Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Chariots of Fire

It's been a year since I've added to this blog. A couple of things have contributed to this. One is a new and very special addition to my life which can be viewed in the photo above; my Moots Mooto-X mountain bike. It has been a labour of love that I've put a lot of time both into and onto.

What's more, I've sired a progeny, Theo, who also happens to be in the photo above (he's inside that trailer or "thing"). And I bought a white car and a house with a picket fence behind which I've planted some vegetables and sometimes I listen to ABC Radio National.

And all this inside 12 months. It takes most people, like, a decade to achieve all these grown-up things. Like with many things in my life (talking, walking, sleeping, reading, maths, using analogue clocks), I lagged behind but then caught up. It's an approach that worries my parents but it seems to work for me.

Sorry mum. Sorry dad.

Anyway, I digress, or would have had I begun with the topic to which the rest of this post will be devoted.

This trailer is a recent acquisition and I've been a bit surprised by the responses of friends and family. Some people seem to have pretty strong feelings about the use of these "things". The concerns are to do with the contraption's position and stature; it's low, it's close to the ground, cars can't see it, it's dangerous.

The above photo exemplifies these people's concerns. It doesn't take much of an imagination to extrapolate this situation out to a squashed child (and that ute doesn't have number plates so he'd totally get away with it).

But if there's one thing I've learnt about parenting, it's that there are many ways to parent. And there are risks. And if you look at these ways and these risks together, you get to decisions. And decisions have outcomes. But you don't really know what the outcomes will be. They're kind of unknowns.

It all looks a bit like this:

Ways to Parent + Risks = Decisions = Outcomes = x

If there's another thing I've learnt about parenting, it's that every parent and their baby will try and tell you that they know the answer to this equation. Because they started putting their child to bed at exactly the same time every night and waking them for feeds at 3am and then waking them for breakfast at 7am and now they sleep through. And that research is based on a massive sample (one) so it must be true so do what I do or you're an idiot. Oh, and isn't he cute?

The truth is, there is is no truth. Just call me Meursault.

Anyway, I think I've digressed again.

The parent above chose to ride his bike with a child trailer in traffic. His equation might look something like this:

Free and loose + Child might get run over by car = Let's go cycling in the traffic = 
Child died OR Child did not die (sorry, I don't know the answer)

Personally, I don't ride with my child in a trailer in traffic or on busy roads. But I do ride with him on quiet streets and on bike paths and river trails. When I hear a car coming, I turn around and make sure it's seen me (this might sound unrealistic but as a cyclist you quickly learn if someone's seen you). If I fear they haven't seen me, I pull over to a safe place and shake my fist.

Still, I won't judge Mr. Free & Loose for his decision. Just because it's not my decision doesn't mean it's not the right decision. It's just a decision (Meursault again).

Then I got to thinking about Cultural Relativism. Now, I don't really know what Cultural Relativism is but I think it means that you can't judge the actions of others for, say, stoning their women, because that's how they do it in their culture.

So, clearly Cultural Relativism has some problems but I think it's interesting to think about and is at least somewhat relevant to this topic. For some reason, people in certain developed nations have decided that bicycle trailers for children are unsafe. It's like how people in Australia have decided that cycling without a helmet is dangerous. Or how people in Germany think it's acceptable to hike naked in the Alps. No one knows how these cultural-specific mores came about (or at least I don't) but about they came and here we are wearing really tight jeans and complaining that our long macchiatos aren't right.

And yet, (and slightly back on track) we allow plenty of activities that are far more dangerous to both the individual and society at large. We're allowed to drink alcohol and smoke tobacco. It's becoming normal to spend hours on end in front of the television and computer. People voted for Tony Abbott.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with these things (although there probably is). My point is, hypocrisy abounds in our world and what's considered acceptable and what's not seems in many cases to be arbitrary.

Here is a stark example of something that's OK in one culture and not in another. In Cambodia, it's OK to drive around on a motorbike with two passengers, one of whom is a baby and the other a recently-discharged hospital patient holding the previously mentioned baby in one arm and her drip-stick in the other...without helmets.

In Australia, if you ride a bicycle with an unhelmeted baby on your back you may be, according to the Herald Sun, "Victoria's most irresponsible woman".

Is this Victoria's most irresponsible woman? Probably not.

Now, I'm not advocating what's happening in either of these photos. That said, I'm not condemning the happenings either.

The same can't be said for the motorists who witnessed this couple cycling with their baby (also reported by the Herald Sun);

One witness commented, "We could not believe it...I just had to shake my head at the stupidity." It must be nice being so smart. 

For some, simply riding a bicycle with a child as a passenger is inappropriate. Pat Hines is one of them. She's the founder and director of Safe Moves, a non-profit organisation recognised (at least by itself) as the United States' leading authority on traffic safety education. Awesome!

In the video below, she states that "there is no age that a child should go on a bicycle with a parent". In reference to baby seats, she asks "who would want to take a chance of a child falling?" For me, this is not valid. The same argument could be used to denounce the use of the motor car: "Who would want to take a chance of the car crashing?" Plenty of people.

Or any other activity for that matter, for everything comes with a level of risk.

In regards to trailers. she argues that they ride low to the ground and are therefore vulnerable to being hit by cars. Of course this is true, but it ignores the fact that cyclists are not confined to the roads and that some roads are very quiet and safe.

For her, "it's almost a little bit selfish as a parent" to take a child on a bike. For me, "it's almost a little bit" patronising and sanctimonious for her to say that.

And what should you do? I don't know; that's your choice. If, as a parent, you decide this is too risky an activity, that's fine. I for one have taken the risks into account and decided this is a sufficiently safe activity. As such, I will continue towing my son as long as we both enjoy it...

My son enjoying it.


  1. I totally agree with you. People have problems with such vehicles but no one cares if there are 6 people sitting on one motorbike doing one wheeling.


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