Being a normal person, I like to do normal things like reading a newspaper, going for a stroll along a seafront or listening to the comments of BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull and wondering why the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation doesn’t just fuck off up its collective middle aged, convertible buying, fascist thinking, country club joining, ‘it’s not a wig, honest’ stating, hatred & bitterness filled arse and die. Above all I like to cycle to work, but apparently this is not what normal people do.
The problem is distance. Once upon a time my grandfather and lots of other men and women from the village where I was raised used to cycle to work. However, the place of work was an engineering factory just outside the village so the journey was 2 miles max and cycling (or walking) was the logical thing to do.
Nowadays we live stupid distances from where we work, often through no fault of our own. This means that for the intrepid few that cycle medium to long distances to work, something has to give, and that is usually style.
I don’t mind admitting that I sometimes weep with silent love and envy at websites such as the Tweed Cycling Club which embodies Great British cycling at its most stylish and best or Copenhagen Cycle Chic with it’s happy, cool unhurried faces pootling along on sit up and beg bicycles on infrastructure to die for. In Britain we just have infrastructure to die on. These stylish websites make for gorgeous eye candy, but just aren’t for the type of person [in Britain] whose journey to the office is a 12 mile grind along a busy A259 where ‘the Left Bank’ or ‘Bohemian Quarter’ is actually Southwick Power Station or Portslade.
Now that Spring is upon us I’m trying to look as normal as possible but using lycra as a base layer (I don’t give a tuppenny toss what anyone says, lycra is very comfortable to cycle in thank you particularly over longer distances) but wearing T Shirts (sometimes with jokey slogans or cool logos) and long three quarter length shorts over the top.
I want people to point and think ‘Wow! That looks efficient, slightly stylish and normal. I think I might give cycling a go’ as opposed to just pointing and staring. I am normal. Honest.
As Spring starts to tentatively push the thermometers up toward double figures, the cycle ride to work could not have been more different from a couple of Mondays ago when the country struggled with a deadly payload of snow, some of it drifting as high as the ankle.
Today was even made stranger still by the eerie silence along the coast road. Seagulls could make themselves heard, cars trundled along with no need to rush or fight for space. Everything was calm and quiet and polite and civilised and then I realised – it’s the school half term holiday this week.
Oh well, enjoy it while it lasts and then next week the country can go back to scratching it’s collective head as to why children are getting increasingly unhealthy and obese. It’ll pass the time for them in the traffic jam.
A little while ago, I signed up to the World Commute website
According to the blurb, World Commute is a not-for-profit, free social-network website to encourage, promote and track the use of non-motorised transportation around the world. It allows users to create a profile and record non-motorised trips including daily commutes to work or school and “taking care of business” trips to the shops etc. Because they also want to promote physical health through activity, users can also record recreational and fitness activities scoring “health points.” Even though a run at lunch may not contribute to reduced carbon emissions, it is physical activity that promotes a healthier individual.
It’s very pleasing to watch the miles pile up. In 36 working days, I’ve clocked up 792 miles (Worthing to Oslo is 763 miles as the crow flies), saved £130 and offset 767lbs of carbon (although I’m not quite sure what these figures are based on). My sexiness in lycra rating is 9.5 out of 10, even in cold weather. Alright, I made that up.
Obviously, if your commute involves cycling to your local crack den, you may lose the health points you’ve gained but at least you’re not driving a stolen car thereby offsetting carbon. You have to think about these things.
Siberian winds swept in across Britain today with snow and ice, and Britain as usual scuttled back under it’s duvet. Well, those that were searching for the perfect excuse anyway. The media and anyone with free time wondered why we collapse like a house of cards in a force one breeze when a couple of inches of snow arrives but quite frankly what’s the point? Local councils need invest in no more than a bit of grit because snow only really affects us for about two or three days a year. Occasionally. And it’s hardly at the Siberan levels from whence it came. Then the snow will melt to a million digital memories on facebook and the media interest will go back to Credit Crunch Britain or Celebrity Come Big Brother or something.
I still cycled to work today. It’s 11 miles from Worthing to Brighton. It was a little slippy in places but great fun in todays winter wonderland and one of the genuine rewards for cycling through the seasons. Here’s the thing; work colleagues were amazed that I’d done something so ‘mad’ and ‘lunatic’ today. Yet I cannot think of anything simpler than getting on a bicycle whatever the weather and riding it. Some may consider me an ‘experienced’ cyclist but what is that other than yet another excuse thrown up by people to deny themselves the simplicity and fun and beauty of cycling themselves? I take the view that if I can do it, anyone can do it. Even Professor Stephen Hawking could probably give me a run for my money on the morning commute with the right stabilizers and strategically placed bungee cords.
I was greeted with looks of horror as I said goodbye to work colleagues this afternoon in my cycling gear and believe it or not I’m going to do it again tomorrow. This is not because I have something to prove, this is not to gain any moral high ground or show off any eco-credentials (I also own a Vauxhall Corsa so we can forget that). I do it because it’s a bewilderingly thermodynamically wonderful piece of piss. As simple as snow falling.
On Sunday evening, I sat down with fiancée to watch X Men: The Last Stand (fiancée is a huge fan of Manga and Marvel). As I sat enjoying the movie, I suddenly started thinking that the plight of the X-Men isn’t that dissimilar from us cyclists. I’ll try and explain as it does need explaining:
Sometimes We Look Funny
A typical X-Man will wear a tight uniform to show their sleekness and power. I cycle to work and back 22 miles every day and wear tight lycra to..er..show my erm..sleekness and well, I just wear lycra for longer distances.
Whereas an X-Man would claim they wear what’s comfortable and appropriate for the job in hand it’s the same for cyclists too. I wouldn’t wear lycra to cycle to the shops or cycling around town as normal clothes are quite sufficient and it would put the public off cycling and their lunch. We are however seen as mutants or ‘others’ when we put on the uniform of cycle clothing yet to us we’re only doing what’s normal and appropriate.
Some Think We’re Renegades Above the Law
There are cyclists that don’t let piffling documents like the Highway Code hinder them in their quest for sleekness and power. They fall into two categories; firstly, those who think they’re so experienced, they can come up with Superhuman Logic for breaking red lights and zipping through zebra crossings when pedestrians are present. Then there are those who just don’t know any better or don’t wish to know. They just happen to be on a bicycle weaving up a pavement with no lights because they don’t want to be classed as cyclists and just want to get home from the pub/bookies/crime scene. (It’s the same with motorists too with those that think they’re so experienced they can easily drive after four pints and those that don’t wish to know as long as they get to where they want to go). The public won’t remember the years of hard effort and toil by cycle campaigners, but they will remember the mutant that nearly had them over at a Pedestrian crossing.
We want to be accepted on our terms
Mutants just want to be accepted. They don’t want a ‘cure’. Once upon a time cycling was a ridiculously thing to do. It still is of course but the public’s perception has been changed so much that it appears easier doing a tour of duty in Iraq than cycling to the shops. If we are going to have ‘the cure’ or cycle lanes as the powers that be put it, they should be designed and built to Dutch standards for example or simply don’t bother. Anything else should be regarded as a dangerous embarrassment and we shall remain mutants in the shadows.
I really enjoyed the film by the way. I put on my lycra Monday morning, looked at myself in the mirror and instantly thought of Wolverine. Time for a hair cut I think.