The adrenalin, the freedom: on my first day of cycling on London’s chaotic roads, it seemed even members of the public shared my thrill. It turns out they were just yelling that my helmet was on backwards.
Now – a confession – I’m not a man known to be blessed with an overdose of common sense. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Blimey, that Owen is well co-ordinated”, and my sense of direction isn’t up there with the average carrier pigeon. If I can cycle, a one-armed orangutan has a pretty good shot. And yet in three-and-a-half years of trundling through sleet and torrential rain, even after one or two bevvies, I’ve yet to suffer any major trauma. Well, a kerb once did rudely ambush me, leading to a rather painful chat with the pavement, but it’s unlikely to feature as an anecdote for the grandkids.
There has been a recent surge in cycling deaths on London’s roads. It is right to be horrified. The grief at losing a loved one so suddenly in those circumstances must be overwhelming. But these tragedies should not frighten commuters away from an activity as healthy, environmentally helpful and pleasurable as cycling.
In the capital, around half a million people cycle a day, and there are 10 to 15 deaths a year. Fourteen people have died so far this year, and we need to constantly debate making our roads safer, and particularly address the number killed by lorries. But cycling – with precautions and reasonable motorists – is far from a death trap, and should never be discouraged.