, integrity and honesty, then by the time our youngsters arrive on the scene, and take the baton from us, they will speak about safety and security like I speak these days about archaic bicycle laws.