The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles.
– Flann O’Brien
I just cycled home from work in the rain. The rain felt nice, although I still haven’t got myself some of those waterproof shoe covers, so my feet got soaked. James Brown tells me to tie plastic bread bags around my feet when it’s raining. But I just can’t do it. I can’t ride around with bread bags on my feet. At least, not yet.
Today was one of those days where, cycling, it feels like no matter how small you try to make yourself, you are taking up too much room. No matter how far over to the left I tried to go, I was taking up too much room on the road and also subjecting other people to the terrible sight and the nuisance of my body. Cycling up Washington Avenue in Brooklyn is my least favourite part of my ride home; not only is it steep as hell, but cars go really fast up the hill and a lot of them pass me too close. One time, going up Washington, a guy in a SKY installation van overtook me super closely at speed. Then he pulled into a driveway, talking on his phone. I said to myself, Right. I cycled up to the van, trying to suppress the flaring of my nostrils, to tell the guy that he had passed me too close. He seemed to stare straight through me. Then he looked away and kept talking on his phone. It is important to not to take things like this personally. Maybe I will master the art of not taking things personally at the same time as I begin to ride around with bread bags on my feet.
This week, cycling has somehow been churning things up inside me. As I ride, I am filled with grief and rage and sadness. It’s like someone is blasting a leafblower around inside my heart. I could just walk I suppose.
I did a short ride into town to go for a swim. Waved at my friend Pip at an intersection. Then rode home in the rain.
There is a new cycle lane on Victoria Street. The cycle lane is pretty good. But at times it is not like really a cycle lane. Most times when I go up there, I have to pull out to dodge cars that are driving across the cycle lane so that they can turn left. It’s not the drivers’ fault. It’s the design of the cycle lane. David Byrne has a nice rant about this kind of thing in his book Bicycle Diaries. ‘A driver would never think of riding up on a sidewalk. Most drivers, anyway. Hell, there are strollers and little old ladies up there! It would be unthinkable, except in action movies. A driver would get a serious fine or maybe even get locked up. Everyone around would wonder who that asshole was. Well, bike lanes should be treated the same way.’ It’s funny how getting stuck in traffic essentially turns me into an cartoonish aggressive driver. ‘Bloody traffic!’ I want to hiss as I lean on a horn.
This morning the sun was out. I got up and rode down Happy Valley Road. I rode to Island Bay, to Lyall Bay, through Kilbirnie, around Evans Bay, to Oriental Bay, then back up Brooklyn Hill and home. There was a strong southerly but for the first time all week I felt pretty good. Part of it was not needing to be anywhere in much of a hurry. Not being in a hurry is one of my favourite things to do. I ate some toast then I rode back down the hill to meet my editor friends Simon and Bryony for coffee before they head off overseas for two months. Then I rode back up Brooklyn Hill. For once my brain was quiet. Sometimes I have this strange thing while I’m riding: I imagine that all the roads are branches of one giant tree, and I’m riding around on the tree like an insect. I imagine what it would be like if everything in the world turned to empty sky except for the road.
I did a big ride home. I went around Evans Bay and to Kilbirnie then up to Newtown then through the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park, then up Brooklyn Hill. Pukeahu still feels like an odd space to me. Maybe it just hasn’t grown into itself yet. It seems to strain for tranquillity. Yet it hurtles past it.
For a few weeks after it opened, cyclists were complaining because the kerbs were hard to see, and people kept crashing. (I, too, crashed. It was one of those embarrassing minor crashes where if your reflexes were sharper you could have prevented it from happening.) There was a photo in the paper of a man lying grimly on the ground across the kerb: the fallen. The comments on the online article were deeply aggrieved at the prospect of making the kerb safer. ‘Clearly they have taken the training wheels off to soon!!’ ‘How about you keep out of parks, you want the roads to yourselves now you want the parks.’ ‘Open your blimmin eyes when your cycling or buy some glasses if you can’t see.’ ‘Cyclists are like boy racers.’
This belligerence reminds me of my nephew’s toy keyboard – one of those keyboards that emits various animal noises, like donkey yells, elephant blasts etc. There were only about five keys on the keyboard, so it was always the same animal noises. But he’d keep playing it, almost as though he expected it to make different animal noises. It was funny at first. And after a while it made you feel crazed. The same shrieks, over and over.
Anyway, the kerbs have been quietly fixed, and so, that is good.
I wasn’t going to ride home the long way again, but when I set off there was something about the late-afternoon murk that made me want to keep on going. The light in the sky kept almost, almost emerging as pink, then dropping back to grey again. I was feeling good, and I felt like I was going fast. Then I conked out in Newtown. My hands were shaking and my legs were trembling. I stopped at my old local Four Square – I used to live in Newtown – and bought a Powerade. I hadn’t been in there for years. The woman behind the counter said, ‘I haven’t seen you in ages! Have you been on holiday?’ I had to tell her I’d moved to Brooklyn and I was going to the mini-mart there now.
I wobbled up Brooklyn Hill very slowly, thinking about food.
I left my bike at the bike shop this morning, to get a new chain put on, so I walked up the hill to uni. I had this strange altercation with an older man on the way. I was walking on the left of a wide footpath. The man, wearing a coat and scarf, was coming straight towards me quite quickly. I thought he would move over to his left, which is the usual footpath etiquette, I guess. But he didn’t. It was cold and drizzling and the man looked like the sort of man who you only ever see walking when it is cold and drizzling. He barrelled towards me, staring grimly ahead. I felt like I was lucid dreaming and that it would be interesting to see what would happen if I stayed where I was. I had to edge along the kerb to let him go past. As he went by, the man said, ‘Freak’.
That is interesting because a) why do we make life harder for ourselves than it has to be; I include myself in this, and b) it is very close to what my inner voice has been saying to me lately. It keeps calling me a ‘hideous monster’. Always those exact words, just over and over, compulsively, among other terrible things. It is a voice I can hear quite clearly and I worry that I am going crazy. What if one day I start saying the words aloud? Maybe writing the words down here will defuse them. I wonder if it would be possible to repurpose these words and turn the whole concept of a hideous monster into something completely magnificent.
A man on an electric bike whizzed past me on my way home up the hill. Somehow this seamless whizzing compounded my exhaustion, and it also made me annoyed, and I conked out again. I had to push my bike up Washington Ave.
There is talk of the 1.5m rule: that it might soon be the law, rather than a guideline. Drivers would need to leave 1.5m of space when overtaking on roads where the speed limit is over 60 km/h, with a 1m passing distance on slower roads. It would be hard to enforce sometimes, and there are parts of Wellington where even 1-metre would be difficult. On the narrow roads I use each day, many drivers leave less than 1 metre between me and them. For more resilient cyclists this isn’t a problem; for me, it’s stressful and scary. But the fact that the law is being discussed, even if nothing further comes of it, is a good thing. It is recognition that other people are vulnerable human beings. It is true that we need to be reminded of this all the time, that our own experience closes in around us and our imagination of other lives fails. A few months back there were cycle awareness ads on the backs of buses, with people pictured standing next to their bikes, with a word that described some part of their identity. ‘Son.’ ‘Auntie.’ ‘Mother.’ ‘Nephew.’ I liked the ads. I also felt that the ads should be unnecessary. But we’re human: faces and names give statistics a life and a story, make them realer to us.
‘Get these 2 wheeled anarchists off roads intended for far faster machines.’ ‘I’d be super annoyed if I hit one of these guys playing chicken on a bike, imagine the dint it would leave on the car.’ ‘Don’t want to get hit? Either go 100kph or get out of the way.’
This isn’t so much about cycling anymore, but something that has been interesting and frightening to me this week has been the need some people have to complicate and intellectualise matters that at heart are simple. These aren’t emotional, bleeding-heart matters, as some people accuse; they’re human matters. Some of us are really good at finding words to defend the indefensible, in order to make ourselves feel better about not changing, not moving from the very deep groove they have worn.
Made it up Washington Ave in one piece.
‘Get the fuck out of my way,’ said a man driving past me earlier.
This bicycle diary has taken a dark turn.
I have this urge to do something with this hostility – make something out of it. Like people posting messages in trees, but better. My granddad would probably have suggested writing these things down and them digging a hole and burying them, just as he had me and my brother write the word ‘um’ on a piece of paper and then bury it in the garden, to no avail.
This is the end of the bicycle diary for this week.