Its September and the children have gone back to school!
With my newly won free time, I’ve been doing the school run. I cycled with our 8 year old to the local primary school last week and was struck by the cars and the congestion at the school gate. It was a bit like someone had arranged a Monster Truck / SUV show without first putting up posters.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of Formula 1 Grand Prix, Drag Racing and the Indianapolis 500. I just question whether its necessary to recreate this vibe in residential streets full of school children?
Here in the London commuter belt, many parents seem to think that children can not walk or cycle to school and should instead be encased in a motorised 2 tonne steel cage. This is strange. I walked or cycled the mile or so to my school every day as a child in the early 80s. As far as I can tell, England has got no more dangerous since then, despite the alarmist rubbish the media try to scare us with.
I think the climate of fear generated by the media has an impact. This may be why some parents seem to think that kids must travel in a motorised cavalcade like they are President Obama and the threat level is delta tango Red. The only other reason I can think of status, which seems like a poor reason to me.
I understand that no one wants to take risks with their children. But risk is inherent to life. Whether they like it or not, the SUV brigade are taking risks with their children. Its just that the risks are less obvious and so less emotionally powerful. There are health risks for children who grow up getting no exercise. What about the risks to children always being chauffeured by parents? Growing up as debt-fuelled, consumer suckers, avoiding the outdoors and with stunted independence? This stuff matters because we often end up unconsciously mimicking what our parents did, over the course of our lifetime.
When we have children, we fall in love with them. From then on, we are always emotionally vulnerable. The instinct to protect our children from danger (and ourselves from remorse) is powerful and primal. Human nature has not changed but our society has, becoming far more safe, affluent and convenient than our ancestors could have imagined.
We’ve got to the point where we need to make rational decisions about how we and our children can lead safe lives but where we still get exercise, fresh air and engagement with the world. The emotional desire to protect children at all costs can lead to unanticipated consequences, including obesity and an arms race where parents feel they have to drive children everywhere because everyone else is and the roads are full of stressed parents in SUVs.
So the questions should be: Why can’t children walk to school? And if the school really is too far to walk, what are our options?
Price: approx £50 – £500
Top Speed: 40 mph
Intimidation factor: 1/10
Bling factor: 1/10
The Escape Artist’s verdict: Bikes are as cheap as chips, environmentally friendly, create no congestion and deliver incredible health benefits. Bikes are not dangerous. They are way more fun than driving over short distances (less than 10miles).
Bikes are not just for kids. I always find it odd how many people worry about getting older but then address this concern by buying anti-ageing cream or beer to give themselves a temporary but self-delusional mood boost. If you are worried about getting older, riding a bike would be a good place to start. The physical benefits are great (cardio fitness, better legs, eat as much as you like) but its a mindset thing as well. Riding a bike means not allowing yourself to atrophy over time.
Mr Money Mustache has an interesting theory which is that if the bike had been invented after cars then it would be more obvious what an improvement it is over them. Bikes would then have seemed like the latest, must have lifestyle gizmo rather than something to be ditched as soon as we got rich enough to afford a car. Actually its difficult to improve on what MMM has already said on the subject of bikes here and here.
2. Skoda Fabia
Price: £9,945 – £15,700 (new)
Top Speed: 117 mph
Intimidation factor: 2/10
Bling factor: 2/10
The Escape Artist’s verdict: The Skoda Fabia does the job of delivering the kids to school surprisingly well. It can carry four children. Its reliable and starts when you turn the key. It can be bought second hand for a few thousand pounds. Generally the previous owner is likely to have used it as a motorised shopping trolley and not for doughnuts in the pub car park. As a result, they tend to be in good condition.
Fuel efficiency is excellent. The combined cycle efficiency of the Fabia Greenline is 83.1 miles per gallon. For those seeking financial independence, this matters.
The Fabia can struggle when fording huge flooded rivers and scaling 45% degree ice-covered mountain slopes. This may be a problem in the Rockies. Here in the Surrey suburbs, its fine.
3. Volvo XC-90
Price: £37,115 – £45,715
Top Speed: 140 mph
Intimidation factor: 5/10
Bling factor: 6/10
The Volvo XC90 is a mid-size luxury crossover SUV produced by Volvo Cars since it was unveiled at the Detroit Motor Show 2002. The XC90 combines car-like dynamics, MPV practicality, and tough off-road capability under one roof, plus the safety values that are synonymous with the Volvo brand.
The Escape Artist’s verdict: Volvo owners are often thought to be concerned with safety. I think this is partly true. From what I have seen, many Volvo SUV drivers are very concerned with their own safety. Everyone else’s, not so much. If they cared about everyone else’s safety, they maybe wouldn’t drive round at up to 140mph in something that weighs about a tonne more than necessary, with a stopping distance like an oil tanker.
Running costs are high and the combined cycle economy is only 34 miles per gallon
4. Porsche Cayenne
Price: £47,930 – £108,929
Top Speed: 173mph
Intimidation factor: 6/10
Bling factor: 8/10
The Porsche Cayenne is a luxury crossover SUV manufactured by Porsche since 2002.
Even the ‘entry-level’ model has a 295bhp 3.6-litre V6, while the S model has a 395bhp 4.8-litre V8. The Turbo version raises power to a staggering 493bhp and boasts a 0-62mph time of just 4.7 seconds. For diesel buyers there’s a 242bhp 3.0-litre V6, and a storming 377bhp 4.2-litre V8.
The Escape Artist’s verdict: Lets be honest, this is not the most economic choice. Fuel efficiency is poor: the petrol V6 gets only an average of 25.2mpg. However, the Porsche Cayenne really delivers in the bling department. If you want to spend £100k on a large shiny metal box with a picture of a horse on the front, this could be perfect for you.
Price: Unarmored: $65,000 Armored: $140,000
Top Speed: 70mph
Intimidation factor: 8/10
Bling factor: 5/10
The Escape Artist’s verdict: Without aircon, CD player and leather seats, the Humvee’s interior can seem a little spartan in comparison with the Volvo and the Porsche.
On the positive side however, Humvees usually hold up well against lateral rocket propelled grenade (RPG) attacks, when the blast is distributed in all different directions. Unfortunately they offer less protection from blast below the truck, such as buried improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and land mines.
Fortunately, available armour upgrade kits include the Armor Survivability Kit (ASK), the FRAG 5 & 6 and the M1151. The ASK adds about 450 kg to the weight of the vehicle. These armour upgrades can make the Humvee somewhat thirsty in its fuel consumption and the steering rather heavy when reversing into those tricky parking spaces. But if you really want to show the other parents at the school gate that you are serious about your child’s safety, the extra $75,000 could be a price worth paying.
6. Apache attack helicopter gunship
Top Speed: 205mph
Intimidation factor: 10/10
Bling factor: 8/10
The Boeing AH-64 Apache is a four-blade, twin-engine attack helicopter with a tailwheel-type landing gear arrangement, and a tandem cockpit for a two-person crew. The Apache’s mix of armaments includes: 16 x Hellfire missiles, 76 x 2.75 CRV-7 rockets, 4 x air-to-air missiles rockets, a 30mm chain machine gun with 1,200 rounds, as well as a state of the art, fully integrated, threat identification system.
The Escape Artist’s verdict: The Apache attack helicopter features a nose-mounted sensor suite for target acquisition and night vision systems. It can classify, prioritise and eliminate up to 256 potential targets in seconds. For those times when only the best will do for your children.
Which would you choose?