It takes a special sort of navigational incompetence to go on a mass bike ride and still manage to get lost half way through …
I was at Newcastle for the #BigToonRide – part of a day of mass bike rides in cities around England in support of Space for Cycling. I was there to support the lovely people of New Cycling, but also the enjoy the novelty of just turning up for a protest ride without having to go to all the effort of organising it first. And didn’t they do well, with 150 people of all ages out on a sunny Saturday morning ready to take the Toon by storm to ask their councillors to support space for cycling.
And boy do they need it. Newcastle is a fairly hostile place to drive, I imagine, with ‘no car lanes’ and traffic lights which are carefully timed to ensure that you never go more than 30 yards without coming to a halt, but that doesn’t make it any better for cycling. And with 150 cyclists scrupulously obeying every signal, and having to wait behind, between, in front of and beside an enormous assortment of double decker buses, very quickly what started as a mass bike ride became several slightly smaller mass bike rides, one of which – it quickly became apparent – wasn’t fully cognisant of the official route… As we lost sight of the peleton at a particularly gnarly series of signals, the people in front who we were confidently following started to look around at each other and us and make gestures that implied that they weren’t entirely sure which way to go next. So we formed an autobus and circled the town anyway, until we discovered the rest of the ride coming up a side street towards us and tagged along, pretending that was what we had meant to do all along. After all, that way an even greater proportion of Newcastle got to sit in bus stops and ask their neighbours what all the bikes were doing out and what was space for cycling anyway? (Not shared bus lanes anyway, I’ll tell you that for free)
Small navigational glitches aside, the day was brilliant, the sun shone, and we went afterwards to have the best coffee in the North East (according to a man who knows) and what were definitely the best salted caramel brownies I’ve had in my life so far, and not just because they were the only ones (I wonder what impact bringing 150 hungry and happy cyclists into your centre has on your town’s coffee-and-cake economy. Substantial, I imagine…)