Cycling down for the paper today, I was overhauled by another cyclist. He slowed down, or I sped up, and we did the rest of the ride together, chatting about bikes and bike parts and bike routes and bike rides and other fascinating topics. As we reached Papershop village where our ways parted, we stopped to continue the conversation – admiring each other’s respective bikes and discussing the merits or otherwise of clipless pedals, Brooks saddles, carbon forks, internal geared hubs and steel frames. Our bikes couldn’t have been more different – he was riding a modified aluminium cruiser with slick tyres and flat bars vs my old-school touring bike – and we couldn’t have looked more different either; he was kitted out in lycra and I wasn’t, although I’m guessing from his ‘it’s not exactly Miguel Indurain stuff’ remark that we’re about the same age.* But all the same we found much to talk about as, in my experience, two cyclists almost always do, particularly if they’ve got their bikes with them.
Six months ago, I was in on the meeting that founded the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Since then, I’ve found out the hard way that the world of cycle campaigning can be bitterly divided in ways that would surprise anyone coming from outside, although maybe not as much if they’ve ever been involved in anything remotely political. I’ve also seen some online discussions in which cyclists disparage other cyclists of the ‘wrong sort’ in no uncertain terms, as if it really mattered what kind of bike you rode or where or how you rode it. It was enough to put me off the whole thing, particularly the campaigning bit. But I’m beginning to wonder whether any of the people concerned actually cycle at all, because I never seem to meet them when I’m out on my bike. Presumably they’re too busy patrolling the internet for people who are doing it wrong to get out and cycle at all. No wonder they’re so grumpy.
The problem is, that if we don’t hang together then, as Lenin said, we will all assuredly hang separately. And fortunately, or unfortunately, there is an issue that has united pretty much all cyclists in London, albeit against a common enemy. As I write this, hundreds of cyclists of all shapes and sizes will be gathering at Blackfriars bridge in London to protest the fact that – despite cyclists outnumbering cars at rush hour – Transport for London is about to press ahead with changes that will make cycling over the bridge much less safe and more unpleasant, despite a vote in the London Assembly to reconsider the scheme. It all seems a very long way away from our quiet roads up here but, sadly, all of a piece with some very car-centric planning that Bigtown Council is proposing. I won’t be able to join the Blackfriars protest, although I would have done had I still lived in London, and I very much doubt if we could muster more than ten people to protest if the council up here actually go through with their proposal to remove a pavement from one side of a busy bridge to accomodate an extra lane of cars. But I’ll be watching to see what happens, and I’ll be keeping on keeping on, remembering that what unites us will always be bigger than what divides us.
* I’m pretty sure that reference to the big Tour de France riders of the past date you as quickly as Blue Peter presenters or Dr Whos.