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The Golden Age

There is a period in recent history known as the Golden Age of Cycling, during the late 1940s after WWII and into the 1950s. In countries like Italy, France, Belgium and Switzerland, professional cyclists were the super stars of their day.

It was the era when I started cycling, and I remember what a joy it was to ride a bike in England back then. In the UK there was a lot less motorized traffic, and people were in less of a hurry.

We could always ride two abreast anywhere, and it was unlikely there was opposing traffic when a car needed to pass a couple of cyclists, or even a bunch of twenty or more.

There was no honking of car horns or screaming abuse, most people had grown up riding a bike to school, or probably their first job was delivering groceries on a bike, so they could relate.

There was coexistence on the roads. It has occurred to me recently that this era was not just the Golden Age of Cycling, but it was the Golden Age, period.

There was peace and prosperity, the world economy was booming as it rebuilt after the war. There were plenty of hard manual labor jobs available, where a person could work physically hard; jobs for people of all levels of education.

Over the years life has become easier and easier, but easy does not necessarily go hand in hand with the quality of life.

Have we reached a point where our quality of life is now at a standstill or even in reverse?

At one point in history people had to chase animals with a stick in order to eat and survive; life was extremely hard.

The problem as I see it is that it took tens of thousands, if not millions of years to get from killing animals with a stick, to tying a rock on the end of the stick to make a simple tool.

Now in just the last two or three hundred years, technology has exploded and continues to develop at an ever increasing and alarming rate of speed.

Meanwhile our DNA, our bodies have not caught up with technology; we are still programmed to chase animals with a stick. We no longer have to work physically hard in order to eat; the result is we exercise too little, and eat too much.

Our children are unable to follow their basic instinct, constantly told, "Don't run." Watch any baby animal at play and it involves chasing each other; training for later life when either chasing or running away from other animals.

When I was a child our games too consisted of chasing each other, I remember I pretty much ran everywhere, two miles to school and back.

Running was effortless; it seemed my feet hardly touched the ground.  I had an iron hoop which I bowled with a stick; it is amazing how far you can run when bowing a hoop along side.

I loved to climb trees, sitting at the top of an eighty foot tree, looking out over the canopy of a wooded area, is an experience I will never forget. I cannot remember the last time I witnessed a kid in a tree.

It is a shame children and young adults cannot experience adventure. When I was fourteen I went touring on my bike with a school friend, we stayed at Youth Hostels for very little money.

Maybe the reason video games are so popular is because it satisfies a need for adventure, along with a primitive instinct to chase something.

The problem is only virtual adventure, all in the mind and there is no physical effort associated with it. Real adventure prepares one for the real world. There is now a whole generation of thirty something male video gamers, overweight and depressed.

One answer for a young person would be to take a job like construction work that is hard physical labor; or take up a sport so the exercise and training has an end purpose.

The problem is some are so stressed working to maintain a “comfortable” life style, they just want to relax after a hard day at the office, and lead a sedentary life.

If we are honest, we don’t work hard; not physically hard that is. Our minds work hard, multitasking, trying to cram a million things into our day. We rush here, we rush there. We end each day mentally exhausted, rather than physically exhausted.

Physical exhaustion means sleeping soundly at the end of the day, whereas, mental exhaustion means stress and the likelihood of being unable to sleep.

Governments are not going to change things for us; it is up to each individual to decide on his/her own lifestyle. Personally, I am constantly scaling back my life; learning to live simply on less, rather than trying to make more.


Question: What are you doing to make your life better? Not necessarily more prosperous, or easier, but a better quality of life


Reader Comments (12)

I've started riding my bike to work. I realised that driving to and from work was making me stressed, turning me into a road-raging psycho. I don't want to be a road-raging psycho! I want to be a mellow biker who takes a couple hours a day to just enjoy the world. So that's what I'm doing :)

December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Dave, well said. I especially like your suggestion that maybe it was the Golden Age period. This post is amazing in its timing, because last night I posted this on my own blog...

Sometimes the pace of life seems like trying drive 150 mph on a bumpy, twisty, two-lane county road. It's hard enough to stay out of the ditch, and the scenery is not so great either. I'm trying to slow down, schedule less, ride my bike to work more, and accomplish less, but do the right things.

December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChris


You're not alone in thes feelings. When I was the age my son is now (8) we used to ride our bikes to a store that was 3 miles away routinely during the summer. Everyday I during the summer and nice weekend days I would leave the house right after breakfast, and if my mom DID see me again it was only because it was one of those rare days when the neighborhood kids decided to play in the yard or a bunch of us tromped in demanding lunch.

Now parents hardly let their kids out of their site and my wife thinks 8 is WAY too young for him to ride his bike to school alone. When the weather is nice she'll follow my son and his little girfriend down the street to school and back - and on those days there's are the only bikes regularly in the rack. Occasioanlly there might be one or two others but not usually.

I'm doing my best to fight this trend with my kids but it's an uphill battle with all of the other neighborhood parents.

There has been some scientific study of the effect of all of this on kids recently. Read "Last Child in the Woods - Saving our Children from Nature Defecit Disorder" by Richard Louv on this very subject.


December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChris Moore

I couldn't agree more. I'm only 28 and i catch myself saying the phrase "kids these days..." My childhood was completely different than how kids are raised today. I had video games but i would only play them if there was some reason i couldn't go outside (like the weather was too bad or i was sick). I was always physically active. Now i ride my bike as much as possible and i rarely see any kids outside playing. Most of my commute is through residential streets and I'll pretty much be the only one out (except for dog walkers), even when the weather is beautiful. My two little girls are definitely active, we still are playing outside even though it's only 30 degrees.

December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRandy

I just moved from a comfortable, but not particularly interesting, situation in my hometown to live in Philadelphia with a friend from way back. I just started working for a couple of bike shops here in the city and one requires a twenty-mile daily commute, so it provides me with riding as a necessary task.

I also finally got my act together to put up a blog about the art and woodworking projects I've been making. I just started teaching myself woodworking with the ample scrap wood at my disposal in the city.

For me, improving my quality of life comes down to being mindful of what habits I'm falling into and choosing to pursue things that may be outside my comfort zone, but are ultimately rewarding.

December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Locicero

Great post, Dave, this is the problem with the world in a nutshell.

I was going to chime in that, in most places (i.e. the "developing world") most people work hard with their bodies, and in a few places people still chase animals with sticks. So this problem -- the easy-but-not-better life -- is only a problem in the "developed" world.

Then I wonder if people in the hard places aren't working even harder because people in the soft places want to live softer. My lifestyle emits 2000 times more CO2 than the average African's lifestyle. Yet who goes hungry when the next drought hits? (When was the last time I was really hungry?) And someone had to stitch together this $4 t-shirt I'm wearing...

But the weird and truly scary thing is that I just have no concept how profound that contrast might be. Our lives are so soft, we play-act mass warfare in Virtual Space just to spice it up a little. At best I'm only kind of only vaguely aware that someone has to live (and die) like that in the Real World day to day. It's like, the softness of my life has bent reality around me, tucking me into this virtual universe cocoon. What seems (and maybe should be?) hard is easy, and vice versa.

My life certainly seems hard, I work 60hrs a week and so does my wife! I go to bed mentally exhausted, I can't even follow the plot of the Simpsons by day's end. Everyone suffers ... for what exactly? Cheaper hamburgers? My extra bathroom? That $4 t-shirt? Crazy.

December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Souders

Great column. Couldn't agree more.

December 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdb

i started club riding a few years after you , 1959, but 2 abreast club runs were the norm .very little traffic on those welsh back lanes. when I was 15 a club mate and I rode around the coast of Ireland , we didnt have a map ,but as long as we kept the sea on the left hand side we would arrive back where we started ! ahh simpler times.

December 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersteve aldridge

Great post - I couldn't agree more.

I'm 48 years old, wife and I had kids a little late - they're currently 10 and 6 years old. Even though I fight it where I can, my kids have a very different childhood from what I experienced. Modern kids have way too much structure in their lives, from the way the school day is structured, to organized activities and sports afterwards.

Plus, they receive too much homework - my opinion anyway. Add in the fact many families are single parent or both parents work - leaving even less free time for kids. It's easier to sign them for something to keep busy. There's also the Boogy Man factor - kid will be abducted if out of your sight for two seconds - or the crazy notion of that anyway.

During my childhood - the ancient times of the '60s and '70s - we lived outside and roamed miles away to other neighborhoods, patches of woods, school yards, fishing, exploring, etc - on foot or by bike. Hours and hours goofing off and playing. Staying inside was due to being sick or really foul weather. Later, age 14 or so - spent hours in the woods riding dirt motorcycles with friends - now were talking real mileage from the house. A lot of great memories and experiences, that I still look fondly back on.

Also back then, very little electronic screen "entertainment". No computers, Internet, cable TV, VCRs, etc. When we did stay inside, built model cars, set up train sets and HO car sets. Read books, draw pictures, played with pets - fish tanks, mice, etc. With only a few channels on the TV, very little screen time.

Now as an adult, I try to keep some old school ideas alive in my kids, wherever I can. They walk to school and skip the SUV/mini van drop off parade. They see me bike commute year round. I ride a lot with my 10 year old son - he digs it. He also races mountain bikes and cyclocross. If my daughter becomes interested - that would be cool also - we'll see.

As parents, we encourage them to participate in various activities, but limit them a bit - as to not drive around everyday after school to somewhere - that gets crazy. Still, over the years - there's been piano lessons, karate, chess tournaments, dance lessons and basketball. A good balance of stuff with time left to be a kid to do nothing or play on their own. Then we mix in the family bike activities, some hiking and Geocaching as well.

We're lucky also, since we're swinging it on one pay, allowing my wife to be a full-time mom. I think that helps eliminate some of the modern troubles of raising kids. To do so, some sacrifices are made - all them material. We live in a small house, own 15 year old cars, etc. Still, a better trade off - no contest.

In the end, my kids don't do anywhere near the amount of free roaming I did growing up. It's just a different culture now. I hope through our hikes in the woods, shared bike rides and racing scene, as well as other outdoor adventures - they'll also have fond memories of childhood and sense of adventure themselves.

December 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDan O

Dave I think the young years of all peoples lives, leave the deepest impressions, My wife Marcia still has friends from her youger years, They get to gether and talk about the GOOD OLD DAYS, just as myself with my hobby RIDING and collecting vintage bikes from the times of my youth. I to remember walks in the fields, looking for goosgos and berries, fishing for tadpoles, I did not even drive a car untill I was 24yrs old and got over to the USA, My bike and legs took me everywhere. BUT times change, for the better? who knows. I have a grandson 13yrs old, weighs more that I do, NEVER exercises is on the bloody computer ALL day,eats Twinkies and junk food, GOOD job he lives 1k miles away OR I WOULD change his habits, BUT he can tell me how to fix this and that on the PC or the telly or any game, appliance etc, Will he get to gether with his friends still, when he is 76yrs old? We have a short time on this earth, Enjoy what you can, try do some good for others, OUR memories are all we have to leave.

December 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Crump


My sentiments too.

I grew up wandering all over the place on my bicycle. The bicycle and the public library were my two greatest loves growing up. Unfortunately in today's society we have made it difficult for the current crop of children to have the same kinds of freedom we had growing up.

FWIW I work heavy construction and cycle regularly, between the two I can sleep soundly most nights.


December 24, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter2whls3spds

Just because ppl had to hunt to survive dont mean it was "ver hard". Infact i belive it was a verry nice life for the most part. The reason mankind dint multiply much was rather that the hunter lifestyle didnt have means to feed more ppl. It was in a ecological equilibrium. When farmers started to move in from the near east and women prefering this lifestyle things changed for the worse, we multiplied and started to invent things...

Nature used to be full of game and fish in quanteties we cant really belive with modern eyes!

February 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAxel
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