Robert Elms: My life in the saddle
Monday 12 June 2006
I've been riding bikes for well over 20 years (which is not the same as riding bikes well), but I don't recall ever becoming a cyclist. Despite getting on a battered hybrid most days to make the short but hairy inner-city journey from home to work, I don't recognise myself in most of the clichés of the earnest, yoghurt-hugging, two-wheeled eco-warrior. And now that I also pull on extremely hip Rapha gear and display the family jewels in lycra, while training to do stages of the Tour de France on my sleek Roberts racer, I'm even more aware that there is not one homogenous - and apparently to many, hateful beast - "the cyclist". The maiden aunt on her sit-up-and-beg is not the same as the boys doing wheelies on their BMXs, or the honed athletes whizzing past me as I wheeze through Regent's Park every morning.
Quite why those of us who sometimes rely on pedal power should all be lumped together and so rigidly defined and regularly derided because of our chosen form of transport is a complete mystery to me. I'm sick of people going on about cyclists, as if the very word is a shorthand, which will tell you everything about us. It's not like becoming a vegan or a Scientologist, it's not a cult. I no more define myself by the fact that I cycle than my wife does by the fact that she has an Oyster card. For me this has always been a sensible and sometimes enjoyable way of getting from A to B, except when it's wet.
For all but a tiny militant tendency, cycling is not a moral crusade and most of us are not pedalling proselytisers. When I tuck my right trouser-leg into my sock it is not a secret sign that I've joined a brotherhood of the pure and superior. I certainly don't subscribe to the two wheels good, four wheels bad mantra because, along with about 80 per cent of all adult cyclists, I'm also a car driver. As well as putting paid to that silly argument about cyclists not paying road tax, that fact should surely show that we are not a breed apart, a maniacal clan ignorant of other road users. Almost all cyclists also drive sometimes, but most car drivers never cycle, so they don't understand what it's like out there on two wheels. If they did perhaps they'd stop moaning so much.
I certainly shout long and hard at car drivers who turn left without indicating or stray into those cycle-only sections at lights, because I know that is life and death stuff, not just a few precious seconds on your journey. But I'm pretty tolerant, if slightly jealous, when I'm sitting in my car and I see a cyclist sailing nonchalantly through red lights. I'm also honest enough to admit that I do it too sometimes, when I'm on two wheels. It doesn't take too long riding round any of our major cities to understand that it's often a wise move to get away from those lights before the man in the juggernaut runs you over without even noticing. But I also know that the real reason cyclists sometimes take liberties is the same one as dogs and their gonads. It's because we can.
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