Banging on about bikes)
Folks, tonight I feel closer to quitting the whole cycling lark than I’ve ever been. This week, still only four days old, I’ve had so many depressing, worrying, dangerous incidents that it’s sapped what little joy I’ve managed to muster since a sustained slump over the summer and I’m genuinely wondering whether it’s worth all the aggro. So no links or pictures this time, just some raw insights.
On Tuesday someone tried to run me off the road in a massive 4×4, then stopped to have an argument when I wouldn’t yield (that in a moment of rare composure I refused to get drawn into). On the way home, a van driver did me a nice close pass and then did that throat-slitting gesture at me just in case I was in any doubt as to what a massive wanker he is. Yesterday I witnessed a Twitter spat between the cycling Twitterati and a driver who was boasting about almost “bonnetting” two riders on Bury New Road in Prestwich, part of my cycling commute.
This morning, less than a minute after having to brake sharply for a left-hooker, I thought I had a perfect view of a texting driver, only to be told by the police the image wasn’t clear enough due to his tinted windows. During the course of the afternoon it was announced that a 22-year-old bike rider who was struck by a vehicle being driven by a suspected drug driver had died, triggering all the emotions that surround such senseless, unnecessary death. Then, on the way home, I caught a woman in yet another 4×4 texting at the wheel. I gestured for her to put the phone down and you know what her reaction was? She locked the fucking doors. She felt unsafe being asked not to endanger other road users. The driver behind, too, had his phone glowing away in his lap and drove on with his head down. And so it goes on. Every time you get on a bike you are put at risk by driver complacency, ignorance and downright aggression.
I feel so terribly drained by it all. Today I’d had a long day at work, the news of the dead rider, the prospect of arranging yet another ghost bike and really just wanted to get on my bike and trundle home. Yet, the mental preparation for a cycle commute is quite extraordinary. A friend once likened it to going into battle, and he’s not wrong: you have to be constantly on your guard, spidey-sense fully engaged, alert not only to driver mistakes, but also deliberate aggression. And it doesn’t half get you down.
I can’t think of another form of transport where a daily concern is whether you’ll be killed before you get to your destination because someone thinks checking Facebook is more interesting than watching the road. Where, as someone riding a bicycle, you are scapegoated and targeted because as a society we don’t want to talk about the manifold dangers of fossil-fuel powered motor vehicles. Where you’re not seen as a person, but as an obstacle between the driver behind you and their rightful place in the congestion ahead. You get the picture.
As I’ve traditionally seen things, city cycling is currently the least shit way of getting around town. Driving is just abjectly miserable. The Metrolink is overcrowded and overpriced. Buses are crowded and get stuck in traffic. Cycling exposes you to the thuggery that overcomes people when they get behind the wheel of a vehicle. There are literally no good ways of getting about the place, and the question I guess, is whether you pay the price in time, cash or anguish and potential personal injury or worse.
One thing I really struggle with is that we have all the right arguments – cycling is cheap, healthy, clean, should be fun etc. but someone somewhere is so threatened by that they’ve declared an ideological war that actually puts people’s lives at risk. And we fight that war daily by putting our rear ends back on the bicycle saddle, getting back out on the road and showing we won’t be cowed. But is it worth the aggro, the anxiety, the cortisol? Right now I’m really not so sure. How are you all doing?