Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Am I a traitor to my own cause?

In a follow up to yesterday’s post, I am going to have to admit, I am a traitor to the cause I espouse here regularly on the blog.

Realistically the only way the numbers of cyclists will grow on the roads (especially in London) is if we entice more Mr and Mrs Averages to get on their bikes (many of which are quietly rusting away in garages and sheds around the suburbs). I am not going anywhere near the cycling infrastructure argument – this has now officially been done to death (for now) on this Blog.

As I have mentioned before, I believe it is the duty of every cyclist now, most of who we will generalize as being fairly hard core, to enthuse and help friends back into the saddle. The other things we need to do, is to reduce the hysterical perception of fear and dangers of cycling – yes, to repeat, there are dangers but, as I have argued before, these are not exceptional risks and not beyond the average sensible person to deal with. The main problem is though (and why I think myself a traitor) the large amount of Lycra warrior currently on the road, who make it an intimidating environment for beginners and I am a partial Lycra warrior.

For me (and my opinion is changing as I type this – so another well thought out post by me) a major hurdle is the fact that the majority of cyclists on the road, go for the “I am training for the Tour De France” look. This I believe is very off putting to enticing new cyclists. I myself wear the Lycra padded shorts (though I do hide them under a pair of casual cycling shorts) and I do wear the Lycra cycle top, this is practical for me as I need clothing that will dry off in the office and be ready to put back on for the cycle home. Additionally my choice of steed is a hybrid – but a fast road hybrid with thin wheels carbon forks etc. There is no way I would want to ride to work on a heavy steel bike, sweating away in my work suit. Some of this may also be down to the fact that I have to travel 11 miles each way – maybe if I was only a couple of miles away from the office I would think differently. At the same time though, I am now at the point where I wish my office was a couple of miles further away from home so I could cycle further each day.

So by my own measures, of what I think it will take to get more people cycling, I am letting the side down.

Hang on a minute though! Why should people from the UK be so unimaginative (here comes my thinking whilst writing this post). Why do we have to copy the Dutch model? Just because they have lots of cyclists, it doesn’t mean they have it right. The people of Great Britain have never been European in their thinking, if we are close to any country in terms of mind set I would have to say we are closest to the USA. I don’t want to smoke dope in a café, I don’t want to be a chilled out person. I have absolutely nothing against the Dutch but I don’t want to exchange my lifestyle, I am English, I am not chilled, I am just me! Being me, means I like to ride fast, I want to do the journey to work faster each day, I want to challenge myself. Do you know what, I don’t think I have to apologise for being me, I am honest and reasonably hard working, I take part in society but to a level with which I am comfortable and I am generally considerate to my fellow man.

So what is the average UK cyclist, for certain it is not currently representative of the whole, who bike now (I use the naked bike rider demonstrators as an argument here) but is it so far removed to be the Dutch style? Do you know what – I think I am back to my old point of encouraging your friends - after all you know what makes them tick and if they are your friend then they are not that far removed from yourself probably.

As an aside to all this, last weekend I went on a 38 mile ride (for me that is quite far – but on the bright side I felt no ill effects and still had a full head of steam when I had finished). At about mile 32 I passed a group on an organised cycle ride, Not only were they tootling along at about 15 miles an hour (this in itself is not a crime) but they were all decked out in matching Lycra and riding side by side (sometimes 3 aside). Such a tactic on a busy London road I don’t think was helpful, they ended up pushing one car so far over that it was half driving in the opposite lane.

It works both ways.
Now being a cyclist who rides every day and not a weekend warrior, I try to ride with the traffic and be considerate to other road users (we all need to share the road) as do my fellow bike commuters. This car that had be pushed so far over was being patient and had its indicator on so it could come back left as it was blocked from going forward by an island in the middle of the road, in now way was the driver aggressive, in fact he showed the patience of a saint.  I slowed down and motioned to let the car come back to the correct lane, I was then told off by these bike losers who were hogging the road for allowing the car back into the correct lane, this road is big enough for single line bikes (even two astride) and a lorry. The cyclists then pushed on straight across a roundabout even though there was a car on the roundabout to their right who had to stop in the middle of the roundabout, they didn’t even slow down.

I waited at the roundabout for the car to pass and then continued on past this line of Lycra clad snails. I was embarrassed to by seen amongst them and it was fortunate that they were so slow so I wasn’t seen as one of them for long. If they rode like they did in rush hour, it would not be long before one of them would be eating car tyre, and it would have been down to their arrogance and lack of following rules of the road. Yet no doubt they are the first to complain if a car drives as inconsiderately as them. By the way them cycling 3 abreast meant I had to put myself far out into the road to get past them all making it more dangerous for me. This is not the Tour De France, this is a weekend ride – sure I am happy to see others out there – but to be honest if I ever see another group like them again, it will be too soon.

If you want cars to treat you well then treat them with respect also, it is a two way thing! 

My mind went back to a guy I see quite often when I cycle home – he wears full bright clothing and helmet, he is probably in his mid-fifties, he stops at every traffic light and is cautious as he sets off. When he is on the road I estimate he rides about 26 mph on his folding bike. He is the future of cycling!

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