Saturday, 16 November 2013

16th November 2013 - I Cycle Better Than You Drive

So. There's got to be a first time for everything. In this blog I'm taking the position of a Dutchman.

This is actually quite a serious problem. In this country, cyclists are generally seen as morons with a death wish.

Near Bow, three cyclists have met their deaths in the past week. I sort of know the area, as friends of mine live nearby. One of them had a collision with a car on Wednesday as he was cycling to Queen Mary, University of London. He got off lightly, with some bruises and a coat less waterproof than it was before.

As a cyclist in London - I've had a bike since the Tuesday before last - I do not agree with the view that all cyclist are out to disrupt traffic or chase an early death. Although the day after I bought my bike, I was cycling on Oxford Rd and I saw the cyclist in front of me slam into a pedestrian. AND THEN HE JUST FUCKED OFF!!! This was completely out of order. I stayed behind to make sure the lady was OK. Partly because that's just what you're supposed to do, secondly out of a sense of guilt for cyclists in general. The girl was shaken but would be able to go on without further medical attention.

Being able - after a week and a half - to slice my travelling time from 3 hrs to 1 to and from uni, has been completely worth it. Being able to move around, not pay massive amounts of money for tube fares to and from gigs and sing loudly whilst on the move is all worth it. It is also great physical exercise that picks you up, especially in the morning and at night, after gigs. 45 minutes of cycling is a great way to get rid of the adrenaline after killing the living daylights out of a gig. But, I have to admit, it's a bit scary. It's like 150cc in Mario Kart, where Holland is the Mushroom cup. I avoid rush hour, so I don't tend to leave until at least 9 am and leave for gigs (from uni or from home) around four. If that means I will have to do some work in the pub where the gig will take place, then so be it. Euston station at 6 is a nightmare.

Ridiculing cyclists has become the topic du jour, it seems. I saw a very good sketch group called Making Faces (follow them on facebook or twitter or wherever they are) do a song about how silly and suicidal cyclists are. Now, I'm not taking their song on its face (and a very funny face it is. Go and see them) value. But the general opinion of cyclists by motorists is generally not far away from the opinion of Clint Eastwood of Japanese Kamikaze pilots.

Here's one thing. Cyclists have NO interest in a. dying, b. obstructing you, c. running over pedestrians (apart from that total c*** on Oxford Road I told you about), d. subverting the rules of traffic to our own will, and e. dying. I have had truck drivers shout at me that I was "GOING TO GET YOURSELF KILLED YOU STUPID C***!". What I had done was to go past a red sign, on the left, leaving plenty of space for drivers coming from the other side. Which there weren't any. I know I've gained some weight over the past month (cycling helps getting rid of that, thank you very much) but I'm not as wide as you. I can slip in and out of traffic. If I take a left turn and there are no pedestrians, I'm allowed to ignore the red signal. But mostly, I am Dutch. I have been cycling for nearly 23 years. I know how to do it. Properly. I probably have more experience cycling than you have driving. I'm not going to go around and tell people that, waving the flag of the 1688 Glorious Revolution (look it up). I just expect you to be a bit less of a dick toward everything cycley.

Another issue is clothing. Why, for the love of god, do you need SO MUCH protective clothing? OK, I have had a period in my life when I thought bike helmets were cool (I was 8. Anything you can put on your head is cool then, am I right fellas?), but surely no longer. Lights should suffice.

The main problem is, as a wise green thing in a film once opined, not hatred, but fear. Drivers in London have NO idea how to deal with cyclists. We bamboozle them. Look at this bit out of one of the articles above:

Johnson and Gilligan's proposed model, outlined earlier this year, is a Dutch-style system of mainly segregated lanes and cycle-safe junctions. However, the Dutch warn that there is a long way to go. Weijer Losecaat Vermeer from the Dutch embassy admits that he has abandoned a traditional upright bike for a lightweight machine and specialist clothing. "If you come from the Netherlands and find yourself in a London traffic situation, the first thing you notice is that cyclists don't seem to be an equal road user," he said. "They don't seem to be thought of. The other thing is, in the Netherlands, every motorist is a cyclist as well. This thing you have in London of motorists versus cyclists doesn't exist."
Despite his profoundly silly name, the guy form the embassy is right. Cyclists never get right of way, even when we deserve it. London drivers are, on the whole, very good, sociable and not afraid to improvise. Cyclists, though, are quite literally a blind spot. I do not wish to die in traffic. Therefore, if I feel like I'm in danger, I will take to the pavement. If I feel like I'm in danger, I will get off and start walking. I will use walking crossings if I need to. I don't want to get in your way. Just be realistic about how big I am (which is, I suppose, big enough to total your stupid car) and take that into account. Let's all be friends, eh? And don't kill me.

P.S. I do realise that drunken and unsociable cyclists exist. I don't drink or take any medication before going anywhere. I need my wherewithal in order to keep myself safe. If you're a cyclist: please, do the same.

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