July 2nd 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY CFA dispute may end up burning Victorian Labor electorally

CANBERRA OBSERVED July 2: Independence Day or Groundhog Day?

EDITORIAL Expect shockwaves as Britain votes on EU exit

CLIMATE CHANGE Coral bleaching way overdone by reef saviours

EUTHANASIA Victorian report closer to truth in dissenting voices

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Trump v Clinton race revealing of state of U.S.

SEXUAL POLITICS Transgenderism and the triumph of marketing

EDUCATION Deconstruction and other rot at school

POLITICS AND ECONOMICS Two heretics: Hilaire Belloc and R.H. Tawney

FREE SPEECH From disagreement to discrimination: section 18C

LITERATURE Tolkien, Golding and Hell

SOCIETY New lease on life for freedom machine

MUSIC AND ENTERTAINMENT Talent shows grind down singers, grind out drivel

CINEMA Puppet people pull the plug: Me Before You


BOOK REVIEW Friendship under fire

Books promotion page

New lease on life for freedom machine

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, July 2, 2016

The earliest form of motive power was the human leg. The human leg was powered by nothing except muscle. If those muscles became defective, one could not move easily. In a hunter-gatherer band, that could cost you your life because you slowed down the band.

To avoid that bleak outcome, two courses of action were open. You could, by training, go “faster, higher, stronger” – as the Olympic motto goes – and make the muscle more efficient; or you could enhance human muscle power by harnessing an animal. Animals, however, have extensive downsides. They need to be fed, watered and their waste disposed of. They also require some form of harness or carriage. Eventually they die, often in harness, which is inconvenient, as their remains have to be removed. Many varieties of animals have been conscripted for transport purposes, among them oxen, horses, goats, mules, donkeys and dogs.

A third course of action was to adopt mechanical means. If you could gear up the motive power of the leg mechanically, animal power, the proximate alternative, could be replaced.

Only trouble was it took centuries for entrepreneurs, inventors and manufacturers to perfect a practical, human-powered alternative to animal power. But by the 1880s, a machine for personal use that could carry the rider swiftly, comfortably and in reasonable safety, and that could be manufactured economically and in large numbers had been perfected. That machine is the bicycle.


Bicycles are classified as medium-level manufactured goods. The world’s largest manufacturer of bicycles is Giant of Taiwan. It has manufacturing plants in Taiwan, the Netherlands and China. Giant’s turnover is $2 billion annually and it is listed on the Taiwan Stock Exchange. Its headquarters are in Taichung, in central Taiwan. Founder King Liu, now in his 80s, is still in charge.

Giant’s big breakthrough came in 1977, when chief executive Tony Lo negotiated an OEM – original equipment manufacturing deal – with Schwinn of the United States, a world-leading bicycle brand. Eventually, Giant was supplying two-thirds of Schwinn’s sales. Then in 1987 Schwinn began sourcing bicycles from Shenzhen in southern China, leaving Giant out in the cold. Giant set out to market its own brands and now produces over 6 million bicycles a year. Its decision to go up market and diversify has paid off in spades.

Merida is another Taiwan success story. Merida’s headquarters are in Chunghua County, in southern Taiwan. Merida reported profits of $150 million last year, manufacturing its own brands – in excess of 2 million bicycles in five factories in Taiwan, Germany and China. Merida is runner-up to Giant in Taiwan’s competitive bicycle market. Merida, like Giant, sponsors racing teams around the world.

Giant and Merida are Taiwan success stories. They have ridden the resurgence of the bicycle like an eagle riding a thermal.

Taiwan was once the “Kingdom of Bicycles”. Until about 1980, bicycles were a major means of transportation, not recreation, in Taiwan. Then the motor scooter took over. Taiwan’s narrow alleys and lanes were not designed for cars, but people bought them anyway. Bicycles went on the scrapheap.

Then something miraculous happened. Bicycles turned out to be “the once and future king”. People began riding bicycles again. It’s far easier to get through the bumper-to-bumper Taipei traffic on a bicycle than it is in a taxi. Taiwan’s politically influential taxi drivers must also cope with Uber, which the authorities are attempting to squash with huge fines. Curtis Smith, English specialist at the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA), Taiwan’s equivalent to Austrade, rides a bicycle in Taipei. Besides being relatively inexpensive to buy, bicycles are cheap to run; plus they enhance fitness.

In Taiwan, the revival of bicycles is convergent with the emergence of tourism as a major earner. For many years, the authorities in Taipei had neglected tourism as a service industry. Finally, the government realised that tourism provides revenue and jobs, and tourism has since exploded. One key component of tourism is the promotion of cycling in rural and regional Taiwan. Professional cycling is gaining a foothold too, with the Tour de Taiwan being held over five days in March this year.

Taiwan is not the only country rediscovering the benefits of cycling. For many years, China’s “Flying Pigeon” brand was the government’s approved means of transport. A Flying Pigeon bicycle, a watch and a sewing machine were the three tokens of a frugal but comfortable life. The Flying Pigeon may not have been luxurious, but it was reliable and dependable. In a rigidly egalitarian society such as China, the Flying Pigeon was something to which all could aspire to own, after much hard work.

Of course, it is fair to say that China’s middle class now aspires to car ownership. But bicycles are still making a comeback. In Shanghai, one of China’s biggest conurbations, a bicycle is much more practical than a car. The Shanghai city government at one time banned bicycles from the city centre, but now they are returning.

Elsewhere, too, the bicycle is proving useful. Xi Hu, known as West Lake, is one of mainland China’s most beautiful scenic attractions. West Lake has been a favourite recreational destination for the Chinese leadership, including Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. The lake is in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, and is only around 6.5 square kilometres in area. The local authorities have come up with an ingenious bike rental scheme: if you can cycle around West Lake in less than two hours, you get your money back.

In much of the interior, bicycles never went out of fashion; or, should we say, compared with the little tractors the farmers use for transport, they are far more sensible. In a generation, the bicycle has gone from necessity to embarrassment to a utilitarian means of transport.

Local push on bikes

Councilor Jackie Fristacky is a former Mayor of Yarra. She has recently returned from a tour of Asia to investigate the resurgence of the bicycle. The City of Yarra comprises Collingwood, Richmond, Fitzroy and North Carlton; it is the brainchild of former Premier Jeff Kennett’s municipal reorganisation. These older inner-city suburbs, made famous in books such as Power without Glory by Frank Hardy and My Brother Jack by George Johnston, are well advanced on a process of gentrification. You are now more likely to run across a lawyer in Bridge Road than a labourer.

Cr Fristacky says that bicycle use in Australia is growing by 10 per cent a year. Rather than the barebones “Malvern Star” two-wheelers of the 1960s, basic bicycles now have 10-speed derailleur gears and other add-ons as standard.

Pioneer American pro-life feminist Susan B. Anthony called bicycles “freedom machines” because of the freedom of mobility bicycles gave women.

Bicycles were completely banned from the streets of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, until 1992. Cyclists there must have a bicycle licence, issued only after an exam is passed. Bans on women cyclists ebb and flow. The North Korean authorities say that women are genetically incapable of handling traffic and are therefore too dangerous to be let loose on the streets as cyclists.

Bicycle share schemes, which give people the freedom to travel quickly around built-up areas, work well in many parts of the world, but not in Melbourne. Both Taipei and Barcelona, similar in size to Melbourne, have successful bicycle share schemes. Cr Fristacky, who claims that the City of Yarra is Australia’s “premier cycling city”, notes that, according to Census data, in the City of Yarra 33 per cent of riders cycling to work are women, Australia’s highest percentage of women cyclists.

Cr Fristacky says the push for better facilities, such as bicycle lanes, is coming from the ground up. Cyclists see value in their “freedom machines”. Yet, despite the proliferation of bicycle lanes, participation rates have stalled. The Federal National Cycling Strategy, released in 2011, aimed to double the number of people cycling by 2016 but failed to deliver on this pledge. These ad hoc policies are unlikely to gain political traction unless governments can see some economic benefit in promoting bicycles.

In Singapore, the government is encouraging bicycles to take pressure off the crowded island-wide Mass Rapid Transport system, which is reaching the limits of its capacity. Car ownership in Singapore is discouraged by punitive taxation. Bicycle ownership, which has been stagnant for a generation, will be encouraged as an integral plank in plans to reshape Singapore’s traffic management system.

Yarra is an inner-city area. Residents accept bicycles as a legitimate form of transport. Many potential cyclists are discouraged by the evident disregard for their safety shown by other road users. A perception exists that bicycles are dangerous and that the authorities don’t care. Bicycles aren’t politically sexy, although bicycles are both efficient and economical. Human motive power is a legitimate alternative to the internal combustion engine.

Bicycles need a push to get up a bit of speed when it comes to the political process. Though the 10 per cent annual growth rate that Cr Fristacky claims is a rate many other activities would envy. Now and again, newspapers will run a competition between a runner, a cyclist and a car driver to see who can get home to the suburbs first. The cyclist always wins.

In the round of international bicycle industry trade shows, three stand out: Eurobike in Germany; the Taipei International Cycle Show; and the Interbike International Expo in Las Vegas. These international shows are where the cycling industry displays its wares. From the child-friendly two-wheeler with trainer wheels to the high-tech carbon-fibre racer worth tens of thousands, there is something for everyone in the bicycle world.

In some parts of Africa and in India, a bicycle is still something to aspire to; in Australia, the bicycle world combines lycra-clad racers with teenagers on sturdy mountain-bikes. But the idea is the same – leveraging human muscle power to provide faster, safe, reliable transport.

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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