When one’s job so often considers imprisonment, thinking about it, pleading about it if not, thankfully, experiencing it then it is perhaps no surprise that thoughts turn sometimes to freedom. I don’t know when you feel most free but for me it is without question when in the saddle and I mean two wheels not four hooves.
Few stop to think that even the most glorious cruise down a deserted Route 66 at 100 mph in a little red Corvette or whatever your wheels of choice still involves containment, still involves disconnection from the natural world and its rhythms. And that of course assumes the best possible drive in the best possible car. A second’s thought of the lurching reality of driving in Britain, in the rain, in a , on the Milton Keynes bypass haemorrhaging money on tax, insurance, MOT, petrol, parking, it’ll cost yer mechanics and the rest makes it a wonder that anyone could countenance car ownership. And yet we remain resolutely wedded, welded almost to our cars, the blue skies above London occluded by an ever greying pall of acrid fumes.
If the private motor car is the enemy of empathy, and any of the scores of road rage incidents occurring daily irrefutably proves that it is, then public transport should represent the happiest realisation of E.M. Forster’s maxim - Only Connect. But instead we have the Tube aka the panic attack in (slow) motion. No man is an island, never truer than on the London Underground where every man and woman congeals into one huge, bad tempered and malodorous land mass.
Cycling remains the preserve of weirdos, the sanctimonious, the midlife crisis ridden, the masochists and me. It is not without reason therefore that I balk at referring to myself, considering myself even, a cyclist. And yet I am one and am convinced that if London is to be even tolerably habitable in the years to come that you should be one too.
In my experience all objection to cycling by the able bodied reduces ineluctably to one or more of the of which there are three like the heads of Cerberus that must be slain: Safety, Sweat, and Style.
Safety – The reason why the death of a cyclist makes headlines in the Evening Standard is because it is so rare an occurrence. Not surprisingly however the notion of dying in the midst of so banal an act as your journey to work acts as a deterrent to many people. If however those same many people took to their bikes they would not only come to understand how rare these tragedies are but the simple presence of thousands more bikes on the streets would militate against such tragedies occurring in the future. You might unthinkingly swat one mosquito but you would give your full attention to a swarm of thousands. This is just as true for lorry drivers as it is for you on your holiday in Spain.
At long long last London is being made fit for every day, normal people to ride bicycles with miles of segregated lanes running from North to South and East to West. I genuinely believe that this, in tandem with the Boris Bikes, will trigger London’s overdue ‘’.
Sweat – Contrary to what the Daily Mail would have you believe it is not necessary to wear Lycra when riding a bicycle. Nor need you be a trained lout. In fact in the Netherlands and Germany and other enlightened places people ride bicycles wearing perfectly normal clothes (as I am in the photograph above) because riding a bicycle is a perfectly normal thing to do. If you walk gently you don’t perspire. If you cycle gently, you also, don’t perspire.
Style - When you drive a car the car is speaking for you. And, in the main, what the car is saying is how much money you have. Even if it’s a you have the money for a . If it’s a Porsche, well, we all know what that is saying. When you ride a bicycle you can wear what you like and present to the world whatever image you choose. That is freedom right there. In Holland nobody wears a helmet because people don’t drive like helmets and that is because everybody rides a bike.
In summary riding a bike: