In the interests of science and social observation I am conducting a challenging and ground breaking experiment: I have left the Mustang at home and during a london-based week am commuting by bicycle.
I cycled a lot as a kid. Had to: I didn't have a driving licence. And I loved it. The bicycle represented freedom. I could travel miles and miles far faster than I could walk them and without waiting for a bus. I have no memory of ever being cross or unhappy on a bicycle. It felt good, it was sometimes quite exciting and it set me free. Why then, do so many cyclists - and this is especially prevalent in big cities - pedal about the place looking like they're ready for a cage fight? The only way to find out was to go fully method and become one.
Day One. So Far, So Happy...
To be fair, I already cycle a fair bit at home. I'm still not allowed to run following a spot of bother with my knee last year and I cycle for exercise and to avoid the swelling horror of a middle-age belly rendering all my trousers useless. But I cycle off road where I can't be seen by people who might want to eat later on and more importantly, where I can't get in the way. This week though, I am based entirely in London and my usual 135 mile commute from rural Ross has come down to a mere 6 miles. In a car, that's an hour, easy. On a motorcycle, 35 minutes. On a bicycle, it turns out, 25 minutes. So on day one of my experiment I arrive at the office beaming like, well, like a kid who's been given a bicycle for christmas. And yet on the journey in, every other cyclist I had encountered - and there were many - had worn the sort of expression more usually seen on the face of someone feeding a cat into a meat grinder. Bemusing.
Day One ... Return Journey. Okay, Well There's That About it...
I felt a first stirring of irritation with urban cycling. Traffic lights: They're a pain in the backside whether said backside is clad in jeans or lycra, for sure. In a car it's a case simply of stopping and then setting off again by pressing a button with your foot. On a bicycle it means wobbling to a halt, remembering to unclip your foot from the pedal before stopping completely or risk smashing your face to pieces on the tarmac. And whilst you pant and wait and wait and pant, you're aware of all the momentum you had built up dissipating into the universe. And setting off again means reattaching foot to pedal and deploying Herculean levels of effort to move off. Something rendered more tricky by the presence of a van setting off after me which seems to be transferring radioactive material, such is the intensity of the revving and evident panic coming from behind. Return journey took 26 minutes due to traffic lights and a spot of bother reattaching foot to the pedal at the lights outside Tescos.
Day Two ...
I encountered a bus today. Well, I met lots of them but this one stood out because it tried to kill me. It was stopped in a bus stop. Fair enough. I'm on a bicycle and allowed to use the Bus Lane. Which I was. But there was a bus stopped in it. So I drew on 32 years of motorcycling experience and looked over my shoulder before pulling out to overtake it. The bus waited until I was half way along it and then it too, pulled out. I avoided death only by closing my eyes and pedalling hard enough to rotate the planet by forty five degrees. I don't think it was the first time the bus had done it. I rode home being very cautious around buses in case I met the killer one again. Took 25 minutes, 30 seconds as a result. Dammit.
Day Three ... Bearing with it
I have a Breakfast meeting today because I work in the media and that's what you do. I decided to cycle. See above for reason. The meeting was scheduled for 8:30. I arrived at 8:00. This is because riding a bicycle around town means time and space are different and even contending with traffic lights, radioactive vans and serial-killer buses can't stop you arriving a lot earlier than you needed to. Hanging around outside a TV company's office wearing the type of clothes you must wear to ride a bicycle is awkward. More so if you're one of the guys off that car show and have a very red face and funny lines down your cheeks where your helmet straps have carved grooves. Should probably adjust that. I tried scowling to stop people talking to me. I looked like a proper cyclist. Took just ten minutes to get to the office after. Which is simply impossible by any other means not involving atomisation and reassembly at destination.
Day Three ... Return Journey
Why do they put all the manhole covers, grids and random lumps of shiny metal in the bus and cycle lanes? It's a bloody deathrap. They're trying to kill us. Thought this all the way home. It may have showed on my face. AND IT TOOK ME 26 MINUTES AS A RESULT. Time ruined.
Day Four ... A conclusion For Now.
24 minutes to work. Un-be-bloody-leivable. Weather kind, no buses killed me; felt great. We have a shower at work because we're a media company and that's what they do. It puts out only a thin stream of icy water. Didn't care and was still whistling when I stepped out of it dressed in work clobber. This experiment has worked rather like when I turned vegetarian for a year to try and understand what it was all about. I get the frustrations, the dangers and the lack of concern. Weirdly, other road-users seem less intent on actively killing you than they do when you're on a motorcycle, it's just that they look like they wouldn't care if they did and that somehow makes it worse. If I'm going to be murdered I'd rather it was considered and deliberate than just out of a casual lack of interest. But none of that should spoil it. Cyclists, stop being so bloody miserable about something great. Accept that no-one else gives a rat's-arse about you trying to break your record time into work or having tricky cleats on your pedals. Enjoy saving huge swathes of time whilst doing your bit to work off last night's excesses in the pub. Unlike when I tried being vegetarian, I'm going to stick with this for a bit. I'll still use the Mustang to get in from Ross, but I'll carry on cycling when I need to. I may even complete the week on it.