Has the lockdown led to a new relationship with roads?

Traffic was reduced to 1950s levels in lockdown. Now it’s back, but has the balance changed? Andy Richardson and Dan Morris went out to gauge the mood.

Andy Richardson: Roaming free on two wheels

When lockdown started, I did two things. First – and let’s get the madness out of the way before we go any further – I bought a bowling machine and a cricket net so that I could spend long afternoons smashing a cricket ball around the back garden.

In the absence of professional sport and trips to Worcestershire or Edgbaston, back yard cricket came into play.

The second was to buy two bikes: one for She Who Must Be Obeyed and one for me, to replace the slowly rusting racer that’s stayed in the shed for the past 10 years.

It was left there following a successful ride from John O Groats to Land’s End in just nine days. At the time, I remember thinking how slow and easy it had all been – oh, to be able to ride that far now.

Andy Richardson

I hate cycling. It’s unsafe. Bikes and cars occupy the same stretch of road and in that vehicular contest there’s only ever one winner.

Oh, and then there’s the roads themselves. Habitually pot-holed and riven with cracks. Then there’s the saddle sores, the dirt, the idiot motorists who think it’s funny to shout/buzz/drive too close. Oh, and the weather.

On one recent ride, I abandoned plans for a 25-mile round trip as a 25mph headwind made me feel like a piece of straw.

When I returned home, a Twitter pal had posted about one of his cyclist friends who’d literally been blown off and had to be scooped up by a passing van. There’s the rain, too, that make surfaces greasy. There are so many things not to like about cycling, it’s a wonder anyone ever gets their bike from the shed.

Lockdown highways

But. And it’s a big but. Cycling during the pandemic is incredible. The roads are – or, rather, were – free of traffic. And so you can coast downhill at 35mph without having to worry about what’s coming up behind you.

Some of the countryside across our region is breath-taking and on Sunday mornings at 8am you have it all to yourself. There’s something decidedly zen about hitting the road for a long, three-and-a-half-hour ride, too.

Fine, you can’t ascend the stairs when you get home, but such endurance provides plenty of time for reflection and thought. As a way to boost mental health as well as physical fitness, cycling has got it licked.

Cycling has been one of the few pastimes to benefit during Covid-19.

Bike shops are rushed off their feet – the chances of booking a service to recondition an old bike are virtually nil, they’re all too busy.

The boom is not just happening in the UK, but internationally. An industry that has not been buoyant for the past five or six years is suddenly enjoying it’s best phase since the Brits started winning the Tour de France and Olympic Gold medals.

The interesting question now is whether it will last? The environment has been given an essential break by Covid-19; if planners and Government officials encourage more people to cycle, those positive effects can last far longer.

The lockdown has also made society a little kinder and more considerate, and that has extended to the roads. When the roads were quiet, motorists seemed patient and accommodating. Now, as we get back to that ‘new normal’ I fear cyclists will also become simply an annoyance once again.

Daniel Morris: Cruising on the highways

I’ve never described myself as a massive petrol head, but in the world that I inhabit, I’m one of the few who isn’t.

My father is a car nut through and through, and has been since he’s been old enough to hold a spanner. One of my best mates sells them for a living, while another is a trained mechanic. A close bud of mine is a big purveyor of classic motors, while another of my nearest and dearest pals is a keen biker, stock car racer, restoration enthusiast and general motoring Del Boy.

The buzz of motoring has surrounded me for a long time, and I’ve always casually enjoyed the world of cars. But I’ve never been one to just jump in my motor purely for the love of driving.

Until, however, about a week ago ...

Upon realising I hadn’t driven (and I mean at all) for the entire duration of lockdown, I thought it was probably about time to put the pedal to the metal. Admittedly, this was really to give the car a chance to clear its throat and get some exercise rather than for any enjoyment for myself. Or at least that’s how it started ...

After not being behind the wheel for over two months, I’ll admit I took things pretty cautiously to begin with – hands at 10 and two like a very good boy indeed.

But a few miles in I began to relax, smile and actually realise how much I’d missed driving. And the best part of all, traffic was virtually non-existent.

I was also amazed that, even with lockdown easing, the roads were quiet. Sure, where I live out in the sticks is hardly bustling, but even so, lockdown had reduced Her Majesty’s highways to something reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic Hollywood yarn starring the likes of a leather-clad Mel Gibson.

My grin grew wider – the shades were on, the horizon was mine, and I just kept on driving.

Dan Morris enjoyed taking his motor for a spin after a lockdown driving break

What I’d intended to be a quick half-hour spin turned into a two-hour jaunt that did a lot to clear my head. With the radio on full blast I’d enjoyed most of the Heart 80s back catalogue by the time I made it back to the ranch, and afterwards, felt the most relaxed I had in weeks.

I’d never driven for pleasure, but now I know why people often do. Driving can be an incredible stress reliever – almost as good as bashing away at a drum kit – and as long as it’s done safely it can be a fun pastime.

Will I continue to drive for fun when the Covid-19 crisis is over? Well, that’s the question. Many more cars are already starting to get back on the road, with many drivers who – like me – perhaps haven’t been behind the wheel for a decent stretch for a long time.

We’ll all need to be careful, considerate and look out for each other. But as long as we do, the road in a post-lockdown world can be a safe place.

There is of course also no escaping the fact that fewer cars on the road is better for the environment – and for this reason I’ll keep any pleasure driving to a minimum.

Cars of course are not the only way to enjoy the road, as this pandemic has indeed shown. Cycling is a pastime that has long been favoured by many in my neck of the woods, myself very much among them. As a lad, my chrome-clad velocipede was the valiant and faithful steed that would take me anywhere. In adulthood, jumping on my bike has remained one of my favourite fair-weather activities not involving a beer garden. Cycling is a fantastic way to exercise, socialise, see a bit of the countryside and in general appreciate the world around you.

Environmentally friendly as well as being generally good for the heart, it has motoring beaten on a number of levels, and – like pleasure driving – can be a magnificent stress reliever.

I hope that people who have recently discovered a love for it will continue to cycle once the coronavirus crisis has abated. It would be nice to think that those who have connected with a way to keep fit and get around will keep this up – and that we can all learn to share the roads safely.

But of course with this, as all things at the moment, only time will tell ...

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