One of the things that struck me when I was in London the other week, was the number of cyclists there were in the centre – on a fine day, admittedly, but impressive all the same. The other thing that struck me was that – even though they were on all shapes and sizes of bikes, and dressed on the whole spectrum from full-blown cycle-chic to helmeted road warrior – they were all quite similar looking: mostly young, generally pretty fit, and every single one of them wearing a look of utterly fierce concentration on their faces. You need this to cycle in London. Even on the fairly nice piece of separated bike lane along Torrington Place, I saw one cyclist nearly get killed when a car backed out into him, and another get almost left-hooked. In both cases, it was only the alertness of the cyclists that saved them from a nasty smash.
I know that feeling. The unacknowledged truth is that there’s actually something exhilarating about being out on a bike in among traffic, all five senses alert, just waiting for a vehicle to do something stupid at an unexpected angle. You are the ninja cyclist, and you never quite feel as alive as when you’ve just anticipated a bendy bus swinging into your path and escaped certain death by inches.* Deep down at the bottom of all the arguments about separated infrastructure versus vehicular cycling, and even H*****-wearing versus non-H*****-wearing I’m sure there’s this sneaking feeling that if you don’t have the cojones to go play in traffic, you’re just not really good enough of a person to deserve to be on a bike. And besides, we’ve had to suffer alongside the lorries and the taxis and the white-van-men, so why shouldn’t everybody else.
But, but, but. Ninja cycling is all very well, but it’s self limiting. Pretty soon all of the young fit fast people with nerves of steel will be on bikes, but that will leave everybody else. You probably can’t get more of 10% of mode share that way, however many nice posters you put up, or campaigns you run. Britain’s towns and cities at the moment are not fit places for beginners to ride, or children, or people who are a bit slow or a bit dreamy or who don’t want to spend their mornings and evenings doing battle on the roads. For the rest of us (and I freely admit my own ninja days are over), we need decent bike lanes
Which is why you should go and sign this. For some reason, they’ve decided bike lanes are a woman thing, but I’m sure if you chaps ask nicely, we’ll let you use them too. Although undoubtedly they will be painted pink, so maybe you won’t want to. In which case have fun, and look out for that lorry.
* Unless of course you didn’t, in which case you’ve probably never felt less alive.