Wednesday 23 November 2011

Grumpy Cyclist? Depressed Driver!

The other day, I happened upon a reference to this blog. Cycling Info is a blog written by someone far more knowledgeable about cycling that I, so I was really quite flattered that I was listed among a whole series of much more informed blogs than mine. Although the comment against Grumpy Cyclist is : 

The title says it all, if you fancy reading a rant.

I have to admit this may be true - my posts are not particularly inspiring for would be cyclists..

But it got me thinking, firstly that maybe I need to be slightly more upbeat with my posts, and secondly, why exactly do I cycle?

Clearly, I consider there is much wrong with the way cycling is treated as a mode of transport. I often feel that those people who make the transport decisions think of cycling as a jolly oddity that should be encouraged, but not at the expense of important modes of travel. So, in the face of patronising and half-baked campaigns from government and often outright hostility from car drivers why would I persist?

One of the reasons for cycling was brought home to me the other day, when I decided to do a local journey of around 2 miles by car instead of cycle. Driving a car anywhere is London is simply horrid. It is slow - junctions that I get through in one traffic light phase on a cycle took three phases by car as we all collectively crept forward to the next queue. It is stressful - narrow streets, parked cars everywhere, high pedestrian numbers and dense traffic mean that I remain on edge for the whole journey. It is frustrating - a journey of 5 minutes takes 30 minutes because a lorry is unloading, the car parking spaces at the destination are all full, an idiot in a BMW decides to use an active bus lane to get 3 car lengths ahead and then blocks two lanes when pushing back in.

In short driving in London isn't pleasant. And this is simply local driving - start using a car in zone 1 and the experience becomes 10 times worse.

Compared to this, cycling is quick and predictable. A 10 minute journey might take 12 minutes if I am feeling lazy or 8 if the wind is behind me. It is liberating - when I get to the shops I generally can tie the cycle to something (although more proper stands would be jolly nice), and I don't need to circle around small car parks trying to fit my transport choice into a gap which is too narrow. Cycling, even popping to the shops, makes you feel just a bit more refreshed and healthy than sitting in a metal box for the same journey. And, in spite of the best efforts of local transport departments and errant drivers, cycling is usually remarkably stress-free.

But more than this, it is actually quite a lot of fun. A trip to the shops isn't so much of a chore. Realising that one has to go to Stratford or Leyton or Tottenham, isn't wasted time, it is an opportunity to get a little exercise and interact with the local area. Because, in a car, one is isolated from the streets one traverses in a haze of junctions and traffic. On a cycle I wave to people I know, I stop to have a chat, I smell the bakery and hear the market. In a car you fight through the local area, on a cycle you are part of the local area.

So why don't more people cycle instead of drive? I think a big part is due to conditioning. It took me years of frustration to try something else. Another big part is the way cycling is considered and treated on our roads. In spite of good words by those who wield power over our street design, the way they treat cycling in places like Blackfriars and Bow gives a message that cycling is in theory good, but hardly a grown-up way of getting around. And by letting our roads - even residential ones - become a car choked mess, they not only make driving utterly miserable but dissuade many from thinking that there are alternatives to sitting in a metal box.

So there are many reasons to be jolly about cycling. There are many reasons to give it a try. But it is frustrating when such a super mode of urban transport is compromised by policies that try making driving a car, a naturally poor mode of urban transport, easy. Not only do these policies fail to make driving easy but, in pursuing them, more natural urban transport options become much more difficult. So this is why I remain a grumpy cyclist despite all the wonderful things about cycling. 

Or maybe I am just a glass half empty type...


  1. Thanks for link. Nice post. My description was probably a little flippant!

  2. Nice to have a positive post but do you really just "tie" your bike? Wouldn't you be more than grumpy if someone untied it and went off with it?

  3. Naturally wonderful. excellent entry.