Sarah Sands: Naked cycling is a pain, and not just in the backside

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The Independent Online

Turning into Park Lane on my push bike last weekend, I wondered at the emptiness of the road. Not for long. Over the horizon came an army of naked cyclists. As they bore down on me, they waved like comrades in arms and shouted at me to get my kit off. I smiled back wanly, feeling like V S Naipaul towards his fellow Trinidadians. I may cycle, but being a cyclist is not the core to my identity. I feel just as much at home with non-cyclists.

Yet we live in an era of protests, and militancy is strongest of all on the roads. Every journey becomes an act of political ideology. Drivers of white vans, 4x4s, Prius cars or bicycles are as tribal and exclusive as any political party.

A dreamy looking woman from the Department for International Development told me last week that she took her child to school on the back of her bicycle and was taken aback by the violent fury of a school bus driver, who told her that she was endangering her child.

It makes it hard for the vehicular floating voter. I do not want to fall out with any of the groups. When I am squeezed on my little Vespa by a gigantic, crane-carrying, 3-mile-long lorry, I wipe the grime from my eyes and remind myself that my oppressor is what stands between us and a recession. When a ruthless-looking blonde in a 4x4 runs over my feet at a zebra crossing, I console myself that her husband is probably a Bear Stearns hedge fund manager and she has a lot on her mind.

So why can't we all rub along with each other in a multi-transport world? The other week I was spluttering home on my Vespa, late and rather tired, when I heard the familiar sound of the ghetto blasters and my heart sank. Sure enough, the road was blocked by roller-skaters and their wardens with whistles. When I tried to creep up the side on my scooter, a huge hand stopped me. "This is a prostest," said the warden. Protesting against what? Is the message that the roads should be traffic free? That only gay men in Lycra deserve to travel?

How much more vulnerable to protest-megalomania you must be when you are in the fresh air all day. The inner traffic warden, which makes you exult at the prospect of persecuting motorists, is let loose under the banner ofdemocracy.

A silver lining to the extortionate oil prices is the breaking down of tribal barriers. Motorcyclists may not love long-distance lorries, but they have imaginative empathy towards the cost of a full tank. The 4x4s are not loved by anybody, but at least oil and taxes are pricing them out of the market.

As for the naked cyclists, even they must feel a twinge of sympathy for the small businessman, a window cleaner perhaps, cancelling for the second year running the family holiday in the Lake District because any savings have all gone on petrol.

It is a jolly way to spend a Saturday afternoon, jiggling along on your bicycle and shouting at the faint-hearted who ride fully clothed, but it feels rather beside the point at the moment. Times are getting too hard for lifestyle protests.

Sarah Sands is the editor-in-chief of 'Reader's Digest' magazine in the UK

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