Posts Tagged ‘London Evening Standard’

One tiny prick hasn’t deflated the dream

November 18, 2015

It was the briefest of pricks. I didn’t think it would sting. I thought it would be completely undetectable. But he felt it. Boy, he felt it.

Walking towards me, this guy had suddenly turned left into my path, causing me to step back and swerve out of his way so he could barge into Tesco, his face buried in his phone.

“Prick,” I mumbled. I barely heard it myself.

But he wasn’t looking at his phone now. He’s lumbering behind me, bulky and indignant, shouting over and over, “WHAT DID YOU JUST CALL ME?”

I got to the cashpoint next to the Tesco. “I think we both know that I called you a prick,” I tell him as I take my card out of the machine. I’m smiling at him. It’s lunchtime on a weekday near Monument station in central London and he’s not going to fight me. Not with all these people walking by, surely, and not when he’s wearing a fucking suit.

He tells me I should be saying sorry to him because I was in his way, and I know I can’t top that, so I just shake my head and carry on smiling as I take a couple of tenners from the machine. Brilliantly, he provides the topper himself: “I WANT A REACTION” he shouts, clumsily trying to fill the gap I’ve left.

“Mate,” I say to him, even though I never call a stranger “mate”. But fuck it, let’s see what happens when I do. “Mate,” I say, “you got a reaction. You’re just fucked off because it’s not the one you wanted.”

He’s silent and for a moment I realise I may have got the odds wrong. He’s going to hit me. I can sense it. Then there’s another couple of seconds of him seething and me smiling and I know his chance has gone. I’m going to walk away from this. But before I go, he says something which sets the tone for a series of random yet revealing encounters I’m going to have during the next 18 months.

He says, “You think you’re so superior just because you’re a cyclist.

Now at this point, I would dearly love to be incredibly superior and tell you that he identified a fellow pedestrian as a cyclist because I am, of course, in superb physical condition and I regularly draw gasps from passing strangers. Sadly, it was actually because I was pushing my bike along the pavement at the time. So instead of acting superior I’ll be grateful that The Lunchtime Thug, who wanted to teach me a lesson, actually taught me something more valuable: there is now a personality type that does not care how well you ride or even if you are riding at all. They are certain you are in the wrong chiefly because you happen to be a cyclist.

It happened again around six months later on another pavement and another lunchtime, on this occasion in Soho. I was running way ahead of time for a hospital appointment that I knew would bring a long-running series of check-ups to a welcome conclusion, so I wanted to find somewhere nice to eat beforehand. A quiet celebration for one. I had given up trying to work out the logic of Soho’s one-way streets and no-entry signs and was walking with my bike when two teenagers, looking like a pair of Dappys, rushed past me on the narrow pavement. One said to the other tetchily: “Cyclists should stay on the road.” Even when they’re not riding, it seems.

The next encounter was with a much older man, an Eighties throwback in one of those brown leather aviator jackets with the collar turned up, who expressed a similar view to Soho Dappy. He was walking in a cycle lane in Kingston a few months ago while having a telephone conversation as I freewheeled slowly behind him. After three polite “excuse mes” on my part, he finally turned round and moved to the pavement, but not before telling me I should have cycled on the road.

Finally, there was the night I came off on Borough High Street when I was trying to dodge a Friday night reveller. I was crawling along at less than 10mph when he suddenly appears, stepping out from behind a stationary bus. My front wheel tapped his leg and I hit the tarmac, where I lay for a few seconds, largely unhurt, listening to his angry lecture on the subject of how cyclists never look where they’re going. He was looking the wrong way before I hit him.

There was a time when I thought cycling in London would be accepted as a normal activity supported by the majority. And remarkably, as Andrew Gilligan pointed out last week in an Evening Standard piece about public consultations for road alterations, statistics show it pretty much has. In London, the majority don’t want fewer cyclists riding on the road (or having the temerity to walk on the pavement); they want more. That means, of course, that the dream of a completely cycle-friendly city is still within grasp. But the sour encounters I’ve had with cycle-unfriendly strangers fascinates me. How did seemingly normal people become so entrenched, so far beyond reason?

Perhaps it’s because they know they will never get their way. Many years ago, I’d frequently see badly-photocopied flyers in bike shops advertising mass gatherings of cyclists, the ultimate aim of these protests being the removal of motor vehicles from the road for good. Which, of course, did not come to pass. At the core of those fringe groups was a belief that the motorist was always, always wrong. Now the constituency of the fringe has moved: it is now populated by very different people who believe it is cyclists who are always, always wrong. Neither is true. But expressing it fuels a delusion that they might, somehow, go away one day.

The DYNAMITE! Five: The week in cycling, remixed. Issue #11

August 5, 2011

5 DOWN 5,000 green bottles
Cycling does funny things to colours. Yellow is generally the colour of cowardice, but in the two-wheeled world it’s the hue of a hero’s vestment. Similarly, green means young or inexperienced, which is in stark contrast to the status of elder statesmen Robbie McEwen, 39, and 38-year-old Stuart O’Grady, who are both reportedly on the verge of signing for the seemingly inappropriately-named GreenEDGE (and, by the way, if no sarky blogger has dubbed the incipient Australian team GreyEDGE yet, then The DYNAMITE! Files would like to be the first to do so). But there can be no doubt what the same colour indicates to the good people of Wiggle and Gatorade: following the traditional marketing definition, “green” means producing lots of plastic rubbish nobody really wants or needs and shamelessly attaching it to an eco-friendly endeavour, which is what the two companies did in a prominent double-page ad in Cycling Weekly. Apparently you can own one of 5,000 specially-created bottles if you buy some of the aforementioned energy drink from the online retailer, but they “support” the Sky Rainforest Rescue project so that’s OK. Slightly muddled thinking there, but what do you expect? If you read the first sentence of the blurb below the jerseys, they also seem to think that the Tour de France is still going on…

4 UP Keepcup
On the subject of green issues, Keepcup plopped into the recycling bin of The DYNAMITE! Files’ consciousness this week. “We love bikes,” boast the Australian makers of the reusable coffee receptacle, pointing to their ingeniously designed delivery bicycles. Hopefully, then, the bike-loving caffeinistas will eventually get round to designing a version of the Keepcup that actually bloody fits in a bottle cage, instead of being jammed awkwardly at the top (as pictured above). One slight bump and you might experience what accident investigators might call a latte/tarmac interface. Messy.

3 DOWN Cycling Active
It’s been a week of intriguing questions. Will Sky now have Mark Cavendish on its roster next season? Has Christian Vande Velde ever got lost while riding the Tour de France? And how many miles can you cycle in an hour? The last poser was tweeted by Cycling Active magazine on Tuesday, and – you’d never guess – the answer appears to be that the number varies according to the person, the terrain and the weather. CA’s next possible request to its readership: tell us your favourite length for a piece of string. Or vote for your top temperature.

2 UP powerBIKE
They cannot fight it. At some point, every average wannabe-pro will surrender to the distant thud of David Guetta luring them to their local gym. And it is here, among the baggy shorts, sweatbands and non-wicking fabrics, that they shall face their most daunting challenge: prove you are superior to your fellow spin class attendees by wearing the dorkiest outfit in the room. With his shades and his aero helmet, the chap pictured above is clearly the King of the Spinners – but he is also taking gym snobbishness to teeth-clenchingly unbearable levels by recreating the experience of riding a cobbled Classic. The pedalling version of the now-ubiquitous Power Plate can recreate the juddering sensations one might usually associate with the Muur or the Koppenberg, and the makers claim you get a better workout than an ordinary spin bike because the rider’s muscles are working to counteract the vibrations. Which may be true, although a shonky, second-hand aluminium Ribble and a crappy road surface would be a more cost-effective way of doing the same job as a powerBIKE (RRP: £2,995).

1 UP Bare heads
Fantastic news for the helmet-averse: a poll of 1,427 doctors in the British Medical Journal has revealed that most medics do not want to see crash lids made compulsory as they fear it would put people off cycling. Natasha Austin, 24, of Maida Vale, concurs in the vox pops at the end of the London Evening Standard‘s story: “I don’t wear a helmet and I use Boris bikes. If it were compulsory I might cycle less because then you would have to carry it around.” Now, as one of the few remaining impartial media outlets on the World Wide Whinge, The DYNAMITE! Files wishes to avoid getting into the thorny issue of compulsory helmet usage. But Natasha, sweetheart, a helmet weighs less than the keys in your pocket, and you could always strap it to your bag. You also have to walk to get to your Boris bike, and you may be unable to park it at your destination, which means you are experiencing more hassle on a regular basis than most cyclists do. So don’t think of it is a helmet – treat it as your own personal Crown of Indifference, a proud symbol of how nonplussed you are by minor inconveniences, and wear/carry it with pride.