Six months after the pandemic started, I have finally acquired a bike, just in time for the weather to break and autumn to set in.
(Autumn, for American readers, is a season contemporaneous to fall, but defined primarily by the fact that it is grey and rainy. It can be distinguished from winter, which is also grey and rainy, by the fact that people occasionally get extremely angry about poppies.)
I'm a firm believer in cycling. I enjoy what it does to cities, both on a personal level and a societal one. Cycling allows you to have a human relationship to the place you live, while still enabling you to define that place with a scale suiting modern life. That is: you can go a long way.
And cities that are built for cycling are, by and large, cities built for living. Cycling tapers nicely from high-speed pedalling on segregated lanes on trunk roads, down to casual sauntering along backstreets and quietways, down to shared spaces where pedestrians have priority. Yes, there are some dickheads in the world, but by and large the infrastructure that exists for cyclists feels additive to the notion of what I want a city to be.
Both of those are also why I am, ultimately, a supporter of weird little micromobility concepts like eScooters and even hoverboards. In the UK, where those things are largely illegal, I think bringing them into the fold would probably help improve behaviour (I'm not a fan of people zooming at 20mph on a pavement either), and the infrastructure which supports them also supports cyclists, and ultimately pedestrians and a liveable city.
Problem is, while I"m a firm believer in the concept, I just… don't… really do it much. There's just a few quality-of-life issues that have mostly foot or public transport, although I've had a key for London's cycle hire scheme for years now too.
Many of my problems are actually similar to the reasons why I stay away from driving. I don't like having to come back from somewhere the same way I went there; I don't like having to find safe, secure and accessible parking at my destination; and I certainly don't like having to stay sober when I'm there.
(Incidentally, these problems are why I have so little time for people who argue that they couldn't stop driving because of all the things they would have to give up. We are all curiously bad at spotting what we've implicitly given up to reach the status quo. Though maybe I'm just underestimating how happy people are to drive to a houseparty and swerve home pissed.)
Cycling has a few extra niggling problems for me. I'm a… sweaty man, and so while it's physically possible for me to cycle almost anywhere in London, it's not always pleasant to be near me after I've done so. Going into work is OK, we have showers and I can leave a change of clothes there, but it's less good to hop on a bike and meet a friend if I need to swiftly change my T-shirt when I get there.
Plus, I don't have a great place to actually keep a bike. I live in a "car free development", which you're me sounds like a great thing, but in practice means that the people who built our flat had to agree to a bunch of restrictions in order to not provide a parking space for every single house. One of those restrictions was to provide a bike parking space for everyone who wants one. Great!
Except that when you have to provide a parking space for every house, you have to provide a parking space for every house. When you get to do the cheapo bike parking option, you get to argue "most people don't have bikes, so we'll provide enough spaces for estimated demand".
Guess what happened to estimated demand when a pandemic hit and people stopped using the tube? Yeah.
So there's a bike parking space at the bottom of my 120-household building with room for 34 bikes which currently holds 50 or so. Lovely.
But I digress.
I've managed to look past those complaints, and pick up a nice green bike. I'm hoping that, as happens with so many other things, I'll find that pretending to be cyclist works until suddenly I wake up one day and am a cyclist.
If not, I'll be very cold and wet during the autumn and winter, and then get my bike stolen just as spring breaks. Either way, I'll report back in six months time!
I'm working on a feature about social media, misinformation, the pandemic, and the collapse of consensus reality. Who should I talk to? Should I talk to you? What should I ask you?
If you have an answer, or just something to say, you can hit reply to this or any other email.