Like any cynical modern community there are clear snobbish divisions, defined tiers of self-importance and a litany of unwritten rules that when inadvertently broken are punishable by death through ostracism. Life in the bus lane can be a tough place.
Those who cycle for sport or as an all year round means of commuting are generally a very different two wheeled beast to those who occasionally don the fleuros for a trip to work on a sunny day or round the park on a guilt-induced calorie purge.
Much like Michael Caine in Get Carter, your hardy, 365 days of the year cycle commuter/courier/race cyclist, it is a full time job for them and part-time, fair weather pedal pushers are nothing but a hindrance.
Be sure of one thing, the next time you get cut up in your car by an annoying dick on a bicycle or mutter death threats as one selfishly mounts a busy pavement, most proper cyclists hate them more than you do. Here’s why.
"Cycling is like church. Many attend, but few understand." - Jim Burlant
There’s a great saying (best said by Northerners) which goes “All the regalia - still a failure” and it perfectly sums up the level of cringe when you see a part-timer fully kitted out. Invariably overweight, dressed in head-to-toe fluero waterproofs (including helmet cover), covered in lights so bright they could be used on an airport runway, panniers that could be used to traverse the North Sea and riding unsteadily on a bike that costs more than most of the cars struggling to get around them. My first instinct on seeing someone like this is to silently congratulate the bike accessories sales person who had the good fortune to see them coming then it’s to cringe. Then cringe again some more. They are charactuers of cyclists. Overblown, over spent and embarrassing. “A cycle clip over your waterproofs? Yes? That’ll be £4.99 sir; I’ll just pop it in the bag with the spoke lights and the huge gel saddle”. There’s a thin line between necessity and naivety, most who commute daily know it. The others are very, very, very obvious.
“Cycling is such a stupid sport. Next time you are in a car travelling at 40mph think about jumping out – naked. That’s what it’s like when we crash. ” David Millar
The Cycling Proficiency Test. You probably did it when you were about twelve, in the school playground with some cones and a bored looking copper. For most people that’s the full extent of their cycle training. It doesn’t stop them jumping on a bike a ‘nipping across Elephant & Castle’. The main problem being most seem unable to do the basics like put their hand out to signal without either stopping or making the bike veer all over the place. Unlike Jimmy Saville (where the signals were all clear for everyone to see) this causes no end of bother in traffic and I’ve lost count of the amount of near misses and accidents I’ve seen because amateur bikers can’t do this simple manoeuvre. Unfortunately a crash, some abuse or a near miss often puts them off cycling for another 10 years, which is a shame. Master the basics in a park before commuting, it’s easy. Either that or get good at making guns with your fingers during the split second of slow time as you fly through the air during a crash. That way you can pretend you’re in a John Woo slow-mo shooting, movie montage before hamburger-ing your knees and elbows along the tarmac.
“Socialism can only arrive by bicycle,” Jose Antonio Viera Gallo.
A friend of mine does a form of long distance cycle eventing called an Audax. You basically cycle non-stop for 100-300km, all night, all weathers, etc. It’s pure and utter cycle endurance madness with more than a hint of OCD thrown into the mix. He also commutes to work and frequently ends up in small scale races with other commuters because as he says “after all a commuter scalp is still a scalp”. Healthy competition between commuters makes the daily grind a challenge and is largely great but for your part-timers it can be life or death. My morning commute has been ruined many a time by a wheezing insurance broker on a Giant mountain bike giving himself a coronary trying to overtake me. Occasionally they will succeed only to realise that the pace they have set in completely untenable and are forced to pull over with a mystery mechanical failure. In their chest.
“Don’t buy upgrades, ride up grades.” - Eddy Merckx
Like a hardy patch of nettles they sit on both sides of the fence. Depending on which way the moral high ground is going in a well-worn ‘cars v cyclists’ debate they’ll pitch in with their selective anecdote. An indignant rant in the vein of “I was in the car the other day and this total arsehole on a bike pulled out in front of me without signalling…” can be interchanged just as quickly with “I was cycling to work the other day and this guy in a BMW (always a Beamer or an Audi by the way) just pulled out on me at a roundabout…” The ultimate endpoint being that they are the self-righteous victim of one side or the other and are therefore in the right anytime that discussion point comes up. What they fail to grasp is it’s not about tribes of car drivers, or cyclists, or bus drivers or wankers in taxis but about people. Egos, attitudes, morals, emotions and many other facets inform people’s decision making at the controls of any vehicle. Remember it’s ‘people not vehicle’.
They give cycling a bad name
"... I'm a professional bike racer, it's not a fucking hobby!" - Mark Cavendish
It would be Hitler-esque of me to suggest that every negative element of cycling is due entirely to poorly trained, hypocritical, overly competitive and awfully dressed part-time cyclist but… Seriously though, cycling is a massively growing form of both a leisure/exercise activity and a method of commuting. Let’s face it; it’s cheap, green, fun, highly effective and good for you. What’s not to like? Well, lots really as I’ve indicated in this ranting article. However, the solution to this debate remains with squarely with regulation. Make helmets a legal requirement, introduce basic training as a standard (much like a CBT for motorbike riders) and punish cyclist that break the law of the road more heavily. That would be a start. In the meantime try to remember that not all cyclists are the same. We hate the bad ones too.