Why ride?

Thorn Audax Mk3 on a Autumn ride over SaddleworthCycling is enduring a bit of a torrid time at the moment. While the collective consciousness of the professional peleton may have been pricked by a syringe of EPO, the crashes involving clean pro rider Bradley Wiggins and Sky coach Shane Sutton have thrown the spotlight on safety. Shame it has taken these high profile incidents to drag the issue onto the agenda of popular media (The Times excluded).

The fall out has been noisy. Cycling safety has clogged the switchboards of radio phone-ins this week while the pro and anti-cycling movements have broadcast their impassioned, partisan positions via social media. I joined them, although I’d like to think I’m a wee bit more moderate these days. If you want a taste, the ire of the antis can be sampled in concentrated dose via @CycleHatred, a sobering and sometimes sickening read for brothers and sisters of the bicycle.

I’m a cyclist and I drive. I chose not to own a car because a, I’m fortunate enough to not require one and b, they’re expensive. I can enjoy driving, though, especially if I’m in the remoter parts of Scotland. But if I’m going to a city or town centre, the car is a clumsy hindrance that gets stuck among other vehicles in jams and needs parking.

I ride a bike most days of my life for pleasure and practical reasons, but the coverage of the so-called war between drivers and riders has prompted me to pause before throwing a leg over one of my treasured mounts. Have I succumbed to the media’s myopia? Am I going to be safe?

This apprehension has sturdier foundations, however. I am on the cycling front line every week commuting in London. Conditions are poor on the Capital’s roads and they have deteriorated in the five years since I last pedalled its congested streets. Critical mass has only served to enrage some motorists rather than increase the acceptability of cyclists on the road.

I’ve encountered drivers’ anger first hand, usually borne out of impatience. The frustration of a few seconds delay resulting in dangerous manoeuvre and a close shave. Everyone rushing around, no time for each other…

I’ve also encountered the kind of cycling behaviour which is oft quoted by the antis: red light jumping, no hand signals, pulling out without looking. Opportune cyclists don’t do themselves any favours, but I witness these antics daily from drivers, usually the ‘professionals’ who seem to operate by their own code (a common complaint ironically leveled at cyclist by these antis).

So why subject myself to this? The bike is infinitely preferable to the Tube and bus, even in the rain, and rattling down Embankment on balmy summer evenings can actually be pleasant. But I shouldn’t have to justify my modal choice. I pay as much ‘road tax’ as the next road user. Why can’t folk share? Why am I such an affront to their motoring ‘rights’?

Fortunately, the battlefields of London are stark contrast to the lanes of Saddleworth near my home. Most of the time, drivers on these rough rural lanes treat you with respect. And then there are the other benefits… Just yesterday morning, I was out in glorious Autumn sunshine on a circuitous route to the shops and stopped to watch a kestrel on the hunt, the bird gliding past me at eye level seemingly unperturbed by my presence. Traffic rumbled up the lane behind me but I shared a memorable, private moment with this raptor while others were insulated yet isolated in their cars.

Ride a bike, and see more.


6 thoughts on “Why ride?

  1. Well writen,

    I have and always will opt for a bicycle as long as I am able to do so!

    I feel that if you were to get a vocal anti cyclist and put them on a bike they would instantly become meek, when face to face with their own mortality they would be humbled.
    Where as many many adult cyclists are also already car drivers, like your self have experienced both sides of the argument but still chose to use the bike.

    Cyclist can be careless and a danger, in honesty I’m sure I have been at times myself but these are not flaws with cyclists, rather they are human flaws which the drivers share and they are in charge of a much more dangerous weapon.

    My last thought is that 9 out 10 drivers apear to be unhappy but I rarely see a miserable cyclist and in even the harshest weather it brings a smile to my face, when I have a close call with careless driver I’m not cross with them, I feel for them trapped in the little grey box frightened of the outside world.

    1. Hi Chris,

      Thanks very much for your thoughts. Your point about human flaws is on the money.

      These flaws have a tendency to manifest themselves more readily in certain environments or under certain conditions. London tends to bring out the worst in folks!

      I have to agree re the point about happy cyclists too. Motor vehicles really do have an unseemly affect on some people and in this latter regard I have to ‘fess up. Another reason why I drive less these days.

  2. Great post!

    I was a keen cyclist in my teens, but more recently I’ve been a ‘rider of cycles’ – not quite the same thing as being a ‘cyclist’, which is almost as much about lifestyle and attitude, but I’ve found cycles useful for getting to work in a city.

    I’m about to become a ‘born again cyclist’ though – ‘me missus’ wouldn’t contemplate cycling along busy roads, but we’re getting a couple of Dahon folding bikes that we can pack in the camper or use on our local cycleway to get to the coast.

  3. Thanks Paul, Sounds great! My other half is the same. We take bikes camping sometimes and she likes riding along tracks to the pub 🙂 Dahon make some decent machines so I’m sure you’ll have loads of fun on them.

  4. Yeah, very well written – especially like the comment:
    “But if I’m going to a city or town centre, the car is a clumsy hindrance that gets stuck among other vehicles in jams and needs parking.”
    that’s sooo true. I have to admit to preferring public transport for towns and cities myself though, don’t think I’d dare cycle in a city – the diesel fumes would put me off for starters – very dangerous in themselves and getting to be the leading cause of COPD/lung cancer.

    I enjoy cycling locally on our lanes and, luckily, in our slightly more rural area, we don’t seem to come across the daily conflicts you seem to in London – I think that would really put me off. I left one job 20 miles away to work locally so I could walk to work as I got fed-up of the danger and daily conflict on the road – and I was driving a car! I found driving a car very dangerous the only time I ever drove in London – the taxis just drove straight at me!

    Hope you have a safe cycling year in 2013 🙂

    1. Thanks for the reply Carol and good wishes. I too have concerns about particulate/fumes and wear a mask in London. However, it can be as potentially harmful driving in these conditions given that motorists are generally stuck more than cyclists and pedestrians in the fug of congestion.

      The apparent aggression is not necessarily a London-centric problem… commuting tends to bring the worst out in people no matter where the journey happens. However, I am trying to adopt a more considerate attitude on the roads nowadays. I’m not always successful, but I have been rewarded with similar courtesy on occasion. Hope others will pay it forward.

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