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« Monday Musings | Main | You can’t spell Classic without Class »

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 is the period that the Eroica event celibates, and tries to recapture.

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.

For a few brief years there was peace and prosperity, the world economy was booming as everyone 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 ancient history people had to chase animals with a stick in order to eat and survive, life was extremely hard and there was much suffering.

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, and are constantly told, "Don't run." Watch any baby animal at play and it involves chasing each other, training for later life when they are 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 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. Squirrels and birds would come and sit close to me. 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 rode all over England, we slept in a tent, or 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. It involves physical activity, and interaction with real people.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not condemning video games out of hand. I can remember being told that Rock n’ Roll and long hair would cause the downfall of Western Civilization. It did not, and neither will video games.

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 anymore, 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. “Less is more” is a worn out cliché I know, but learning to live simply on less, rather than trying to make more, is worth considering.


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

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Reader Comments (20)

There is a formula, happiness = achievement / expectation.
You can make the left hand side larger two ways, most people go for increasing their achievements more stuff, bigger houses, faster cars (all financed by bigger debt of course leading to the pressure you describe) - OR you can reduce your expectations this has exactly the same effect. The advertisers and media want people to take the first route of course.

May 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterpeter

I agree with your closing comment, Dave: "Less is more". I'm currently trying to pare my possessions back to the bare minimum. I would get rid of the car and get around on a bike only the roads near me are, in my opinion, too dangerous. (I also have an eye problem which would probably make it less than 100% safe for me to be on the roads now.)
Anyway, I enjoy your blog. Keep writing.

May 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterStephen

I grew up in an underdeveloped country, not so long ago (I'm in my early forties). I can relate to most of the experiences you talk about here, climbing trees, playing with abandon in the streets, and even making up my own toys along with my friends. I feel a little sorry for my kids (4 and 8), who live a comfortable and worry free existence, and I have to fight hard for them not to be glued to the TV or the computer or the Ipad screen. They are active and enjoy sports, but everything they do happens in tightly controlled environments, with little room for the unexpected or the adventurous. I take them on short hikes, and try to be outside as much as possible, but it's not always possible because of my multiple obligations. We live in an exceptionally safe area and yet when they're out and about I'm constantly worried about their safety... I guess part of the problem is that we live in a perpetual state of paranoia about the relatively minuscule dangers we might face. My mom, who was very laid back when me and my siblings were little, is now as obsessed with safety as I am. It may be the media, the quick access to the bad news and terrible stories that hit us every time we start the computer or turn on the TV.
Great post, and I would love to read more about your bike touring as a teenager, that's as Golden Age as it gets.

May 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterahsere

Dave - I agree with pretty much everything you have written here.

I also find it strange that kids do not run around, just inventing games as they go. When I was a kid (in India), we used to just tell our parents that we were going to the beach, and we did - no supervision. We rode our bikes all over town. Kids these days can't do that anymore.

When I grew up, I had a really stressful job that made me great money. I got laid off, and found that in some ways that was a good thing. It allowed me to become aware of how much stress I was under, and also to realize that my career trajectory was not what was best for me physically and mentally. I now have done a few things, including manual labour - and am much happier. Even though we have much less money, we're all happier at home.

Each person has to figure out what is best for them and their family. I've come to the conclusion that without physical labour, my mental health suffers. It was not easy to make the decision to let go of the conventional ideal of 'bigger, better, faster', but not joining the race after 'more' has made my life more fulfilling.

May 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterYohann

I don't know? Look at the timing. Beginning of Rock and Roll 50s. End of the Golden era 50s.

May 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTy

My daughters are in their later 20's. The way that we raised them would be frowned on today. There was no TV in the house and limited computer access. They weren't interested anyway because outside was much more fun. Kids, dogs, bikes, and open space is all that you need.
They are both very physically active.
I am still working on it, too many years of not being active takes it toll mentally and physically.
The key for me isn't having less, but knowing what 'enough' is. Though I always need more old bikes......

May 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commenteredstainless

I think a cartoon that I saw says it all. Posted outside a restaurant a sign 'We do NOT have wifi, TRY talking to each other'

May 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Crump

Dear Dave, In my opinion, this was one of your best (of many excellent) blog entries yet. I think that you are spot on, and perhaps we are seeing a change. My understanding from listening to the news is that the Millennials seem less interested in owning cars and more interested in ride sharing. I have also heard they are less interested in owning homes when they can rent and be less tied down. I had a job where I commuted 108 miles a day (54 each way). I loved that job, but our company was acquired and shutdown. I was able to find work within 4 miles of my house, and though I took a huge cut in pay, the extra time I made back in not commuting and being able to ride my bike to work made it worth it.

May 17, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJay

I have a 20 yrs old Grandson, that his mother, whilst his Dad was away in the US Navy, let him spend almost 24/7 on the PC playing video games. Now at 20, he is shy and reserved and can not break away from the family. At 20 I was travelling and cycling all round the world like Dave.At 23 I left England for the USA I arrived in a country that I had not a clue about. Had to fend for myself, BUT made it OK well with a few bumps in the road. Now after 60 yrs in this country I see that my getting use to taking care of myself paid off. I feel like giving my Grandson, a good kick in the arse and telling to get out of the family home and get a life! But then, I would be arrested for child abuse!

May 17, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

Hope Ruined us...always has.

"Preparedness without hope."

-From Legacy of Heorot

Also, Pandora never let it out of the box. There's a reason.


May 17, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Dave -- I tried to celibate an Eroica event once, but I got screwed.

(I hope you know I'm teasing. I'm a big fan of your blog.)

The odd thing about riding.... I'm getting slower and slower, but my love of just turning the pedals and looking around is growing exponentially.

May 17, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterleroy

This is a good post, Dave.

It's odd, I have often puzzled that I personally have absolutely no memory of running as a child. The earliest memory of running I have is being made to run the mile and a half in middle school PE. It's entirely possible I ran as much as any other kid, and don't remember it because it was just natural. I should ask my parents.

May 17, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRubeRad

Hi Dave,
Kudos to John Crump's comment about the cartoon. Everyone (not all of us) would rather look at an "electronic leash" all day than go out and have a life.

May 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

When I think of my childhood, it is always associated with my bikes. My bikes allowed me wonderous adventures, solitude and freedom. Still do, today!

May 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMike C

John, sounds like you need to take your grandson on a road trip.

May 18, 2016 | Unregistered Commenteredstainless

Modern tech! As a kid in England in the 1940 & 1950s A Kodak box camera taking black and white photos was the norm. How times have changed. This a.m.kids, around 11-13 yrs walking to get on the school bus. One girl saw a dead squirrel on the sidewalk, she stops, get's her cell phone and takes a photo of it? Plus when I was young we would always chat up the young birds on the way to school NOW this group, every a.m all they do is talk on cell phones, never to one another PROGRESS???

May 18, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

I quite agree about the need for movement and unsupervised play. I'm quite concerned that kids are growing up with little experience of managing risk and making mistakes, because so many of them aren't allowed to do that.

For myself, I work in an office with a computer. So I ride to work, and I build things. I bought I TIG welder and made my own commuter bike and I made basic furniture out of sheets of plywood and so on. It's very satisfying to got from rocking up at the timber yard on my bike to buy a couple of sheets of plywood to "I made a wardrobe" over a weekend. I also have a nice commute to the office with about half of it on shared paths in parks :)

Smartphones do open up new adventures though, stuff like google maps has made it much easier to plan routes and reassure concerned family that you can get yourself out of whatever trouble you manage to find.

May 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMoz in Aus

Yes times have changed. Freedom has enabled innovation and been the vehicle for invention. Technology has changed exponentially. Basically the problem is the same. When new technology is introduced, often more time is available. We have to make a choice of what to do with the “extra” time. In many ways, this is the basic problem. I became aware of this with the replacement of the slide rule with an HP-35 calculator during my college education. No doubt, a similar state of transition occurred with the telephone.
The point is that the older generation is responsible for teaching the younger ones the impact of the change with examples. It is their choice, if given the freedom, to choose. Government, by design and operation, limits freedom. If it is too big and influential in society, it replaces the responsibility of individuals to make choices. It is a two sided coin, one side is freedom and the other is responsibility. Take away one and loose the other.
What I strive to do is recognize what freedoms I have left and to choose wisely. I like owning the choice and results. It is like building your own frame, furniture or simple choices of riding or watching the Tour on TV.

May 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commentersjx426

When I was young you used your hands to make things and your mind to create. NOW all the kids need is ONE FINGER!!!! and PC to create

May 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Crump

Leroy that's exactly how I feel. Getting slower but the love of pushing those pedals............no haste, no hassle, just fresh air and the excitement of feeling alive.

May 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony C.
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