Covid lockdown: Cycling has taught me a simple philosophical lesson about how to deal with re-opening of society – Professor Joe Goldblatt

My right foot gently pressed upon the pedal when I felt a sudden sinking feeling deep inside my stomach.

Joe Goldblatt's new tricycle comes with seven gears, helping to smooth out some of Edinburgh's hills

As I struggled to turn the wheel to carry me and my co-pilot CoCo to the Meadows, the pedal crashed to the pavement. I dismounted my beloved yellow steed and walked, albeit slowly and carefully, to a nearby cycle repair service.

The owner recognised my sad face through the dusty window of his small shop and came to my immediate aid. He knelt down next to my pedal and then with a grave voice looked up at me and announced: “I am afraid that it is gone.”

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For one of the rare times in the life of a man who has given thousands of speeches, lectures and media interviews, I was speechless. Losing my yellow travel companion was similar to losing a a cherished friend or family member. My heart sunk as I wondered what to do next.

The cycle repair mechanic consoled me by suggesting that “it could be welded, but there is no guarantee it will last. Why not get a new tricycle this time?”

Sometimes old friends are the best and the thought of replacing this tricycle with a new one filled me with despair. I thanked the mechanic and said: “Let me think about it.”

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My co-pilot and I then withdrew to a nearby park where we played ball to help heal our immediate wounds of despair. I glanced at the yellow trike once again and soon agreed with the mechanic that it was time to put my old friend down and enter the brave new world of a modern, state-of-the-art, one-year guaranteed, adult tricycle.

Upon returning home, I spent hours on line studying all of the latest styles of adult tricycles and was particularly intrigued with one that offered a “seven-speed gear shift” that promised to help smooth out the rough hills in my future.

My co-pilot and I had struggled with hills and neighbourhoods such as Stockbridge and Cannonmills as well as Holyrood Park. The hills in these areas would strike fear of cardiac arrest into our hearts.

I soon placed my online order and to my surprise, a few days later a giant carton arrived at my home. I peaked inside to confirm that it was indeed a yellow tricycle and also managed to extract the assembly instruction manual. When I realised that the manual was nearly 30 pages in length I quickly closed the carton and sought professional help.

Because of the increased popularity of cycling in Edinburgh, it was very difficult to find a cycle business that would agree to assemble my tricycle within the next week. However, after calls to four different firms I finally found success in Leith. The owner said he was happy to receive my carton and would have the trike assembled by the next afternoon.

When I collected my fully assembled trike I asked for guidance regarding the use of the seven-speed gear shift. The mechanic said: “It’s a piece of cake. When you begin to climb, down shift.”

I immediately recognised this instruction as a metaphor for the times we are now about to experience as a result of the announcement that our so-called ‘independence day’ from the virus is on the horizon.

Throughout my long life, I have often seen hills and hurdles as challenges that were meant to be surmounted with hard work and much additional effort. However, through my new tricycle and its remarkable seven-speed gear shift, I now see those same inclines as, in fact, mere obstacles that simply require a shift in my thinking and subsequent behaviour.

Therefore, when I am instructed by government leaders and their scientific advisers to use my own best judgement to deal with the virus in the future, I am prepared to immediately downshift my thinking to analyse how to best navigate my uncertain future. This downshift in my thinking will help me to perhaps reduce my efforts in terms of worry, frustration and risking making a fatal mistake for myself and others.

So when I am given the opportunity to follow our fearless leaders over the next hill, I will only do so if I have the freedom to shift gears from time to time and even, if necessary, turn around and return to my starting point to further consider what I might find on the other side before travelling any further.

To my surprise and delight, the seven-speed gear shift is a miraculous device that I easily mastered and allows me to down shift into an easier climb, time after time.

We may thank Monsieur Paul De Vivie (also known as Velocio) of France for inventing the derailleur cycle gear shift in 1905 that uses a shifter, chain and cogs to allow the rider to enjoy an easier and smoother ride. Although I have lost my original tricycle that introduced me to the true joy of cycling, my new machine has taught me something even more important.

I have learned that the seven gears upon my handlebar are under my control. I may shift gears whenever I wish. If I do this well, my ride will be smoother and easier.

Now, I am prepared to listen to our leaders and scientific experts and simultaneously practice ‘carpe diem’ (seize the day) by holding firmly with both hands my future direction and with my right hand upon the gear shift, determining how and when I shall arrive at my next destination.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is emeritus professor of planned events at Queen Margaret University and he and his dog CoCo may be seen on a daily basis tricycling and shifting gears in the Meadows. To learn more about his views and read his personal memoir visit

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