A bicycling accident, a father’s heart and a campaign for creating safe cycling routes

July 25 is going to bring a tidal wave of excruciating memories for Deborah and Thomas Harding, who lost their 14-year-old son Kadian in a bicycling accident in Wiltshire, England, on this day in 2012. On that day, when Kadian was riding on the famous downs of Wiltshire with a few family members, including his father, he was on a bicycle that had been to a cycling shop for servicing only a few hours earlier. And the accident, which involved collision with a motorised vehicle, was caused by brake failure.

Thomas Harding, an accomplished non-fiction author and journalist, has written Kadian Journal (released in e-book and hardback formats towards the end of June, this year) that is said to poignantly describe how the family has been coming to grips with the tragedy while travelling the slippery path of memories.

Harding has been praised by professional reviewers and readers first for being brave enough to discuss the painful incident and then for drawing up an unforgettable portrait of a boy, who seemed to be several notches ahead of the average fourteen-year-old. The boy was tech-savvy and particularly loved Apple products, a fascination he took to YouTube, uploading videos of himself (cute with a mop of hair flopping down his forehead) discussing some of Apple’s releases in great detail. Check out the videos under the account applefanboy98. Also visit kadianharding.com, where you’ll find an account of the construction of Kadian Observatory, a memorial — inaugurated on June 28, 2014 — by his friends at Bedales school. I am yet to get hold of Harding’s book, and my understanding of the father’s heart has largely been shaped by an article (made available at kadianharding.com) he has written about the incident and his son and an interview he has given following the launch of Kadian Journal. Kadian was born into a family that loved the bicycle, his father and mother meeting for the first time on a cycling adventure in the United States and his mother Deborah having at one point helmed the affairs of a cycling business, in fact, during the period the accident occurred. Kadian seemed to outdo their love for the bicycle, and, as his father puts down, would often chide the rest of the family for considering the car for a trip when their bicycles would do just fine. While maintaining the grief would remain insurmountable, Harding writes about having to get on the saddle of a bicycle because he believes that is what Kadian would want him to do.

The family now connects with the bicycle in an inspiring way: they are supporting Sustrans, a voluntary group from the United Kingdom that promotes healthy, economical, safe and sustainable modes of transport. Finding walking and cycling routes and making them safe through conversations with those in power are part of what they do. Sustrans has also caught the imagination of people around the world who are committed to similar goals, with its National Cycle Network, an effort that has lead to the creation of a matrix of cycle routes across the United Kingdom that together account for over 14,000 miles. A good number of these routes are believed to be free of vehicular traffic and are open only to cyclists and walkers. And the rest, constituting the major portion, are said to include minor roads and have minimal vehicular traffic.

One of the miles in the National Cycle Network has been named after Kadian, who has become the poster boy for Sustrans’ campaign for safe cycling.