I was dismounting (with customary flair) outside my office the other morning, when I was approached by the owner of our on-site café. He sidled up to me with his usual air of faux bonhomie¹ querying the lack of gears on my bike, my inadequate clothing and my mental state. Apparently cycling in London, especially when it’s so cold, makes me a ‘total nutter haha ha,’ and the fact that I choose to ride singlespeed, makes things even worse. Sadly, his opinion isn’t exactly atypical, and it got me thinking (as I thawed my toes out in the shower), am I a little bit mental for doing this?
It’s been a tough week for London cyclists; two more of our number were fatally injured in collisions, both involving HGV’s, and one not two minutes away from my office. Such incidents are sobering at best (and there have been far too many involving HGV’s in the last few years). Coming only a few months after my own little prang they’ve proved to be food for thought. So, are those of us that brave London’s congested, polluted and cratered roads every day in every weather, mad or just foolish?
There were times in October (after my little run in with a car)², when I was drugged up, housebound and feeling more than a little sorry for myself, that I seriously questioned whether or not I would ever get back on the bike. Outwardly I was bullish and insistent, especially in the face of concerns voiced by my loved ones, particularly Yasmin, who’d seen me in hospital having dashed, panic-stricken across London after she picked up a rather ambiguous voicemail. Inwardly I was in turmoil, and worried that I’d never get back on the bike. Was I mad for mixing with all that traffic, would I be better off taking the tube, or perhaps just restricting riding to the Summer, when the light’s better and the weather warmer? Was I irresponsible for putting my family through all this, and of course, what would have happened if I’d been hit by a truck? In the end I got away with a broken clavicle, and I’ve seen and heard of far worse injuries than that on the Rugby or Football field.
Despite my experience I really don’t consider cycling in London to be a dangerous activity, but I don’t want to get into the safety arguments in this blog, we’ll leave that for another time – suffice to say that I think the stats back me up on this one. In the end there were two³ factors that decided things for me. The first was the miserable three months I spent commuting via public transport; the second was the foul mood not being able to cycle put me in. I missed riding. I craved the freedom, the convenience, the speed, the sheer joy of being on a bike. Having all that taken away from me was pretty much the worst part of the whole experience.
So that’s what it boils down to, for me at least. You may look at cyclists as they cruise past your bus/car/queue in the pouring rain, or the bitter winter wind, you may shift your girth awkwardly in your cramped plastic seat, raise your head from your neighbour’s unwashed armpit, or think as you sink into the stinking maw of the Underground, ‘bloody nutters,’ but I promise you this – we’d all rather be in the saddle than in your shoes; we’re having fun, despite the traffic, and the occasional hairy moments. How many non-cycling Londoners can honestly say they look forward to their commutes? Does this make us mental? Well maybe it does, but you know what, I’ll take mental if this is what it feels like.
So the next time some heifer stands on your toe in a crowded carriage, or a halitosis ridden Aussie screams ‘can you move down please’ into your face at 8am, or you get to the station and find it closed, why not make the sensible decision and get on your bike. You’ll be all the happier for it.
¹ he’s actually an utter c*nt.
² a Ford Ka to be precise, not an HGV thank God.
³ ok 3, If I didn’t cycle I’d have to cut back on the food and beer or become fat, and I don’t want to do either.*
* ok 4, most of my spare income over the last few years has been ploughed into bike stuff, I couldn’t bear to see all that go to waste…