Simon O'Hagan: Pedalling is about independence, about beating the system

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The Independent Online

As a cyclist, I should be applauding the listeners of You and Yours for their wisdom in recognising a work of genius when they see one. The bike is an amazing invention, a scientific and aesthetic marvel that has bestowed on the world incalculable social benefits.

As a cyclist, I should be applauding the listeners of You and Yours for their wisdom in recognising a work of genius when they see one. The bike is an amazing invention, a scientific and aesthetic marvel that has bestowed on the world incalculable social benefits.

But, greater than electricity? Even I might have balked at that one. And the trouble with such a finding is that it risks confirming many non-cyclists in their view of the cycling community as insufferably pious. Obviously, we cyclists know we have found the answer to life, the universe and everything as we glide around, but perhaps we shouldn't be quite so self-satisfied about it. It's a club anyone can join, and, in London, the evidence is that more and more people are choosing to. In the two years since the capital introduced the congestion charge, the number of cyclists is up 25 per cent.

Cycling is a case of strength in numbers, and at this time of year, with the weather improving, the proliferation of cyclists is a wonder to behold and to be a part of.

On my ride to work yesterday I had along a colleague who wanted to get back into cycling after an 18-month lay-off, and be shown the route. He could not believe the huge crowd of cyclists we merged into crossing Hyde Park Corner, male and female, all ages, abilities and attitudes.

Sure, cycling can be unpleasant, and have its scary moments. So why do we do it? I am not sure environmentalism or even keeping fit are high up the list of reasons. For most, it's about independence, about beating the system.

Last year, The Independent on Sunday canvassed well-known cyclists. The broadcaster Jon Snow said: "I couldn't live any other way. I do it because it keeps me rooted. It reminds you you are an ordinary mortal. It sends you back to first principles."

For the writer Deborah Moggach, it was about freedom. "You're not tied to anything. But what I love about it is that you experience where you are going much more than if you were in a car."

And you can still listen to You and Yours as you ride along.

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