Who wore it stupider? Comparing Hosking and Hawkesby on cycling

Newstalk ZB listeners were treated to not one but two absurd opinion pieces from the hosts this morning, on a modest new government proposal to get kids cycling.  

There’s a rumour about Newstalk ZB’s ratings that perhaps explains a lot about their hosts’ opinions. The station first really boomed in the early 90s, coinciding with the mass importation of Japanese cars. A lot of these cars had radios that only reached 90FM on the dial. And both Newstalk ZB and Mai FM, which in Auckland both sit below 90FM, have become long-term powerhouses as a result, or so the theory goes.

Whether or not it’s true, it would appear the morning hosts on ZB believe with every fibre of their being that the only people they ever talk to are car drivers. Mike Hosking went so far as to describe bike-promoting minister Julie Anne Genter as “highly highly unusual” for daring to hold such views. “She is not like us, thank the good Lord,” he declared.

What could Genter have possibly done to warrant such vitriol? Ostensibly, it was that she had announced $32 million in funding so that tens of thousands more kids could get access to bikes, helmets, safety gear and biking lessons. In the grand scheme of government spending, it’s a drop in the bucket. But to Mike Hosking, it was a horrifying example of government overreach.

The teaching part was the most frightening bit for Hosking, and it’s worth quoting at length to really get a sense of the towering intellect we’re dealing with here. “I would argue if you can’t ride a bike, then stay off it. Because there is a saying, and the saying is “it’s like riding a bike”. And the reason that’s a saying is because its reference is that riding a bike is easy, which it is. Which then means if you find it hard, you’re not a natural, and if you’re not a natural, then biking isn’t for you.” The real lesson here is that you should never try or practise at anything – an odd position to take from a fellow who insists that everything he has achieved has been the result of hard work.

What made this even more incredible was that it wasn’t even the first attack on the policy for the day. That honour belonged to Kate Hawkesby, host of Early Edition. And while Hosking’s piece was a masterclass in blunt opinioneering, Hawkesby’s set a new standard in easily answerable rhetorical questions and concern trolling. Here are just a few of her many questions:

Whose responsibility is it when the kid falls off that bike and gets injured? (Presumably the child – teach them personal responsibility.) Who’s liable when the bike gets nicked? (Just follow the exact same process as every other case of theft.) Who fixes the bikes when they break? (Children are capable of learning new skills, like bike repair.) Are teachers now being trained as bike mechanics too? (Teachers are also capable of learning new skills.)

Her concern is of course motivated most of all by the fact that taxpayer money is being misspent – it would be better used alleviating child poverty. And she’s absolutely right that it’s tough out there for a lot of people, especially with petrol prices being so high. Imagine if there was some form of transport that was free.

Both pieces found common ground in a reference from Julie Anne Genter to the 80s, when more than half of kids walked or cycled to school. The scoffing in unison at this was remarkable. Mike biked, but he also walked because he couldn’t always manage to bike with his bags. And Kate said “you can’t date stamp an entire decade of history and hark back to it. It’s not how the world works. We’ve moved on. Moved forward.”

But have we really moved forward? Air pollution in Auckland is worse than it should be, and that’s put down to traffic. Childhood obesity figures are also not great, and it has even become “normalised” according to one expert. It would make a lot of sense to give kids every opportunity to add some exercise into their day to day lives. Simply put, every single car on the road that gets replaced by a bicycle makes for an ever so slightly better world. But how dare any steps ever be taken towards getting people out of cars? That could mean a loss of listeners.

The most tragic part of all of this is the timing. Morning rush hour traffic is always bad in Auckland, but it gets a lot worse during the school term when parents have to drive their kids all over the place to get them to school. And today, as reported on Newstalk ZB, the motorways were a nightmare.

A lot of the people stuck in that traffic will have had their radios tuned to Newstalk ZB. And they will have heard all about how stupid it is to try to get kids into cycling, how cycling is unrealistic because now all the roads are too congested, and how it is all a waste of money. As the drivers sat there, burning petrol but not moving, one wonders if the irony was lost on them.


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