How many times have you heard someone claim that a certain thing or subject was indeed, the Golden Age of…..etc etc? I heard it said the other day. Someone was referring to the golden age of music when the recording of music in studios was on magnetic tape. He went on to criticise the current digital era and boldy stated that some people have no right to claim musicianship whilst recording in their bedrooms on their laptops. I’m not sure that he felt better after his rant, although he had probably just convinced himself further of his own opinion.
In contrast to the above critical example, people also use the term as one of fondness for the past and in a wholly positive way, even recognising that a particular golden age paved the way for the age of today. Doing a bit of research regarding the origin of the term, it turns out that it hails from Greek mythology, and has been referenced ever since to illustrate periods of great achievement or advancement. Thinking about it, and apart from Mr Grumpy that I mentioned above and his opinions regarding recording music on tape, the term is wholly positive. Have you ever heard anyone say “Oh yes, that was the golden age of war, or pandemics, or sexually transmitted diseases”. No, I think not.
I’m sure that everyone has some sort of personal ‘golden age metaphor’ for something that they are passionate about. Just type ‘golden age’ into YouTube and see what you get. You’ll be watching video clips of all sorts of stuff all day long. History does run in certain cycles and this urges some people to use the term of ‘golden age’ as part of a prediction, like saying “we are on the verge of the golden age of…..etc etc”. There is a famous film called The Golden Age, which I have not seen. There are songs that carry the title, and a book that carries the term as a title, which is apparently, “A medieval saga with political intrigue reminiscent of Game of Thrones, making The Golden Age an epic graphic novel duology from Roxanne Moreil and Cyril Pedrosa about utopia and revolution…’ this book doesn’t really appeal to me, but you get my point about how well used this term is and the various contexts.
So where’s the cycling link to the Golden Age term then? I have a really great book on my shelf entitled ‘The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles’. It is a great book that includes pages of iconic bikes from the period 1910 to 2003, and which were all built by the masters of bicycle making. As an example of how we use the term in cycling, the golden age of mountain biking is commonly seen as the early days of the Repack Gang in 1970s USA, and the introduction of cross country races was in the 1980s, and of course, the Freeride era took the 1990s by storm, and the……etc etc. Depending on how old someone is and what they were doing on a bicycle in the past, the golden age of cycling varies vastly.
However, take the well-celebrated golden age of 1990s Freeriding where riders were leaping off really big things on bikes that invariably broke and with equipment that didn’t really provide the level of protection required. This meant wrecked ‘pride-and-joy-bikes’ and some pretty serious injuries, but this isn’t really remembered in the context of “oh yes, that definitely was the golden age of mountain biking”. Talk to 50 cyclists about what their view is of the golden age of cycling, and you’ll get at least 25 different versions.
The Rough Stuff Fellowship, hailed as the oldest off-road cycling club in the world ever, have produced a number of really great books that include fabulous photos of cyclists doing their off-road cycling adventures from many decades past. Looking at the photos illustrating simple freedom and exploration without buying a ton of cycling gear and equipment, it certainly captures several golden ages of cycling. There is also a book called ‘A Golden Age of Cycling: A Gentleman’s Adventure on Two Wheels, 1924-1933. This title captures not only the term, but also includes reference to a person as well as a specific period in time. I haven’t read it, but looking at the 7 reviews on Amazon scoring maximum points, readers have enjoyed being transported back to the ‘good old days’ without the inconvenience, pain and discomfort of actually riding a bicycle back then.
I read an article in the web pages of the European Cycling Foundation, and which was the first time I’d ever heard of the organisation, where they referred to the UK Government’s plans to introduce a revolutionary scheme to overhaul cycling in England, and which will of course, create a new golden age. Whilst the claims of improving health and mental well being support the approach, I’m not sure that this new golden age has been completely accepted or embraced by the masses, yet. However, the term golden age has been used in a positive and predictive way, so some recognition should be made.
Whilst we haven’t escaped the current pandemic, a lot of people, me included, will look back on the last year and days of being forced to work from home, not having to do any commuting, and being able to go for a quick mountain bike ride instead of having lunch, as a memorable age, but not a golden age. It also wasn’t about the golden age of the bike, it was more about being able to ride the bike more.
Whilst I’m happy to ride anything with two wheels, petrol/electric engine or pedal powered, I will point out that in my own opinion, we are already in a golden age, and one which as yet, has not been wholly embraced or recognised by every cyclist or non-cyclist. It is the advent of electric assistance in the form of the ebike. If you are a bicycle manufacturer and do not currently have a full range of ebikes from commuter to hybrid to mountain to gravel, and a pipeline of future innovations, you’re not going to get the business growth that the market leaders in this field will get, which means an end to your company’s own golden age. Big research budgets are being piled into electric assistance. Fact.
Whilst the cycling industry has spent years developing aerodynamics, lighter and stiffer bikes that change gear using electronics, we haven’t seen the paradigm shift in technology that is being made right now in the ebike world, which is slowly attracting much larger groups to cycling other than the Lycra-clad sport approach. I think this is a good thing as it will help sustainability, keep the healthy people healthy, and will also get a percentage of some of the unhealthier people onto a bike.
Anyway, welcome to the golden age of cycling innovation! Whether you are on the latest Carbon time trial bike or a commuter that pulls the kids trailer up a steep hill that you would never have got up without that electric motor, embrace the golden age now, and then you’ll also be able to look back on it as your own personal, enjoyable and historical golden age?
All photos by the Author