Readers of this column may recall my initial displeasure in commuting on the London Underground. Although we are still waiting for the predicted Indian summer, the London eco-system appears to have a disproportionate and overwhelming effect on the Victoria line (the light blue one). What was in the spring an insulated capsule of tightly packed, occasionally infected city workers, in the summer months it becomes an overheated mass of confused tourists, tetchy children and overheated employees.
So it was that, despite having a relatively short commute (20 minutes each way on a good day), the prospect of spending more than three hours each week squashed and sweaty was too much for me to bear. With some gentle encouragement from the editor of this fine journal and the generous gifting of a ‘practice’ bike, I set out one fine summer morning on my first cycle ride to the office. Very quickly, I realised that cycling is much like, well, riding a bike. Once you are on the saddle and cruising along, everything you were taught as a child comes flooding back to you. The difference being, this time you don’t have stabilisers or a parent to pick you up, dust you off and give you a push along on your way again. The bad news is that I can still hear my father reprimanding me for going too fast and not making sufficiently clear hand signals.
There is more to cycling through the city than just riding a bike, though. There are many and various obstacles to overcome and not all of them are as stationary as the cars sat in the traffic jams around King’s Cross. Cyclists not only have to look out for traffic, but are on a constant alert for pedestrians extending the footpath on to the road, tourists pouring out of tube stations, potholes (of which there are a disproportionate number), rickshaws, taxis, Routemasters and what some may consider the ultimate terror: the bendy bus.
Cyclist v cyclist
But of all these things, there is one group who, in my considered opinion, present a very real danger to cyclists. They are cyclists. For some reason, this group of mostly two-wheeled lunatics think that the road, the pavements, the bus lanes, footpaths, car parks and towpaths are all theirs to own. Whether moving on mass, or autonomously, they not only present a danger to pedestrians and other cyclists, but also to themselves.
With either a wilful ignorance or blatant disregard for the most basic principles of the Highway Code, no red light seems to stop them, no zebra crossing will slow them and a ‘give way’ sign is merely an inconvenient obstacle. Lane discipline takes on an abstract form, much like the erratic line a heart monitor would exhibit (if one were attached) as I watch them fly past me, ducking under bus wing-mirrors and weaving through cars and motorbikes. Even where there is no alternative but to come to a complete standstill, rather than pulling to a stop, feet on the ground, there will be a bum in the air, a wobble, a twitching of handlebars and an almost unnoticeable edging forwards, over the line, through the lights and they’re gone.
I realise that I may not be a cyclist’s cyclist and I know that there are a great many proficient, safe and considerate cyclists among us, but my experience so far has provided little evidence of this. Like the Tube, there is an ‘eyes forward and don’t talk’ attitude at traffic lights, even when parking up alongside someone. Which brings me onto another point. Once you have cycled somewhere, in super-fast time, it takes an equal amount of time, at least, to find somewhere to park. The only obvious places have signs threatening ‘Cycles chained to this fence will be removed without warning’ or are already occupied by several front wheels, disowned D-locks or the rusting corpse of a 1974 Raleigh racer. Boris, if you’re listening, this corporate sponsored bike scheme of yours is all well and good, environmentally friendly and all, but people have to park. Taking up space with docking stations and plug-in points for electric cars just won’t do for the rest of us.
So, cyclists are a group who will eat their own young, leave the old to rot in the gutter and then cycle around them. This is a species where only the fittest will survive. Be on the look out, for the worst of these will almost always be partially clad in Lycra. But if you see someone looking very gentlemanly, in a bright green helmet and looking appalled at anyone passing through a red light, give him a wide berth and a polite smile. Please. But, if it’s raining, it most probably won’t be me. I don’t think I’m made for figure hugging synthetic materials.
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 12 September 2011, and is reproduced by kind permission