Saturday 11 August 2012

So who is Kierin, anyway?

The Olympics - and team GBs proficiency at the cycling events - have generated a rather odd phenomenon. Which I have termed expertise by association.

I shall explain.

Clearly lots of people are excited by the Olympic cycling since we won lots of races. But most people have no idea about the format or rules of these cycling races, which can look quite confusing. My friends and family then decide that, because I cycle, I must be au-fait with finer points of the sport. And I get asked questions. It hasn't occurred to them that I use my cycle to go to the shops and visiting people instead of in a velodrome. I admit that I sometimes put on my tracksuit and huff and puff around London on the cycle in an effort to get fit (a futile effort since I invariably come home hungry and longing for a curry). But I think this scant qualification to be classed "an expert".

My mother asked me the other day about the rules concerning Kierin*. I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about - I actually thought for a while that she was talking about someone called Kierin. I explained to her that since she had watched a Kierin she probably had much more knowledge about the sport than me, who had never heard of it, or seen it, before she mentioned it. And this is my mother. Who, frankly, should know better than most my relationship to any type of sporting endeavour (I enjoy the types of sport where others play it and I watch it, preferably in a pub).

It amuses me that, because I happen to cycle, I am assumed to be an expert on the cycling sporting world. The fact that cycling as a sport has only a very passing interest for me seems to confuse. But do all people who drive know about motorsport? The assumption that I understand Kierin is analogous to assuming that my mother will understand the finer points of Nascar because she drives to the shops.

I think this confusion between cycling as a sport and cycling as a transport option arises because cycling is considered a hobby, something that only the super fit or slightly eccentric indulge in. Therefore if one cycles one must be really into it. Thankfully attitudes are changing, especially in London where a more diverse range of people are tend to use the cycle to get around, but the assumption still persists, especially in my mother's generation.

But the confusion between cycling as a transport option and as a sport and hobby is understandable when politicians appear to make the same mistake

For example, Boris' olympic cycling legacy was launched on Friday. A two day extravaganza of cycling including a kind of souped up "sky-ride" and cycling races around London. Which is all very nice, but hardly much of legacy for cycling as a transport option. Unless Boris thinks that I can wait a year to do my shopping until he shuts the roads for a day or so. 

Any Olympic legacy that helps cycling as a transport option seems rather distant. I am not an ardent believer in segregated cycle infrastructure, but a legacy where streets were started to be treated as places for people as opposed to conduits for traffic would be a legacy. Some courageous decisions on how our roads work would be a legacy. Slowing traffic to facilitate walking and cycling would be a legacy. An event that allows people to ride their cycles on pleasant roads for 1 day a year isn't a legacy, it is more a "here is what you could have won" if those involved in planning our roads weren't quite so beholden to traffic smoothing and grew some kahunas to implement some of those platitudes and aspirations they spout about cycling.

* Note : I know that Sir Chris Hoyle won the Kierin and so we should be pleased about this event, but any sport whose rules are so lax that they allow one of the competitors to sneak in with a motorbike really needs to take a good look at itself. For most of the race the competitor who had fitted the motor was in front, as you would expect, and it was starting to get a bit like a procession. Thankfully, in the race I saw, the sneaky motorcyclist careered off the track - presumably with engine trouble or something - with only two laps to go to allow those competitors who hadn't stretched the rules a shot at Gold.  

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