Two Wheels, by Rob Archer, October 10, 2014

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The world is facing a huge crisis. Not just the effects of a warming climate (although it’s closely related). The energy crisis is something that is affecting all of us to some degree. Unless we’re filthy rich no-one can have failed to notice the soaring price of electricity, gas, coal, heating oil, diesel and other fuel.

The problem is that we all want to use more of it. Whereas our grandparents used such quaint contraptions as brooms, dustpans and brushes, saws and kitchen sinks, we all now need vacuum cleaners, electric toothbrushes and dishwashers.

I grew up in the seventies when ‘labour saving devices’ were the stuff of the future. It was predicted that within 20 years most homes would be fully automated – even the curtains would sense it was getting dark and close themselves!

The vision was that as everyday tasks would be done by computerised machines, everyone would have to spend less time working and would have far more time for leisure.

So what went wrong? People are working longer hours than ever and lead a more stressed lifestyle.

Because people get virtually no exercise as part of their daily lives they feel it necessary to drive a couple of miles to a gym and workout. Despite all the technology available to us today I certainly don’t seem to have any more leisure time than I did back then. The lack of exercise leads to more stress and a growing health crisis.

It was the same in transport. The Mini, launched in 1959, was a brilliant piece of design but an absolute disaster for urban transport as it was designed specifically for use around town – journeys that would previously have been made by bike or on foot.

The Mini and its successors led directly to our towns being redesigned exclusively for car-bound travellers and human-powered transport was marginalised.

Now, as we peer into the abyss of cheap fuel no longer being available we have to question the logic of replacing tried and tested human power with a machine that relies on imported fuel, particularly when travelling around town by car is now slower that it was when we all walked or cycled. The mantra ‘we have the technology, therefore we’ll use it’ whether or not it’s appropriate, now seems very hollow.

When I was in my teens it was quite normal to cycle five miles to visit friends, or to walk half an hour to school. Nowadays people ask you if you’re doing it for charity!

Perhaps it’s time we rediscovered human power – before we have no choice.