Cyclists And Their Bikes (Part 1)

What cyclists say, when asked about their bikes:

An old bike rotting in woodland

A good bike will last a long time if you look after it

“I think I love my bike. Whatever love is.”

“I keep mine in the house, in the hall if there are people coming over but quite often it’s in the dining room. I just like looking at it.”

“My bike? It’s over there if you want to take a look. You’ll have to move all the kids’ bikes off it. Sorry. The tyres are probably flat.”

“I had silver tassels on the ends of my handlebars but they’ve come off.”

“I’ve gone retro; I don’t like these modern ones. Give me steel any day.”

“Don’t look too closely – it’s in bad need of some loving care.”

“Do you like it? I’ve just painted it that colour. Very pink, very bubblegum, very me, don’t you think?”

“I’ve got a folding bike, just for the commuting. That’s my only one.”

“I like bikes and all that but I don’t go mad about them. My boyfriend’s made, like, a fetish out of his. He’s always fiddling with it, has to have the latest bits for it. I don’t get it. He spends a fortune but he never goes any faster.”

“That thing?! That was left behind in the shed of a place I rented when I was a student and it’s sort of stayed with me ever since. Lord, that was a few years ago now.”

“I just ignore it until it goes wrong and then the old boy in the bike shop sorts it out for me. I can’t even fix a puncture. I suppose I ought to learn really. Mind you, it’s people like me that keep him in a job.”

“Can’t say I’ve ever given it much thought. It gets me about. It’s a three speed.”

“It’s the old ones I really like; finding an old gem in a bike sale or something is just brilliant.”

(More next week)

Part of theUnstated.Net   Part of theUnstated.net

For The Sake Of It?

The roads are foul – debris strewn, wet, and filthy with both human and nature’s rubbish. If it’s not raining it will be shortly. If it’s not blowing a gale it will be shortly. True, around here – Berkshire and South Oxfordshire – we’re getting away with it relatively lightly (so far at least); there are plenty of places struggling far more with the consequences of all this bad weather. Nevertheless, it’s not as much fun as it could be if you’re out riding a bike this winter.

That all raises a question: what is it a measure of that I still went out today? What does it indicate that I’ve two friends (who are like me, cyclists for pleasure rather than necessity) who’ve been telling me that they’re either going out in the lousy conditions anyway, or are genuinely feeling the worse for not getting out?

Perhaps there’s something about the science of it – the pleasure-related chemicals released into the brain through exercise; perhaps you can get addicted to them. Perhaps that’s tied-in with our ancient ancestors and the fact that at root we aren’t made to live and work indoors. What I do know is that the desire to get out and ride is real – and it’s recommended. Leaving the obviously dangerous times aside, and as I’ve said before, it’s very rare indeed for a ride to be a mistake.

So the next time you see a cyclist out in bad weather, don’t think they’re out riding for the sake of it. Don’t think they’re daft. Think, instead, about joining in.

Winter tree line

And the light at this time of year has a unique quality too

Cyclists: Saving A Loved One’s Life

Yesterday, I watched an ambulance, blues lights flashing, struggle to get through heavy traffic in central Reading. I don’t know what emergency they were hurrying to: a heart attack perhaps. Quite possibly, seconds and minutes lost on the over-crowded roads will have made a difference to whoever they were trying to get to.

If more people were cycling, there would be less traffic. Ambulances would be able to get to emergencies a lot more quickly.

If you’re not the person in need of the ambulance, it might be someone you know – relative, friend, loved-one.

And if you cycle yourself, you will be healthier than if you don’t. You’ll probably be less likely to have a heart attack.

So, why not cycle whenever you can? And whether you’re cycling or not, why not always look upon every cyclist you come across as a good thing, making the roads that little bit less congested, and ambulances that little bit more able to come quickly to the help of someone you care about? You’d have to be daft not to.

Some things are just so starkly simple … it seems faintly ludicrous that you have to say them.

Voters On Bikes

Instances of cyclists being killed by drivers who then, more-or-less, get off with it, aren’t hard to find in Britain*. Today’s ride took me by Didcot. You get six months in prison, suspended, for killing a cyclist near Didcot, even if you’re driving illegally**.

Politicians are often keen to ‘send a message’ with sentencing – just think back to the last large-scale riots and the disproportionate government-directed judicial reaction to looting. There is only one deduction to make: the message politicians are happy for the judicial system to send out to motorists regarding killing cyclists is ‘well, we’d rather you didn’t but if you do, don’t worry, we’ll just give you a bit of a slap on the wrist’.

That’s not a grey area, that’s not open to debate; there’s nothing to quibble about here. The politicians in this country don’t much care about cyclists being killed; judged by their deeds rather than any cheap words, that’s a statement of fact.

If you’re a cyclist, any cyclist at all, that should inform your view of this country’s politicians, I suggest to the exclusion of any other consideration.

Forget the old, tired and trite left-wing / right wing politics; forget class-based politics; all those old divisions have long been meaningless. Review the past few decades of politics – as played out in reality, not as promised in manifestos, glib sound-bites and ‘spun’ for the media – and then forget any notion that one or another major party in Britain is morally, ethically or any other –ly ‘better’ than any of the others.

We live in a country governed, largely, by professional politicians who have opted to make a career out of politics in order to further their own interests – just like anyone in any other career. Perhaps there’s nothing inherently wrong in that, but understand it for what it is: we are governed by people who are driven to govern because of what they’ll get out of it. They’re not in it for your benefit, for my benefit or anyone else’s: they’re in it for themselves.

(That the desire to rule over people is determining someone’s chosen career is itself a trait that merits close examination, but that’s another issue.)

Lobbying is just a nice word for buying power – lobby politicians and you’re in effect, buying politicians, directly or indirectly. With the UK dominated by careerist politicians (local or national), then the way has never been more open for lobbying: careerist individuals are, by definition, all about advancement and attracting the attention of lobbyists (being bought), in this new scheme of things, simply means you’re doing well.

That leaves us cyclists with a choice. We could try and buy enough politicians to make a difference, but we’d be up against entrenched interests with very deep pockets. Arguably, ‘cyclists’ aren’t a coherent enough voice to organize and lobby for power anyway. Indeed, I’ve argued in the past that we need to be seen not as a group called ‘cyclists’ but as the diverse group of people we are: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, friends and lovers. ***

The alternative to buying politicians is voting them out of office. The more cyclists there are, the more of this basic political clout we have. We need to recognise our commonality – that we’re cyclists, that we’re voters on bikes, and that our politicians don’t much care about us – but beyond that, what we need to do is act as individuals against whatever politician, local or national, of whatever party, we are entitled to vote against by dint of where we live.

The diverse nature of the nation’s cyclists, in this scheme of things, is a positive: it makes us much harder to divide and rule, much harder to buy-off and neutralise. It should make us more of a threat.

In a nutshell – if your councillor or your MP isn’t actually achieving something for you as a cyclist, then vote against them. It doesn’t matter their party or your past allegiances; it doesn’t matter what they’ve said or promised. Judge them purely on what they have actually done for you, as a cyclist.

A lot of seats – particularly local – can change on a few votes. The more cyclists there are, voting for their interests, as opposed to along party lines, the fewer safe seats, even at a national level, there would be. ****

Yes, doubtless there are some exceptions to the career politicians out only for their own interests. Let them prove it though – not by talk but by action. The same is true of local councils: if you have a good one, demonstrably working for cyclists, vote to keep it in power. Nonsensical cycle lanes and other tokenism doesn’t count.

Otherwise, be as clear-eyed and cynical as I’m suggesting. You can be sure that, away from lip-service to the contrary, most of our politicians are far more cynical in their decision to not stand-up for cyclists.

Perhaps cyclists should organize in local groups if appropriate; perhaps the role of each town’s cycle club, cycle action group etc should primarily be to make it very clear to everyone what the politicians of their area are actually doing for the good of cycling. Again, this should be a wholly apolitical appraisal – based solely on demonstrable action or inaction.

And if anyone challenges you for being too cynical, or tries to rally you to a party’s colours, take that as a hint that you’re getting somewhere, that you’re rattling them, that you’re actually troubling the establishment, because the establishment is the whole lot of them – all the major parties, together.

* The Road Justice campaign site lists some injustices – but by no means all.
** Didcot cyclist-killer’s sentence
*** On the need to get away from being ‘cyclists’.
**** On how cycling doesn’t align with political divisions, and the need to reject the old party system.

Didcot in the distance

Didcot, dominating the skyline – and my thinking today

When The Law Doesn’t Work

Injustice is – what? Depressing? Sobering? Not surprising? I don’t know what’s a realistic response. For whatever reason, I had not come across the CTC’s Road Justice campaign until lately. Now I have, and over the last few rides I’ve found myself thinking about just what it means for that campaign to be necessary.

The issues it campaigns about, of course, I have been aware of. (I can even say that in the past I’ve donated my poker winnings to the Cyclists’ Defence Fund.) And as an individual, looking at reports about road traffic accidents involving cyclists, it’s often seemed to me that the police don’t take the plight of cyclists seriously. I’ve seen the same when it comes to cycle theft too – corroborated anecdotally by my local bike shop and a neighbour who’s been victim of professional bike thieves. But those have just been general impressions and I’ve been willing to believe that I might be wrong, that I don’t have all the evidence.

Having this general, vague awareness of the justice system’s bias against cyclists made concrete by a body such as the CTC, backed up by evidence, takes it to another level. The question becomes, as Lenin said, ‘What is to be done?

Middle aged, middle class and middle brow (I know my limits), my natural, ingrained belief was that the police and the components of the justice system generally are all broadly on the side of what’s right, what’s good. I don’t know where it leaves me to find that when it comes to me as a cyclist, they’re not. Although not the same thing qualitatively, perhaps it leaves me broadly in the same boat as the Hillsborough victims’ families, or the Birmingham Six, or the Lawrence family … etc.

A society where more and more people are being given just cause to doubt the rule of law is a society in danger. We can only function as a society if there’s a broad consensus about right and wrong. Lose the consensus and we all stand to lose everything.

Given that, on the whole, this society is one I’m more-or-less happy to be living in, I think the only logical answer to the legal system’s failings is that I should be trying to fix what is wrong, in the belief that although there are problems far greater than ‘a few rotten apples’ (as the police in particular would like to have us believe), it is still fixable.

And, given that the vast majority of people in this country – as witnessed by their general passivity – are similarly more-or-less happy with their lot, I suspect the same is true for most other people too; i.e. we should all be trying to fix what’s wrong, rather than merely being bystanders or victims.

As an easily achievable small step in the right direction, for cyclists, simply supporting the CTC’s campaigns is doing something to fix things.

The Road Justice Campaign

There is any number of other causes worth fighting for, with associated organizations taking up the fight, that we can all support too.

No Insults

Riding today and it was a bad case of failing to dodge the ‘showers’ – if prolonged periods of heavy rain driven along by strong winds can be called showers. I have more weather forecasting web sites bookmarked than is good for my sanity, but none of them are reliable when it comes to weather like this.

Summer rain on summer leaves.

Summer rain on summer leaves.

So, a short-ish ride by the end of which I was soaked – so it goes. And as I battled into a rain laden headwind, I thought to myself, well, at least no-one can call me a fair weather cyclist.

That in turn made me think, yes, being called a ‘fair weather’ cyclist is a common enough insult – but it’s gibberish really. A moment’s reflection will show that the keen are fools to dish that insult out. The keen should welcome cyclists of all standards and all levels of ability and dedication. It’s a numbers game: it will only be when there are enough of us that we’ll stop being thought of us ‘cyclists’ (or ‘bloody cyclists’) and will instead become who we actually are: fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sister, wives, husbands, lovers and friends – just like everyone else.

And besides, there’s no shame in only cycling on a decent day if you’ve the choice.