Last week, I was complaining about motorists who would pass too close. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other reasons to complain when you get on to British roads. This is a shame because cycling should be an enjoyable activity – get on two wheels and pedal happily off into the sunset. But, it seems the world of a cyclist is squashed between the impatience of taxi drivers and complaints about the dangers of the road. If you’re not careful, you can get sucked into a ‘political world of cycling’ that is negative and endless arguments of who is right and wrong.
The internet has not particularly helped. There is something about the nature of the internet which encourages outrage, strong opinions, a tribal mentality of ‘us and ‘them. These issues of sharing the road were always around, but the internet gives it greater currency and force – feeding antagonism in a way that I’m not sure existed when you had to send a letter by pigeon post or go down to the local post office to send a telegram.
CAR PASSED TOO CLOSE! – STOP – HAD TO COME TO EMERGENCY STOP! – STOP
By the time you had Morse Coded your feelings, most of your anger had long since dissipated anyway. A more modern telegram service like Twitter lacks this natural delay of several weeks as you wait for the boat from India to come into dock.
What did minor-celebrities do before having twitter spats and outraging some or another constituents of the easily outraged? I’m sure if you read the Cycling Weekly letters from the 1950s, you would find letters of complaint. But, at least in the 1950s you could read a newspaper, without, on every article, getting sucked into reading comments from 335 outraged internet trolls, who don’t have anything better to do, but get disgusted with cyclists / motorists / pigeons / and the latest reality TV show on Channel 5.
Of course, it may just be we are just looking through tinted rays of ‘The golden age of cycling’ – this mythical utopia of cycling in the 1950s, where you could cycle 100 miles on quiet roads through British lanes to enjoy warm beer and sandwiches on the village green, with nothing more than a Bobby on his bike giving you a friendly wave.
60 years later and this mythical golden age of cycling utopia has been replaced by pitched battles between Uber fuelled tax drivers who equate cyclists to ISIS and the relentless finger pointing about who is the absolutely the worst person on the roads. The only thing we agree on is that it is always someone else’s fault!
Yet, all is not lost. If you go cycling on British roads, it is not as traumatic as you might believe from the comment sections of the Daily Mail. It is still possible to really enjoy cycling – whether it’s cycling up Hardknott Pass or even, dare I say it commuting into the centre of London.
How to enjoy cycling?
The best way to enjoy cycling is to be a responsible road user yourself. If you are considerate, follow the spirit of the law and don’t give reason for other users to be annoyed, you have a much better feeling about your own cyclist. I feel absolutely no identity with cyclists who ride madly on the pavement to irritate pedestrians. Similarly, I feel absolutely no identity with drivers who drink and drive/ drive too fast with mobile phone e.t.c. I don’t accept all these tribal arguments that you are a ‘cyclist’ and have to feel guilty for what others on a bike may do. When I was young, I was more of an impatient cyclist, trying to squeeze through not wanting to stop. Learning to take an extra 1 or 2 minutes on the commute was one of the best things I did, it changed the commute from a mini time-trial under pressure, to an enjoyable recovery ride. It’s a question of perspective.
The benefits of cycling
The good thing about cycling is that it is a natural mood enhancer – fed up of being stuck in front of a computer screen? Cycling 20 minutes to work, is a great way to release the exercise hormones that give us an uplifting feeling. If you’re stuck with mental problems going around your mind, a couple of hours on the bike is one of the best ways to get rid of them. (Cycling mood and happiness)
Acknowledge good driving / other cyclists
It is good to get out of the us and them mentality. Drivers can be considerate, letting you through a gap first. It is important to acknowledge this for both the driver and yourself. It is a reminder there are good people on the roads, not just ‘enemies’ If a car slows down to overtake and gives plenty of room, I’m grateful for this. I also usually try and acknowledge other cyclists on the road
Be detached from bad driving
Perhaps easier said than done. But, letting go of expectations of high driving standards can be a big help. Detachment does not mean we excuse bad driving or pretend it doesn’t exist. It means we don’t permanently carry around bad incidents in our mind. Any road user is capable of being dangerous / inconsiderate; but, we can’t allow this to upset our ride. Indignation doesn’t make the problem go away, but, it can spoil our ride. It’s best to have low expectations and let go of negative thoughts about other road users. If we just concentrate on doing the right thing and don’t worry about others, we can enjoy the ride.
The power of silence
Sometimes motorists or pedestrians shout abuse – often when it is least deserved. The temptation is to respond in kind. But, this is just what they enjoy seeing. They want to see you rise to the bait; this only encourages them to do more of it. If you completely ignore them you give the incident no energy. Is it ever worth arguing with motorists? – the short answer is no.
People have different ways of dealing with unpleasant situations. My approach is to let it go. I know arguing with a driver is not going to make the roads safer. I just try to enjoy the ride; if I have to deal with bad motorists, that is just something to live with.
Cycling and politics
Some people try to politicise cycling. I don’t mind if they do; but, it’s not something that interests me so I tend to ignore this aspect of cycling. I am a member of a local cycling group cyclox. But, their attitude is primarily pragmatic and realistic; it is pressure group that doesn’t have a political line.
Basically, cycling is one of those activities that is naturally enjoyable. Just the motions and mechanics of cycling gives me joy. To some extent we are at the mercy of other road users. But, to a large extent it is our choice how we respond and how we deal with the other road users.