A pride of bicycles, part 4: Why?

Bicycle spills by Rachael Bone

It hasn’t been a great week for the bike. I’ve been reminded too many times of all the things that grate me about cycling, the things that shred my good mood into slivers of rage and wretchedness.

Today I was lashed in the face by a springing bungee while trying to tie my bag to my rack. Then I rode through a pothole so huge and jaggedy that my carefully assembled bag-contraption bounced off and fell on the road. Black cabs beeped. Cars cut me up. (In NZ I’d say “cut me off” but “cut me up” is so much more apt – picture a giant pair of scissors snipping your pathway into bits.) A man shouted, “It’s a red light, red light, fucken tosser cyclists,” while I was waiting patiently at the red light. A little old man in a suit, riding a Boris bike, crept up on my inside, nearly causing us to clump together. A motorbike roared past inches from my elbow. A kid on a bus did the fingers at me. My legs ache. My knee clicks so badly I sound like a broken cassette tape. Another cyclist crashed into a pedestrian talking on her cellphone as she crossed the road. Running late for an appointment (with a chiropractor, because my neck is bung from looking over my shoulder all the time while riding), I couldn’t find anywhere to tether my bike, and when I finally did, my lock wouldn’t fit the pole. So I was really late for my appointment, and when I got into the room, my back took this as a signal that it could now gush with post-ride sweat.

Another challenge to my enthusiasm for the bike is that fact that the bike, along with the hoodie, has become a symbol of last week’s riots. Bikes gave riotors the agility and speed to carry out crimes then flee, to quickly pass messages and loot from one to another, to congregate then scatter in seconds.

Not Coming Back by Jay Ryan

The bicycle itself is also a highly coveted item. Along with MicCycle, branches of Evans in Chalk Farm and Clapham were ransacked, and Halfords in Brixton. There were reports of people being mugged for their bikes in London Fields. There were even reports of looters in Clapham using the most humble, benign bikes ever to make a getaway – Boris Bikes.

Evans Cycles, Chalk Farm on 8 August (by Matt Shaw via Going Going Bike)

Today, just as I was beginning to sob into the wind and incoming rain, I realised I was seeing these things as a personal affront. Enthusiasm for cycling is like a tyre: ignore it, and sooner or later it’ll deflate and your ride will seem to become heavier, every pedal-stroke a drag. Thus, day in, day out, cycling becomes a misery.

Obviously I needed to 1. harden up, and 2. remember why I do this. As I plodded up Tulse Hill, holding up yet another bus, I forced myself to identify reasons for continuing to cycle. I thought about the usual suspects, such as the childlike sense of freedom, the wind in one’s hair/helmet, the ringing bell, not having to take the tube, the negligible carbon footprint. These are fine, noble reasons. But in the end, most of my reasons for cycling are selfish and shallow. I hold them dear.

1. A tailwind.

2. Being passed by someone furiously pedalling on a Brompton, because this means that it’s all over and I may as well just go at my own pace.

3. Being nearly hit by a pigeon, and feeling an intense buzz of relief at not being hit. (Same goes for being nearly hit by cars, buses, motorbikes, and other cyclists.)

4. Riding over Waterloo Bridge and seeing the sad Urban Fox outside the Hayward Gallery.

Urban Fox (via Telegraph)

5. A friendly driver who flashes their lights to tell you to go first. Then they give you a wave and a nod when you let them go first.

6. A pedestrian who gives you a grin when you stop at a zebra crossing, as if a cyclist stopping at a pedestrian crossing is a sign that not all people are bad, really.

7. Beer tastes better.

8. Coffee tastes better.

9. Food tastes better.

10. Cycling through delicious food smells. 

11. Cycling past wee cafes and pubs and thinking, “Oooh, that looks nice.” 

Tennessee Williams waits for a tailwind (via Rides a Bike)

12. Buying or perusing bike-related items. A bottle cage, night lights, various shiny bits and bobs.

13. By the same token: ogling other people’s fancy bikes, or ogling the rider whilst pretending to ogle the bike.

14. Reading bicycle blogs and commentary and disagreeing with people and getting all worked up. The cyclist-blogger community is something for me to engage in and have opinions about. There are few areas in which I can justifiably do this.

15. My ridiculous pink helmet, and choosing not to wear it some days.

16. Freshly pumped tyres and a newly sealed road.

17. The grin/grimace of camaraderie with fellow cyclists when a driver/pedestrian/other cyclist does something life-threateningly foolish and gets away with it.

18. Sometimes seeing a cyclist carrying a little dog in a special backpack.

19. When it stops drizzling and the sun comes out.

20. Feeling like part of a movement that’s much bigger than me, something that will inevitably change the shape of our towns and cities. Bicycles are the future!

British military personnel using an improvised telescope stand, France 1918, via Kunstgeschichte

21. Riding past people waiting at bus stops; when they hold up their hands for the bus, it’s like they’re angling for a high-five.

22. A post-ride shower and huge cup of strong Assam tea.

I suppose that when you’re beginning to think you might hate doing something, the best course of action is to ask yourself why you do it. This goes for anything. It could be that, in fact, you don’t hate it, only that you’ve become intoxicated by the rage and disappointment at things that sometimes happen, an intoxication which distorts your view. I like to hope that rage and disappointment are simply part of the rich and crazy gauntlet of feelings we must all ride through. It’s possible to arrive at your destination feeling pleased with yourself anyway, or at the very least, relieved that it’s behind you and that maybe you are tougher for it.

About ashleighlou

Person, usually on bike
This entry was posted in bicycles, Happiness or not, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to A pride of bicycles, part 4: Why?

  1. stephen says:

    This is a great post. And thank you for showing the way to ridesabike, lovely site. best, Stephen (@steshark)


    • Stephen, thank you – I’m well chuffed to see that someone read and enjoyed it. Isn’t Ridesabike fantastic?! It’s one of my favourites. Always cheers me up.


      • stephen says:

        You’re very welcome. I’ve been trying to muster the courage to restart my dormant blog and yours is reminding me of all the good stuff about them….


        • You oughta do it. Maybe some good things have been quietly bubbling away during the dormancy. And there’s no point in not, as they say. I sometimes worry about being yet another voice into the abyss, but if nothing else, it gives me a vague sense of doing something.


  2. My favourite thing about cycling is definitely those rare creatures, the cycle friendly drivers. I make an effort to wave and smile at people that give way to me and its so nice when they return the gesture. Brilliant writing Ashley, your blog has now been bookmarked…. 🙂 Jacqui


  3. Tim says:

    Ah, the sad urban fox makes a reappearance. Such a sad-looking tail – utterly inert.


    • I’m sure the artwork is a commentary on the effects of urbanisation or something in that vein, but to be honest I just enjoy the simple charm of a giant fox made out of hay. It feels like a kindred spirit to me. I’ll miss it when it’s gone. Hopefully they will replace it with a giant urban badger or hare.


  4. Meliors says:

    I do almost half my cycling at night which is usually an easier time to connect with why I do it because there is so little traffic to contend with. Aside from broken glass on the road and inconsiderate/homicidal drivers, the times I find hardest to keep going are when cold, wind and rain combine. Then I dedicate the merit of my uncomfortable ride to all the people, animals and plants who are suffering right now from the terrible impacts of the petroleum industry, and thus ride with smug self-righteousness. Well, when the weather’s that bad I’ll take any comfort I can get.


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