In which the Reluctant Cyclist turns into a cycling zealot
Several things happened recently to convince me that I may have become a bona fide card carrying helmet-wearing (or not) cyclist. Firstly I've started to cycle of my own accord, because (shh) it can actually be easier than driving.
Pubs are a natural destination for the urban cyclist, and the lack of the ‘where do I park’ dilemma is certainly a positive on the pros and cons of cycling list. Except in Soho. Trying to find somewhere to lock a bike in the theatre district of London for a drink and a show is akin to trying to park my car in a children's playground.
Despite it being the city centre and within the congestion zone to boot, there are more car parking spaces in the vicinity of the theatre and 'adult services' district than cycle racks. The few railings there are have threatening signs promising death to any bike owner who dares to foul them with their colourful Knog lock and immediate decapitation of the poor bicycle in question.
What do these railing owners think the bikes are going to do – make the place look untidy? Breed? Make the railings jealous?
Having managed to dodge the Newsnight camera teams on the blue Barclays cycleway of doom (do they know how much congestion they caused, filming about congestion?), I managed to get into town in reasonable time for the show, if not the pre-drink. However, the lack of cycle parking meant that I ended up watching the first twenty minutes of the play on a little screen until the staff let me get to my seats. Ten points for fitness, minus twenty for the city planners.
Having checked online, it seems that there are in fact around 40 cycle stands along the roads off Shaftsbury Avenue, or to put it in perspective, one row of cyclists could go and see Les Miserables (theatre capacity circa. 1000) and park their bikes nearby.
Westminster council let Zipcar subscribers park for free in their borough, and as well as on street parking for cars in similar numbers to bikes, there is a 300 space car park near the theatres.
Another indicator of having nailed my colours to the cycling mast is my stance towards other road users. Generally I find that drivers are not a major cause for concern but as in any other part of life, there are those who seem intent on asserting their presence as king of the road.
Riding home late one evening in the dark, with savage rain pelting down, I found myself negotiating the poorly surfaced streets of East London after a gig. To avoid doing a 'Dr Foster' in the Gloucester of the gutter, I was cycling, perfectly legally, down the fairly deserted streets in the middle of the lane when, approaching a roundabout, I was beeped at from behind.
Looking behind me I saw a single-decker bus, whose driver was clearly intent on getting to the roundabout a good 30 seconds faster than my position was currently allowing him to do. The weather was doing little for my mood and so when he beeped his horn I chose not to move over into the puddles. Instead I stopped where I was in the middle of the lane, and turned round to see what he was playing at.
As he gestured for me to move on, I showed him my misunderstanding, holding my hand to my ear to show him that I wanted to know what had caused him to beep. Were my lights perhaps not working... no, I checked them and all fine. Tyres? Nope, no punctures. I shook my head indicating that I did not know what the problem was. He beeped again.
Knowing that the Highway Code states that horns should be used to warn other vehicles of his presence, I waved to let him know that I was indeed aware of his presence. As we were only a few yards off the roundabout, the concrete reservation rendered him unable to pass me until I moved off, and, finally satisfied that there was indeed no danger to which he was alerting me, I eventually cycled off around the roundabout, signaling carefully as I went.
Will it make him more considerate towards cyclists? Probably not, but it certainly made me feel better, and I was wet enough already for a few more minutes not to have troubled me as much as it did him.
I am now currently considering consolidating my new Urban Warrior status by ordering some 'drive less like a dick' stickers to stick on every van I see with the irritating 'Cyclists keep back' stickers on them.
You are not the boss of me, Mr. Van Man. (But I won't undertake you as I quite like the not being injured option).
The last 'ok I'm clearly a grumpy cyclist now' sign was writing a terribly British letter of complaint on the subject.
Having bothered to cycle to the Olympic Park up the Lea Valley canal (note, shared use path = awful surface and too many bumpy bits) I was then barred by security from cycling to an event in the grounds of the former Olympic site NOT ONLY - and I use capitals here without irony - on the marked cycle path, but also on the road. A road which their own vans were occasionally driving on, which in my mind was scored a little higher on the accident potential than me on my bike.
When the complaints department cited 'public safety' as the reason for not allowing me to cycle on the totally empty cycle path or the nearly empty road my bullshit meter hit red and I responded with... a follow up letter of complaint. That'll show 'em.
I may not be a cycling evangelist yet, but I think calling myself reluctant is now, six months after starting on this escapade, mildly inaccurate.
Unless it's more than 10 miles or less than 10 degrees, I'm generally choosing the bike as a viable option to get around on. I know. You knew how good it was already. I give in, you're right after all. See you around... now on yer bike with you.
The Reluctant Cyclist reserves the right to whinge about having to cycle on wet or cold days, or when carrying shopping. Whilst cycling.