Reasons to be Cheerful About Being a Cyclist

Our good pals at RiotACT have run a couple of threads lately (Bloody On-road Cyclists, 80 percent of cyclists dangerous lawbreakers) about the scourge of cyclists riding rampant through the city streets. Cyclists apparently provoke the ire of a goodly few of Canberra”s residents, what with all their riding on the road and expecting to be avoided by cars and so on, not to mention failing to wear helmets, not having lights, running red lights, not paying any road taxes, not having a proper job and probably being terrorist sympathisers.

I”ve been tempted to leap to the cyclists” defence numerous times, but have held back, partly because I am a cyclist myself and am guilty of many of the above crimes” all of them in fact (and more – drink-riding, riding under the influence of celestial bodies…), except for expecting cars to avoid me on the road. A cyclist is a damn fool if they expect a car to not deliberately mow them down, let alone see them and give them their legally entitled right of way.

But here, away from the artless chattering of the RiotACT classes, I feel free to extemporise a little on the subject which has, as one RA commenter said, been done to death, but never by me, with my convoluted logic, nor in quite my impeccably self-righteous tone.

First let me say that in defending cyclists, I am not referring to those gangs of lycra-clad fools riding ridiculous distances through the hills around town, aggressively taking up the whole lane. Such people, for whom cycling has clearly become an unnatural obsession, are a wholly different species from those that I love and attempt to defend here: those who ride an old treadly around town, getting themselves from home to work or the shops in a pair of slacks and a flapping jacket or whatever, those who ride because it is a quiet, efficient and non-polluting method of transport, as well as being fun, healthy and, if taken towards its potential, an extreme sport.

I refer not to BMX but to riding in Sydney, where I once commuted from Bronte into the city. My progress was often faster than the surrounding traffic. Riding became as much like surfing as any land-based activity can be (except, perhaps, skate-boarding, skiing, snow-boarding, bob-sledding..), the waves of traffic surging and ebbing and me, all flashing knees and whirring spokes, scything through the sets like a blonde streak of ambition, all optimism and arrogant disregard for the ever-threatening dumper.

And of course I may have endangered other road users at times with my erratic progress, but not nearly as many times as car drivers endangered mine, and believe me, I never deliberately tried to ram any cars as happened to me, in reverse, a couple of times.

Riding in Canberra is an entirely different kettle of fish and, besides, I’m older and creakier and youthful arrogance has been replaced by a growing sense of pregnability. Not that I don’t disobey the majority of road rules still, I just do it at a slower pace and with a slightly lower risk quotient.

For example, on the wearing of helmets, seemingly such a common sense sort of proposition, I maintain a personal, self-conferred, grandfather-clause exemption due to the fact that I look silly, at my advanced age, in a poxy foam helmet. I’m comfortable with the facile vanity of this position, as long as no-one ever finds out. When confronted I cite the statistics from Western Australia which after ten years of mandatory helmet laws show:

– minimal influence on cyclist head injuries

– increased overall cyclist hospital admissions

– lessened the popularity of cycling

– demonstrably caused injury to public health.

A study with completely the opposite findings can be found here.

Regardless of the facts, as I said I prefer to ignore most cycling regulations and road rules as they relate to cyclists. Suicide is legal after all. But in Australia only about 40 people are killed cycling each year anyway, compared to 1300-odd in car accidents and 350 or so just walking.

Walking into low hanging branches or off cliffs perhaps? Clearly the majority were run down by marauding cyclists, or so the hatred in the tone of some bicycle critics would have one believe. I must admit it’s an awful experience to see some idiot on a bike nearly kill themselves or nearly cause a car accident, but those sort of events are rare and not restricted to cyclists. This hatred of cyclists must have some deeper genesis.

It’s clearly envy.

When people in their snug and warm cars see a cyclist struggling up a remorseless hill in a biting sleet they regret their own disconnection with the elements. When people in air-conditioned cars roar past a bicycle on a hot summers day, scattering shrapnel in their wake, and arrive at their destination with cool unruffled brows, they inwardly lament the loss of the sense of humility that nature’s extremes once bestowed on their less pampered youthful selves.

And then there’s the drooping midriff and the increasingly expansive other bits, the thinning hair, the dwindling nest egg, the lack of satisfactory sex, the sickly pallor, the threat of a bird-flu pandemic and a million other ills that may or may not be ascribed to this scourge of bikes and it’s clear that cyclists both have a lot to answer for and can remain safely smug in the knowledge that despite their many faults, most people who hate them hold the terrible suspicion that cyclists just have more fun, more sex and look a lot better in the nude than they do.

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