Wednesday 10 June 2015

Feedback loop

Why do so many cyclists have to look like a character from “The Roswell Incident”?

This morning on my way into work, astride my Brompton, dressed in  a cotton long-sleeve business shirt and navy blue cotton chinos, I come up at the lights behind a guy on a carbon (I guess) road bike with skinny tyres, derailleur gears and treadless skinny rims.  His attire comprised cleated shoes, lycra shorts and jersey, helmet and shades, topped off with a natty Rapha rucsac.

All for the journey into work.  At least I guess that was his plan – he wasn’t practising for Le Tour de France.

I think this was a fairly extreme case, but it is a commonplace that London cyclists ride derailleur-geared bikes – when hub gears are far more practical for stop-start at lights and junctions – without mudguards or panniers, and they wear broadly sporty clothing, shorts and tees even in cold weather.

But, isn’t that just part of a vicious circle, a feedback loop?  People ride in what is comfortable for the style of riding they want to adopt, and on machines which they consider, on balance, to be more efficient for the style of riding they want to adopt.  That style is VC – behave like a motor vehicle, occupy the road and keep up with the traffic.  Because that is what makes them feel safe and tolerably comfortable in the traffic conditions.

It also reinforces their alien quality, their otherness, which validates in the minds of non-cyclists their dislike and distrust of them.  It excuses politicians and engineers for disregarding the interests of cyclists, allocating virtually no money to their needs despite the fact that they pay quite substantially towards the roads (as all taxpayers do – “road tax” is pitifully inadequate to cover the true cost of roads) and then taking back even what they have allocated.  The result is no or insufficient good cycle infrastructure which would otherwise bring ordinary people in ordinary clothes on ordinary utility bicycles out of hiding, leaving the roads still dominated by “Small Grey”, and so the cycle continues.

Only two days ago, I was passing the works on a section of the new East-West superhighway on the Embankment in front of the Whitehall government buildings and Portcullis House – in a taxi, as I maintain you might not need to be mad to cycle there, but it certainly helps – and I could see that a fairly respectable width of track was being created behind a clearly defined line of kerbstones.  It is good to see that this is actually happening.  Let’s hope that when it is finished, it sees lots of new cyclists riding those ordinary bikes in those ordinary clothes, at a sedate jogging pace with occasional stops to respect the traffic lights imposed on the route.  With that perhaps we will see firstly the irrefutable empirical proof that infrastructure is good both for cycling and for all other modes of transport, and secondly an appreciation from the general public that “cyclists” are just people, trying to go about their normal business, only on a bicycle.