London Rush Hour: The Cycling Edition

My three-month fling with London commuting is coming to an end this week. For my money, (or, indeed, lack of it) out of all the options available, cycling wins. The pros are immediately obvious: takes half the commuting time (quite literally: it takes me half an hour to cycle a distance that takes an hour on the tube), it costs a fraction of the amount (bike shops will even pump up your tires for free) and it means you don’t spend your entire day just being shunted between different kinds of sad boxes – from tube to office to tube with only a pitiful few minutes of fresh air at lunchtime when you venture outside to then stand pathetically in the self-service line at Tesco. The levels of smug on offer are also unbeatable – better for you, better for the planet, and nothing says ‘look how functional I am’ quite like turning up to work in Lycra.

The bus comes a close second, because it’s cheap, it’s fun to sit on the top deck no matter how old/misanthropic you are, and you may get a seat. It is not, however, recommended if you actually have to *get* anywhere, or have a false sense of the importance of your own time. I am not going to touch on the subject of the tube again, because it is too upsetting. If you want to read my opinion on it, you can click here.

The many merits of cycling aside, I do have some words of caution (obviously). I spent two months this summer cycling to work on a bicycle as old as my parents’ marriage and in considerably worse condition, and as such I have some strongly worded observations about cycling etiquette which are presented here (in their censored version):

I begin by addressing the true menace of London rush hour: fully Lycra-ed up middle class men hitting their mid-life ‘I fantasise about being Chris Froome’ crisis in spectacular fashion. I don’t mean to make this about gender and class, but I can’t help it. Rude, passive-aggressive and regularly acting in contradiction with the Highway Code, my life has more regularly been endangered by men attempting to race up the cycle lane than actual 4-wheeled traffic.

An aspiring member of this particular social set has pointed out to me that this is because cycling is starting to replace golf as the sophisticated man’s leisure of choice. This is a good example of the general sin of confusing ‘explanation’ with ‘valid excuse’. I know my bike is slower than yours. I know my muscles are smaller than yours. I know my legs are hairier than yours (yes, really!) but if a sign says ‘narrow cycle lane, do not overtake’ and then you try to overtake but I don’t move out of your way fast enough and you get stuck behind a bus, the fault lies entirely with you, and I am frankly delighted at the result. And your muttered sexism only makes it that much more excellent.

Oh, and if there is an enormous queue of cyclists waiting at a traffic light, you do not get to examine the crowd, determine that you should be at the top of the cycling food chain and then battle your way through everyone. Especially if it turns out that you aren’t actually the Tour De France competitor you fancy yourself to be, and you end up slowing down the grumpy tiny female with bike which is older than her.

On a similar note: when you get to a traffic light just as the lights change to red, put your feet down. This bizarre habit of twitching your pedals while awkwardly itching forward so that you don’t have to entirely brake makes it look like your bike needs a wee. This doesn’t actually have any particularly negative effect on me, except that it’s really annoying to look at and I’d like you to stop it please.

And now I turn to everyone else.

‘Casual’ cyclists: By this I mean a very specific couple of categories: people who cycle with no helmet, earphones in, and often one fewer hand on their handles than should be, and people who seem to have confused ‘Southwark rush-hour’ with ‘an ideal place to go on a genteel bike ride with a friend’. Nononononononononono.

I was precisely a combination of these two people when I lived in Cambridge. But Cambridge is a city designed for idiots on bicycles. If fear of death-by-London-double-decker isn’t enough to shake you out of this aberrant behaviour, natural selection will do its job and the rest of us will just have to avoid you as much as possible. This kind of stupidity transcends gender, class and race, and there seems to be very little cure, other than near-death experience.

Pedestrians: As noted above, there is no actual law against being a moron, and there is no law in the UK against jay walking. I approve of this: it means that the police force doesn’t get to waste time disciplining people who don’t wait for the ‘walk’ sign (America, take note). On the other hand (and this is addressed to the residents of Peckham in particular) the 100 metres on either side of a pedestrian crossing doesn’t *actually* count as such, and every time you wander into the road without even turning your head to check for oncoming traffic and you survive, Darwin turns in his grave. Can’t you let the man rest in peace?


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