The road is full of cars.
Criss crossing each other, parking up really close together, really far apart or at unparallel angles, made up of all different shapes and sizes.Its the game of the cyclist to maneuver around this constantly moving maze.
Our choice of transport somewhat defines us. In some ways it shows how we approach life and how we choose to live — out in the open, for all to see, exposed to the unpredictability of mother nature, and mostly, but not always prepared for her expression, as well as our own.
Cycling promotes this kind of high awareness, something that is well known and acknowledged among cyclists and insurance companies alike. Cycling in London, realistically, can create an air of fear, which depending on ones predisposition, can sometimes manifest as excitement — while for others it can be rather daunting and scary. Fear can make people avoid using a bicycle, while others thrive on it.. But really thinking about it, fear and excitement shouldn’t even be an issue to begin with. It would be wonderful to think of cycling as a somewhat mundane regular every day activity like walking, or brushing your teeth in the morning. I dare to dream!
This fear and excitement is driven mostly by this constant possibility of collision. Either I could hurt a pedestrian with my bicycle, therefore becoming a perpetrator of harm… or there is the possibility of becoming a victim and being hit by a vehicle.
What is this strange hierarchy of transport? I forget about such things. Until I experience being bullied by some man in a car, wondering why he’s doing it, and then realise as I’ve avoided him and he drives past, that he’s in some expensive shiny branded car that I think I may have seen advertised somewhere before. It usually takes a while for me to register that this is still a thing for some people.
Sometimes being on the road feels like a fight, though I have no idea who I am suppose to be fighting. I just want to get to my destination, or enjoy a cycle with my friends. Is too much to ask?
I also have to ride behind and close to buses. I always try to look the drivers in their eyes, or through the mirrors, and I spent a lot of time waving my hands around! — you need to make yourself known! Got to ride in style!
Where there are no cycle lanes, we are expected to share the bus lanes, and I am pretty sure bus drivers are unspokenly not okay with this. Hell, I’m not okay with this. Hail to the cycle super highways! But it is what it is!
There’s an obvious difference between the size of our vehicles, though I’ll be truthful in saying we can speed past buses easily. We just have to share this space without cutting them off, without annoying them, and without getting hit by them. It does, eventually become second nature, but its interesting to think about.
Bus drivers also have tough jobs. I remember a time when they use to enjoy their jobs, talking with and enjoying passengers — I am sure many still do. But now, I hear them tell me of the stresses of the job and I feel for them. Overpopulation means people are less willing to give each other that time.
So sometimes, but not always and not everyone; the bus drivers may take their stresses out on the bicycle riders — shouting at us [sad face], speeding up behind us and revving the engine to intimidate us at traffic lights. We can be easy targets but sometimes I feel that being female grants me allowances that male cyclists would not get as often.
The competent cyclist has to play mediator. I almost understand how the term bike messenger gets it name, and why bike messengers are so respected, (as well as hated). We are able to communicate with every form of transport. We can talk to those who are walking on the streets, calmly but surely in movement so not to scare them into jumping into random directions, potentially causing a collision else where. We can also talk to drivers through their windows without being invasive. We do this from the left (mostly) so we are able to give them distance and allowing us to be in sight of each others faces without appearing as a threat. Drivers can only communicate through their right hand window.. Or with their horns — unless they plan on shouting through the left hand side, which is energy consuming and provides few results. We have a wonderful ability to communicate with everyone, and this is where I get the word ‘mediator’. We are quite literally in the middle! I am no fan of the ringing bell when I have audible vocal cords that can stretch far distances and also be heard close range. Awareness, communication and a sense of humour will keep us all safe and happy on the road — as much as it does in life!
The fumes from the buses and cars also make me feel sick. In the winter they produce a blind sense of temporary warmth, but the effect through my nostrils to my lungs feels harsh and painful. I pretend not to see it. Even wearing a anti pollution mask doesn’t feel like I’m avoiding the fumes. We are creatures of biology that interact with our environment. The car fumes — they make us sick. We don’t need statistics to remind us of that.
Sometimes I pretend I own the road so that I am given space — something which is almost impossible during rush hour times!… but since I don’t plan on getting crushed, the ‘I own the road’ game works in times of survival. Though for real, cyclists should give more space to one another, and there is nothing wrong with the occasional joke and chit chat! — I see some awesome cycling attire and sometimes I have to ask what people are wearing and where they got it from, or perhaps joke about the fact that I just saw someone buckle in their toe straps, or remind someone that being polite is a nice thing to do. If we respect each other in this way and we can find a sense of humour, then perhaps the drivers will do the same for us.
Cyclist, like everyone else on the road are attempting to reach a destination, but there is something about the bicycle that doesn’t allow you to rush. In reality, if we pause for a moment, where is it we really have to get to? I’m a delivery cyclist and I can still take my time and get to where I need to on time. The only thing that stops people from communicating is the conversations we have with ourselves in our own minds. If you want to be alone with yourself, go cycle in the country or when the roads are quiet. When you cycle in London and you’re out on the road, be prepared to communicate. We are social creatures, even the introvert must learn to communicate if they wish to survive.
Anyone who rushes on a bicycle will know what it feels like. A potential slip, a lack of breath, a crash, falling off — there is no room for failure on the London roads. Its not something us, or anyone else should do. A bit of mindfulness may help! Others will know too well about the consequences, because they have left this earth and their bodies. I don’t know enough to place blame or to come up with conclusions, but people do get hurt, and people do die. It’s one of those facts of life. So a little awareness, mindfulness and communication would not only be good for yourself to live a nicer life, and to survive the cyclists struggle, but it would also do wonders for the everybody else that we share our tax paid roads with.
My concluding thought: Can I clean my lungs please? I need to breathe!