I would like to premise this by saying that whoever invented the belief system that cycling is in some way “easy”, or a natural skill effortlessly imbibed by humanity should have been promptly examined by someone proficient in diagnosing psychosis. Those who have since perpetuated this myth with ridiculous expressions – obvious example: “it’s like riding a bike” – that serve to reinforce the idea that to balance on finger-thin wheels whilst simultaneously steering, pedalling, braking, avoiding death is something any old moron can simply “pick up” and then excel in FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES should similarly be subject to thorough mental examination. Especially given the blatant design of these lies to belittle and demean perfectly competent individuals potentially lacking in that specific ability but clearly very capable in most other aptitudes. Just an observation I’ve occasionally made as an objective third party. Completely impartial, anthropological study.
Following on from this myth – now debunked – of the innate human ability to simply “ride a bike” are of course the winding tributaries of lies surrounding all kinds of cycling equipment designed to, in some way, “improve” the experience. The propaganda of the cyc-lying community regarding stabilisers is infinite proof of the scale of the ruse.
The stabiliser. Innocuous and humble in all its fluorescent, spangled glory. The devil’s prop adored by parents and similar well-meaning individuals who all clearly have stakes in what I’m sure is a thriving bicycle market given the earnestness of their pedal-pushing. Because despite the false promises of their name, the guarantee of safety, security, balance! stabilisers are often not at all stable. Quite the opposite, in fact. Several harrowing childhood experiences suffered at their brutal, flimsy hands would demonstrate this point effectively unfortunately I have not yet reached sufficient emotional maturity to be able to recount them with any level of composure. The trauma endures and thus, I move on.
Except to say that to embroil the trust and safety of innocent children in a campaign concerned only with profit and deceit is fundamentally barbaric and that the depravity of the deception is comparable only to the sham of Santa Claus himself. But I move – note: not ride – on.
To the cyc-lies of adulthood.
After parting ways with the cycling traditions of my youth – choosing to abandon the scars, the falls, the betrayals of the bike for a life without unnecessary pain in the name of “fun” or “exercise” – adulthood and commuting once again brought me back into contact with my old nemesis. Bigger, bolder, steelier than I remembered.
But in our years of estrangement, the memories had paled, softened – like a fine brie at room temperature. The nightmares of my past – careering down footpaths, a blur of flailing limbs unable to stop, pelvis-numbing falls across handlebars or onto steel frames, strange women attempting to console an inconsolable eight-year-old, the derision of the younger, more experienced kids – mellowed into laughable fumbles, the stuff of family dinner anecdotes. Whimsical, flimsy, the hysterics of a child.
Like a listless sheep I allowed myself to be corralled by the push, push, push of the dealers and Dutch, by the propaganda of elegance and speed. Foolish! To be indoctrinated back into this distorted Dystopia where bikes were the answer to all of this messed up world’s problems, some sleek and stream-lined portal into a universe of tranquillity and composure – bereft of the harangues of crawling traffic jams, heart-attack inducing dashes across town, spilled coffee and smudged lipstick in the rat race to appointments and functional life.
Because, such being the power of persuasion, when I thought of bikes I thought of Delft. Meandering, delta-ed Netherlands. Wide, cobbled streets, bubbling canals and a gentle stream of straight-backed cyclists. I thought of lean, lanky and impossibly good looking Dutch women on pastel-coloured nelly’s, pristine clean and regal as they drifted over smiling bridges, gliding chic with coffee cup in hand and pashmina draped carelessly over a shoulder balancing some ethically sourced hemp satchel. I thought of leisurely Saturday afternoons, romantic outings down country lanes or quiet streets, gentle breezes and tinkling laughter, lingering looks over handlebars. A picnic basket dangling prettily, perhaps, and some sort of linen/cotton ensemble encapsulating spring and sophistication and the blossoming of young love. Maybe even a neck scarf, à la Grace Kelly.
Now seems like an appropriate time to mention that not one of these notions was born out of personal experience. In fact, my every encounter with a bicycle since our pubescent separation has been a sweaty plummet of painful disillusionment.
Because in this keening, screaming city bikes are wild hyenas; malign beasts unleashed with the venom they cradle in tethered captivity only to release it upon law-abiding, conscientious road users.
Cycling is a chundering, blundering quest, laborious hell and purgatory where life hangs in the balance and death whistles in your ears as you hurtle towards or from oblivion. Where buses loom like giant sharks behind, beside, in front of you, bearing down in this nightmare of blue and yellow and screeching brakes and every thudding second seems to promise the end. A cacophony of searing horns and beeps and revving engines that just about drown out your screams. There is never a question of leisure. People die out there.
But, you know what? I’m done with the illusions. It’s about time somebody stood up, spoke out and became the searing beacon of salvation their protective, reflective bike wear proclaims them to be.
I want to be that person. I choose to be that person. I choose to save lives, reputations, sanity. So let’s forget the myths, the lies. Let me paint you a little picture of what cycling is really like…
MYTHS DEBUNKED AND TRUTH TOLD:
It’s a taxi driver slowing to a crawl beside you to shout abuse because you panicked and turned too soon and now are taking up two lanes of traffic – accidentally – but you’ve committed now and moving means dying so you plough on and would like if everybody else did the same. But alack, alas! understanding, compassion, concern for the floundering country girl clearly new to the city (and rules of the road) and crawling along in the offendingly bright-coloured coat are non-existent. The foolishness of your rash, petrified action is explicitly, cruelly picked apart in the most visceral and scathing of language and the whole world is a witness to your humiliation to the point where death seems not only viable but enviable – wanted, wished for. The only glimmer of redemption is learning several new, creative ways to combine several expletives into one novel, glorious insult.
It’s going food shopping on a Wednesday evening as a respite from the pile of unfinished (read: unattempted) college work – attempting the feat mastered by so many of balancing bags and groceries and dogs and children only to arrive home 2 hours later after half a dozen unintentional cul-de-sac detours, sticky with sweat and blistering tears of frustration only to realise your oranges got pulverised by the bicycle wheels and your disproportionately priced blueberries have been irrevocably crushed in the struggle. We won’t mention the eggs. Or hummus.
It’s having one too many (or too few) pints on a Wednesday and feeling that a nice leisurely cycle home is everything you need to round off your “quiet night” only to find, after 10 minutes of fumbling with your lock, 5 minutes of mounting your bike and a further 3 to relearn the function of pedals, that you are absolutely flaming drunk and a straight line is no longer something achievable in your immediate future. But, again, you’re stubborn, you’ve committed, buses have stopped running and a taxi fare is out of the question so you soldier on, a swinging unsteady arse illuminated by the twisted lines of your upside down high vis jacket.
It’s learning to accept that wrinkles are a part of your face now. Because your morning and night-time skin routine now involves contorting a once youthful complexion into grotesque versions of Frankenstein’s monster as you push pedals to and from home the way I imagine women push babies out in labour.
Exposed by the betrayal of streetlights, you are unveiled as this gruesome beast of bared, grinding teeth, eyes and cheeks blackened by the streaks of mascara that have mingled with the sweat forming dams on the edges of cheeks scrunched in agony.
Reduced to nothing but bestial grunts and wails and cold, clenched arse-cheeks on a too-small saddle you are ever-more scarred by the chasms forming around your eyes, deep cracks burrowing themselves into your forehead, around your mouth and eyebrows as you begin to resemble a crumbling glacier. Which is quite poetic as a metaphor when you imagine the amount of sweat running off me like melted ice.
And then, it’s that one moment. When you’re bombing down a hill or racing through a red light or cruising past the domino lines of seething traffic, sitting powerless and simmering in their cages. When your heart is pounding with adrenaline, your eyes hurting with the cold air of exhilaration and your soul buoyant and revelling in your own maverick liberation from traffic congestion and delayed Darts and overcrowded buses and you think –
This is fucking fantastic.
And so, you beat on through the brutal steel of the city. A lone crusader risking your life in the grey, beaming neon yellow and trailing grease-licked hair.