Thursday 28 May 2015

A Senior Moment

So, BikeHub reports on research conducted by the University ofWestern England into why “seniors” do so little cycling in the UK, compared with Denmark or the Netherlands.

I could have told them.

I “celebrated” (if that is the right word) my 60th last week.  Tomorrow is my last day as a full-time worker – from next week I give up my position as a partner in an accounting firm and I start a part-time consultancy with them for a year or two.  I have already collected my “Senior Railcard” – which I will need to make my commuting bill manageable as South West Trains makes no provision for part-timer season tickets and has no apparent intention of doing so in the foreseeable future.

I digress.  My commute to work is a sandwich, two short cycle trips as the bread with a 50 minute train ride as the meat.  The bottom slice is a peaceful saunter down a country lane, through the station car park and a hundred metres or so of busy road to the station entrance.  The top slice is from Waterloo to Blackfriars, over Blackfriars Bridge.

I hope that I will still be working and commuting this route when the new North-South Cycle Superhighway, whose construction has now started, is complete and could take me from Stamford Street to a point barely 100 metres from my office, where Farringdon St meets St Bride St.  By then I think I am going to need it.

Why?  Firstly, anyone over 40 will know that your faculties begin to decline with age.  My one-time 20/20 vision has now deteriorated to eth point where I have to increase my reading specs prescription every 2-3 years.  I am not quite at the point of needing specs for driving, but I can’t be far off.  More to the point, my strength, stamina and flexibility are all declining, and I have to work ever harder in the gym to slow the rate of decline.  I am now overtaken by more often than I overtake other cyclists.  I am finding it ever harder to achieve the sprint speeds and rapid acceleration which John Franklin calls for in his book to be a vehicular cyclist – a term I deplore although I readily acknowledge that VC is the only real strategy for staying safe on busy roads.  I have mild osteo-arthritis in my left knee and I know there is only one way that can go – downhill.

Secondly, I am losing my confidence.  I am becoming more anxious and more fearful.  That seems to be a common feature of ageing.  Older people’s fears – of strangers, youth, immigrants, anyone who is somehow “different” from themselves, may not be laudable but I can understand it as I experience more anxiety about other things which really don’t matter like whether I forgot to put my phone on charge. In cycling terms, I am becoming more anxious and less confident about the behaviour of people around me.  Not only motorists but occasionally other cyclists – I have been unbalanced by close-passes to my right, and experience an increasing number of close-passes to my left which, if they unbalanced me, could tip me into the path of something much heavier and faster and more lethal.  I view most motorists these days with suspicion, even if that great majority of them are actually not hell-bent on killing me.

But there is one thing about which my anxiety is entirely rational – fear of injury.  As you get older, you take longer to recover from injury or illness or the effects of an operation.  I have had four collisions with cars or taxis since I took up cycling in London, and the last of these, while really no more serious than the first three, which I shrugged off, left me in need of an operation on my shoulder which, 2 ½ years later, I have still not fully recovered from – in most respects I get along but when my personal trainer makes me do a plank, it is not my core strength which fails me but my right upper arm and shoulder which buckle after about a minute.  Inability to recover from injury really frightens me, as I recall how a botched operation to repair her knee largely immobilised my mother and started her spiral of decline into eventual dementia and a care home.  (Thank the Lord that she is no longer around to suffer the steep spiral of decline we can expect in local authority adult social care – they were piss-poor five years ago, I shudder to think where they are going now).

So, I simply don’t see myself continuing to cycle in central London for much longer without segregated cycle provision. My travel by bike has already been curtailed to routes I know well, and where I can stay clear of the worst situations such as deliberately-narrowed busy streets like Cheapside, Strand, Pall Mall or Ken High Street.

So roll on the two segregated superhighways.  May they be only the first, as I am sure they will be, when live data hammers home the point beyond even the densest petrol-head minister’s capacity for self-denial, that they are a brilliant solution to any city’s transport problems and should be implemented wholesale.