Bicycling and the City

I used to love bicycling. Since I came to London, I have not been able to. Sometimes I am glad that I can't. There seems to have been a huge change in the way cyclists are treated and the way bicyclists behave in recent years and I am not altogether sure that it is for the good.

David Cameron, the Tory Leader, has been selfishly breaking all the rules himself, for instance. You never used to get Quinten Hogg doing that when he bicycled to Parliament. He used a Moulton folding bicycle and was always very safe with it.

Firstly, one is now required, on this convenient, useful form of transport, to dress like some harlequin fool. It is also a requirement that an expensive bike with huge locks be carted about.

The most disturbing thing about bicycling though, is how self-righteous one is supposed to be when breaking the law and making life poorer for others. So, riding on the pavement, going the wrong way up one-way streets, cutting in front of traffic and going quickly across pedestrian crossings whilst ignoring red lights is now de rigeur.

I understand why all this has come about. This is a culture confused between two drives. One drive is highly risk averse, and has been cowed by government and socialised injunctions to stay safe at all times. So hats, yellow jackets and transferred concerns for the health of the planet and some heuristic connecting passive smoking to passive inhalation of petrol fumes plays about the minds of the English and their cohorts.

The second drive is a fairly selfish individualism that understands, rationally, that lots of cyclists are killed because they obey the rules and car drivers do not, so they go all-out to ignore any regulation whatsoever. The circle is squared by balancing the feelings from corresponding to the first criteria against any twinge of fear or conscience about the second.

Bicycling is dangerous, up to a statistical point. There are around thirty deaths a year in London, which means thirty worlds ended, and the government is spending £140 million on the issue according to answers to questions in the House of Lords.

That said, inconsiderate or desperate cycling does cheapen life for people in small and cumulative ways. I sometimes find myself as annoyed by bicyclists--and unicyclists, whom I used to come across in Oxford-- as by 4-by-4 drivers. Trikes can't get on the pavement of course, and nor can recumbent cycles, thank god. Perhaps a class or ethnic resentment of the English bourgeoisie is the reason why I get annoyed, but I don't see that as a primary reason. My main resentment is that their selfishness is so annoying and discourteous.

We should find some way to get a grip on this. How did bicycling start off a pleasant, healthy way to get around that was mildly dangerous and become a cliquey activity that verges on the anti-social? I am wholly in support of it and wonder if we shouldn't all just get a middle-level bike, drive around in normal clothes with no hat, and deliberately stop at all lights and corners until people get the point.

Here are some muppets discussing the creative process at high speed in a sketch called 'mary had a little bicycle'.


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