Steve Richards: The logic is mad, but I'm getting back on my bike

Let's have more cycle lanes to make it safer for the growing army of cyclists
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The Independent Online

I have had enough of these fruitless calculations. Instead I have made an even more irrational one. I have got back on my bike.

I did not expect to write that previous sentence ever again. I fell off my bike in a rather spectacular fashion on a rainy Tuesday morning last November. Until then I had cycled more or less everywhere around London. On that Tuesday I was cycling to Downing Street for a lunch with Tony Blair along with some other Independent colleagues. Halfway down a steep hill I fell off and smashed my elbow in four places. The X-ray at the nearby hospital was so bad it became a pin-up for medical students. After some large doses of morphine I was told they would have to operate more or less immediately. What about the lunch with Blair? Through the pain I asked them to contact Downing Street to tell Tony Blair that I would miss the lunch. Alarmed nurses took me off the morphine assuming that I was delirious. Four days later I emerged from the hospital with 12 pins and two metal plates in my arm. I resolved never to cycle again.

Until then I had never appreciated how vulnerable a cyclist could be. There is not much between you and the ground. Come to think of it, there is nothing between you and the ground. But I had cycled for decades and had never fallen off, not as a drunken sixth-former or as an even more drunken student or as an even more drunken journalist.

The virtual collapse of public transport in London in the 1980s was the main factor behind my original decision to cycle long distances. It was quicker and more efficient. The capital deserved better public transport, but the political will was insanely lacking.

There is a sad twist to all of this. After the accident last November I discovered that public transport had improved. To my astonishment the buses appeared regularly. People no longer wasted away their lives waiting at bus stops. With some appalling exceptions the tubes were fairly frequent too. On 6 July, the day London secured the Olympics, I dared to wonder whether possibly - just possibly - its transport system could rise to the challenge. Within hours of the attacks on 7 July I checked out the bike. Only I had been damaged in the November accident. The bike was fine. I resolved not to use the Tube again.

I feel safer as a cyclist in the light of the attacks on London's public transport. There was not a moment's fear as I got back on to the saddle, even when cycling down the high road where I fell. Instead I viewed those heading for nearby underground stations with a degree of sympathy. I was in control and still outdoors rather than submerged in those eerie tunnels.

Apparently this attitude is close to a form of madness. Logic suggests that the Tube travellers should be feeling sorry for me. Several experts have pointed out that cycling is incomparably more dangerous than the Tube. One of them was the authoritative economics editor of Newsnight who paraded a range of statistics to show that cyclists were much more vulnerable.

I refuse to believe the esteemed economics editor. Perhaps this is partly because the accident last November was my own fault. I will not go into detail, but let me just say that it involved listening to an iPod and holding a carrier bag containing some newly purchased trendy clothes on the handlebars. Thankfully no cars were involved. Perhaps if a mad driver had been responsible I would be more wary, but I doubt it.

We are told to carry on as normal and are praised for our stoicism. But at the same time we are informed that there are still deranged killers out and about. Even after the arrests yesterday there are warnings about other cells of potential brainwashed bombers. It seems pretty rational to me to avoid the Tube. Bugger the experts. I am back on the bike. Others are following suit, so let's have more cycle lanes to make it safer for the growing army of cyclists. There are few upsides when a city is deformed by terror, but transforming London into a bigger version of Amsterdam could be one of them. Cyclists would be really safe then. Only those reckless fools who listen to an iPod and carry trendy clothes on the handlebars deserve to remain vulnerable as they get on their bikes once more.

s.richards@independent.co.uk

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