when my son was learning to drive, despite my being a less than companionable passenger, i reluctantly agreed to sit in the other front seat while he navigated the various hurdles that befall the leaner driver. one of the manoeuvres in which he felt he needed practice was what is apparently known as 'reverse parking'; the art of fitting the car in between two already parked cars. aside from the intrinsic difficulty of carrying out such parking manipulation in the first place, his hardship was dramatically increased by the fact that the only two roads where minimal traffic flow made this a practicality, featured nose to tail parking along both sides.
even when we'd managed to find a solitary space wide enough for a volkswagen polo, by the time we'd driven to the end of the street and turned for a second attempt, someone else had parked in it. on more than one occasion, we'd to drive to a neighbouring village to find an altenative.
yet carlton reid contends that roads were not built for cars.
of course, his contention is entirely correct. in this particular case, the village of bowmore was built in 1768 by campbell of shawfield, a planned resettlement for many of the retained workers of islay estate. in the mid 18th century, neither cars nor bicycles were even a twinkle in anyone's eye. thus the remarkably wide roads now infested with parked cars, were constructed thus to allow the local farmers to drive their cattle and sheep not only to market, but to the old dairy once situated in flora street.
of course, as related in chapter one "Many country roads in the 19th century were rutted in winter, dust bowls in the summer and churned with deep mud at most other times."
such is the state of national pride that several countries vye for the credit of having invented the bicycle. as a scot, i'm much in favour of backing kirkpatrick macmillan as its progenitor in 1839, also likely the first person to have been involved in a bicycle accident in 1842. as the bicycle became a more popular and accepted form of transportation, its growing number of adherents began to voice their opinion over the condition of the roads on which they were attempting to ride. this was not simply a protest confined to britain and europe; america too, brought this to governmental attention through the auspices of the league of american wheelmen. this latter organisation, as reid relates, influenced our very own cyclists' touring club, most obviously in the shape of their winged logo.
however this seems to have been a reciprocal situation, with the american good roads movement modelled on britain's roads improvement association, formed by uk cycling organisations in 1886. according to association leader, william rees jeffreys, speaking in 1949 "Cyclists were the class first to take a national interest in the conditions of the roads." this is a statement presaged by the city of brooklyn's mayor in 1896 "The bicycle has done more for good roads, and will do more for good roads in the future, than any other form of vehicle." it's a notion that might seem somewhat mysterious to the modern day cyclist.
karl benz, generally credited with being inventor of the first automobile, was granted a patent for his first internal combustion engine in 1879 and subsequently another in 1886 for his first automobile. though initially the preserve of the wealthy, the motor car had, of necessity, to travel the same roads that cyclists had campaigned to improve. and there is little doubt that many of those early motorists had cut their transportational teeth aboard a bicycle.
of course, as was the case with the bicycle, the motor car did not immediately receive great approbation from the public at large, but its ability to travel further and faster while transporting greater numbers were not totally ignored. professor of surgery and pathology at the royal college of surgeons, sir henry thompson, was quoted on the health benefits of the new-fangled motor car. "The easy jolting which occurs when a motor-car is driven at a fair speed over the highway conduces a healthy agitation... it aids the peristaltic movements of the bowels and promotes the performance of their functions."
several roads may not have improved much in the intervening century, but i can think of few cars nowadays that would confer such health benefits upon their drivers.
in almost a similar manner to stalin's rewriting of history, it appears that the motoring fraternity have buried the benefits conferred upon their vehicular industries by the early bicyclists. and over time the facts have become all but forgotten. carlton reid's substantial research portrayed throughout 'roads were not built for cars' places modernity in a more accurate light. though undoubtedly motorways, freeways and autobahns were constructed with the motor car solely in mind, all of the builders of roads in our ancient cities and villages (such as bowmore) would be horrified to see what has been imposed upon their handiwork.
it's sort of a sad realisation that roads were not built for cars will likely speak to the converted. there may be one or two conscientious motorists who will find themselves intrigued by the book's title, but it seems more than likely that the bulk of its sales will be to cyclists such as you and i, who will revel in the considerable ammunition that carlton reid has provided us with. according to carlton, the contents took him four years of research and writing, and there is little denying that it is a monumental undertaking for which he deserves our considerable gratitude.
despite my scepticism as to its extended audience, there is another aspect to the book that may be in danger of being overlooked. for within the 170,000 words there is a wealth of essential history, connections between which may very well have been ignored or neglected by bona-fide historians. despite forming the character of an educational tome, reid's style of writing is compulsive; he does not over-egg the pudding, so to speak, by dwelling on particular aspects for too long, nor does he come across as the archetypal activist, intent on demolishing the shaky edifice that is the modern motor industry (though we can but hope).
he makes a convincing case for the debt of gratitude owed by every motorist to the pioneer cyclists of the late 19th century, without the reader feeling that he awaits a public apology. and it's not all bad news if you catch my drift. the book catalogues the inventiveness of individuals such as j k starley, henry sturmey, john boyd dunlop and even karl benz. it also makes mention of the effect certain inventions such as the ball bearing eventually conferred upon the infernal combustion engine. ("In Latin, Volvo means 'I roll', a reference to ball bearings") and i even learned that between 1899 and 1930, argyll motors employed 1500 staff in a "palatial purpose-built factory in Alexandria, by the banks of Loch Lomond."
however, when all's said and done, i don't really care why you buy a copy of this book, whether it's on paper or in pixels, but buy it you must. a bit like a joni mitchell album, you're bound to find something really good that you missed last time, on every subsequent perusal. this is a major triumph for carlton reid and a perhaps less obviously, for each and every cyclist the world over.
wednesday 15 october 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................