I lost and regained my faith in humanity in all of about 30 seconds last Friday, while I was riding home from work. As has become a bit of a habit of late, I was sitting on the wheel of another commuter (I haven't been able to resist since my colleague told me that you expend 30 per cent less energy than if you go it alone), using him to help me drag myself home after a long and tiring week.
It was all going well (I'd managed a tow for well over a mile on the wheel of one cyclist!) until we approached the summit of a hill in Clapham, at which point my fellow commuter decided to up the pace. We'd probably got up to about 20mph (which is not bad when you're going uphill), when a group of teenagers appeared from nowhere and pushed me off my bike. Wipeout.
If it hadn't hurt so much, I would have legged it after them (and probably used my bicycle pump for something other than it was designed for). Instead, I was sitting on the floor in a bit of a shock, nursing a grazed knee and a bruised hip. It was like being back in the playground after a bad round of British bulldog.
Before I knew it, however, the cyclist whose tail I'd been sitting on was standing next to me, scrabbling for his mobile phone and offering to call the police. I reasoned that trying to get an Asbo slapped on a bunch of bored 14-year-olds probably wouldn't achieve anything, but I was touched to see that someone had bothered to stop and help.
Once I finally got back on my bike, I began to get angry again. Surely, pushing someone off their bike is no different to punching a random stranger in the face. And on other occasions, I've had kids spit on me, or throw things at me as I've ridden past. When did cyclists suddenly become kids' favourite moving targets?
It struck me that it must have something to do with our image. Kids today clearly think that adult cyclists are nerds, losers, geeks - it just isn't cool to ride a bike unless you use it for pulling wheelies and not much else. Hence (so I imagine the logic goes), it's perfectly OK to push someone off their bike. It's not so different from sticking Johnny's head down the toilet at break time because he's got no mates.
But how did it come to this? When I was a child, bikes were cool. Films such as ET and The Goonies all had classic scenes where a bunch of children would get on their bikes and go in search of adventure. I certainly spent most of my childhood in the saddle, exploring the seafront and back streets of Brighton, where I grew up, with my friends. If you didn't have a bike, in those days, then you were the loser.
Although urban cyclists today also suffer from an image problem with motorists and pedestrians, when it comes to 14-year-olds, I don't think their contempt has got anything to do with the fact that some of us jump red lights.
I imagine that the real answer perhaps has something to do with the broader issue of what Tony Blair calls "Respect". Although the Prime Minister's "Respect Agenda" has been ridiculed, I think the problem that it tries to tackle is an important one.
But from purely a cyclist's perspective, surely something needs to be done to reverse the rot in our image among the youngest members of society. Cycling is a very marketable activity, and most children probably would happily take to their bike more often if it was perceived as cool.
Developing more BMX parks, more cycle tracks and making a greater effort to integrate cycling into schools will all help. But perhaps some broader marketing campaign could also make a difference - endorsed by whatever celebrity of the moment epitomises cool. To me, cycling still is cool - we've just got to work on convincing the rest of the world.