Vehicularity!

Since I last posted, I seem to have taken up ‘vehicular cycling’.

I don’t even know exactly what this term means – something to do with mingling with the rest of the traffic and cycling like you’re driving a car. (Which is what you’re forced to do if you would like to actually get somewhere by bike in this country, seeing as you don’t have a protected lane to cycle on.) In any case, I’m finding myself doing more journeys by bike that I wouldn’t previously have considered to be bikeable journeys.

What gave me the confidence to strike out and cycle in traffic, pretty much anywhere, was in part the Redster’s Bikeability course last term. I realise it was designed to give her confidence, but it probably had more of an effect on me. As we cycled to and from school every day for the week-long course,* while the Cutester took the bus on her own, I learnt a lot from following the Redster on her bike – mainly about staying out of the ‘door zone’ and taking up my position assertively in the lane. I stopped shrinking out of the way of passing cars, and remembered that I do also have the right to use the road. And if I seem to be right in the middle of it, holding up the driver behind, that means I won’t get flung by an opening car door into his or her path. I remind myself that the driver behind would probably not have their mental health enhanced by running me over.

As for the kids on the school Bikeability course, it was a case of survival of the fittest. Those who couldn’t cycle straight or whose bikes were falling apart were weeded out in the playground on the first day. The next day they did quiet roads, and de-selected anyone who wasn’t coping. The next day they did A-roads. On the last day they dumped them all on the North Circular and anyone who made it back alive got a certificate (this last sentence is the only one that isn’t true). Actually, there were no casualties that I heard of – though not one of those children who made it to Level 2 (‘competent to cycle on A-roads’) is now cycling to school. Neither is any other schoolchild in the borough that I have noticed, in seven years of school runs, bar two (both boys). Hmmm. Perhaps we need more than cycle training to get kids to ride bikes to school…

Then I started going to Mini Holland meetings, and one of these was with members of the Waltham Forest pro-Mini Holland group, who suggested we meet halfway somewhere in the Lee Valley. And when seasoned cycle campaigners arrange a meeting, however far away it is, you know you’re not going to drive to it, are you? So I set off on my bike in the wake of a couple of others from Enfield, both veteran (male) cycle commuters who think of nothing of cycling for more than half an hour, in the dark, just to get to a meeting.

It was totally liberating. All the counter-intuitive factors of the journey: riding in the dark, choosing to go 30 minutes by bike rather than 15 minutes by car, not knowing if it was going to rain – did not, in fact, result in disaster. It was fine. It worked! There was a beautiful full moon, and hardly any traffic on the roads; we could cycle two abreast and chat at times; some of it was along the River Lee itself (and I didn’t fall in); it ticked so many of my favourite subversive boxes that I found it electrifying, or would have done if it hadn’t been such good exercise that by the time we got to the meeting in a Harvester pub I cared much less about Mini Holland and a lot more about apple crumble and custard.

After that, all my (partly subconscious) mental defences against cycling just fell apart. ‘It’s dark!’ So what? I have lights. ‘It’s raining!’ So what? No such thing as bad weather, etc. ‘I have to turn right at that tricky junction!’ So what? Take the lane, be assertive, check carefully before I turn. ‘It will take 10 minutes longer!’ Just – so what? (And as often as not, it’s actually no slower than driving.) I’ve also developed a strange absence of fear when cycling in traffic. I think this must be based on sheer ignorance. I can’t possibly be as safe as I feel with buses and HGVs rumbling past me. It could be because cycling makes me daydream – I’m likely to be thinking about a blog post or a scene in a novel or a limerick (or reciting ‘vee – hic! – ular’ on a loop in my head. What a great word). I’m sure the first time I have a proper near miss, I’ll feel differently.

So I can see why people get so evangelistic about cycling. There’s nothing like that feeling of independence you get from using your own body to get somewhere under your own steam, without being enclosed in a metal box. It’s doesn’t change the facts though – most people just don’t want to cycle in traffic, and certainly not people who are much younger or older than I am or who don’t suffer from my strange illusion of safety. We need safe, segregated space for cycling, or the joy of bike is going to carry on being the preserve of the same small percentage.

And really, as I’ve whinged about before, the sticking point comes back to transporting children. If the child can’t or won’t cycle the necessary route, or if the journey is to pick them up from a friend’s house, or an after school activity they didn’t cycle to – I have to resort to bus or car. Usually car, if the bus route would be too inconvenient, or it’s an evening, or a Sunday afternoon.

Which brings me on to the very exciting solution we have found to this problem – but I’ve rambled on long enough. That very exciting solution will have to wait for my next post. Stay tuned – and see below for a clue…

Ta-dah! Start of a beautiful relationship

Ta-dah! Start of a beautiful relationship

*and can I point out that ALL the other parents cheated by driving their kids’ bikes to the school at the beginning of the week and storing them there throughout…?

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13 thoughts on “Vehicularity!

  1. As much as I am completely anti the Mini Holland schemes, and have joined the campaign against. I am also completely in love with cycling. Now my ankle is stronger, I wish I could cycle to church on Sundays, but if I brought down any more musical equipment, I think I’d need a van!

    Not sure I’d ever cycle on the North Circ though, although I once upon a time, I used to cycle through Vauxhall Cross every day.

  2. I’m completely baffled by your opposition to Mini Holland, Shortster – please do enlighten me one day! Sounds like you need a cargo bike for your musical stuff. My tandem can be adapted to carry bulky loads by removing the back seat and adding an extra rack, but I haven’t tried it yet. Ideally I’d like to be able to take the Cutester AND her trombone to school on the days she has her trombone lesson…

  3. With regard to my opposition to the scheme, I don’t want to write anything down here as the words I want to use would be acceptable in conversational debate, but would sound more abrasive than I would wish to convey to my dear dear friend, when written down.

  4. As the back seat pedlar does not actually need to see you could rest the trombone over the handle bars behind your seat. Of course the back seat driver would have to have total confidence in your road skills.

    Such exquisite tact concerning mini Holland, I am sure many of our politicians could learn from you.

    • Thanks Charles. And I hadn’t thought of transporting the trombone like that. I’ll give it a try – there are probably few things you can’t attach to a bike with enough bungy cord!

  5. Greetings from High Barnet.
    Glad to see a convert to vehicularity, and agree it works fantastically well, partly because it doesn’t annoy the motorists.
    The Institute of Advanced Motoring is a fan, and puts out a very nice book on how to do it, “How to be better cyclist, Advanced Cycling, the essential guide” Their web site iam.org.uk probably tells you more

    • Thanks for commenting Jeremy – I’m kind of only being vehicular out of a lack of choice – my preference would be for Dutch-style segregation, because vehicular cycling only works for those of us brave or foolish enough to take on the traffic. I’d like to see enough safe protected bike lanes that kids can cycle to school, which just isn’t happening at the moment.

    • ? I find if you’re doing it properly, vehicular cycling is what really annoys the drivers (not that that should stop anyone…). They really do not like it when you take the lane …

      • Indeed. This is why I have to constantly remind myself that drivers really do prefer me bang in front of them, making their journey one minute slower, than squashed under their wheels. Just not sure the drivers themselves realise that…

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