I actually spotted this in a motorbike shop in the US but I’m sure there’s barely anyone who cycles in the UK who hasn’t wanted to express such a sentiment (if not, perhaps, in so many words – personally I think leaving the last one off would be more cutting, and a little subtler). When I saw it I laughed and took the picture but then I thought the whole thing was a little sad. Why should taking to two wheels – even powered ones – be such a cause of open conflict?
I cycle happily on the roads every day. But then, I cycle on largely empty roads among vehicles that have to keep their speed down because single track roads won’t support anything else – if there wasn’t a bike ahead there could be a dog walker or a deer or a cow or a sheep and they won’t have lights or be wearing hi-vis either. For everyone else, cycling in towns is perfectly doable – it’s even not as scary as it looks – but you have to be the ninja cyclist: senses working overtime, including that sixth sense that tells you what the driver on their mobile is going to do next. And that means it’s not nearly as fun as it ought to be. For too long, cyclists in the UK have been taught to take their place in traffic, to assert their right to the road, ride like a car and blamed (even by other cyclists) when things go wrong. ‘Take the lane’, ‘Keep out of the door zone’, ‘ride like a car’, ‘accelerate out of trouble.’ It’s all true, and it all works, well most of the time. It’s just it only works if you’re fit and fast and brave. Can your gran take the lane and accelerate to 20 mph (the official advice for handling a multi-lane roundabout)? Can your seven-year-old? Can you? (by the way, I’ve been cycling for years and I still can’t. I either avoid big roundabouts or I get off and walk). Wouldn’t it be even better if instead of riding around muttering ‘can you see me now, asshole?’ we aspired to cycling like this?
Which is why Jim of the excellent Lo-Fidelity Cycling Club (really must update my blogroll) has founded the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Modelled on its Danish counterpart, it will be lobbying for and working towards real cycling provision in this country. Not for me, and my quiet roads. Not for the fit lycra-clad whippets who already ride, or the road warriors who relish nothing better than tackling the Elephant and Castle Roundabout for fun. But for anyone who doesn’t cycle yet, who wants to cycle, who used to cycle but got spooked, who cycles a bit but not to the shops because it’s too scary, who remembers the freedom they had on their bike when they were young but who can’t grant it to their own children because it’s just too dangerous. It’s for anyone who’s been knocked off their bike or almost knocked off their bike, who’s sick of daily assassination attempts: for anyone, in fact, who might feel at the moment they need the hi-vis vest above to cycle anywhere.
I had more to say on the subject but it turned into a rather incoherent overly-technical discussion on vehicular cycling which is something you have to have spent far too long in the cycling blogosphere even to know about. So rather than telling you what I think (there’s another 364 days of 2011 for that), why don’t you tell me? Particularly if you don’t cycle (or not much): what would have to happen for you to want to do it, or do it more? If you stopped cycling, why did you stop? And if you do cycle what is it about it that you enjoy and what would make you want to cycle more?
The inaugural meeting of the Embassy will be in London on the 29th of January. I’m planning to be there, and will also be doing my bit online to get it going. If you’re interested, sign up to the website and find out more. It’s still in the planning stages at the moment, but I’m hoping it’s something that will end up leading to real change. Come along for the ride.