Saturday, January 13, 2007

Fold-up bikes

After a strange first week of January, when London was, if not exactly a ghost town, certainly quieter than normal, things were back to normal last week. The familiar faces of my fellow commuters remerged after their extended breaks - hardly a joyous reunion. There's one lady who I particularly object to, not because she's particularly pushy (she's not) or rude, but because she has committed the cardinal sin (in my eyes) of bringing a fold-up bicycle on to the train.

I have to hold my hands up here and declare that cyclists and I do not mix well. Not because of their generally holier-than-thou attitude to all other road-users ("I'm very healthy, you know, and you're not. Oh, and by the way, I'm also doing my bit for the environment)"). Though that does bug me. And it's not even the apparent unwritten set of rules that governs their conduct on the roads and is hidden from the rest of us (although I'd say that "You will completely disregard any of the rules applying ot other road-users" pretty much covers it). Which does wind me up, I can tell you. But the real reason I don't like cyclists is far more personal, and petty, than that. I am a failed cyclist.

At the age of 13, all the kids in my class at school got cycling proficiency training. Now I was never especially graceful (as evidenced by my very occasional forays on to the dancefloor) and I was probably the wobbliest candidate in the group. The day before the actually proficiency test, we were out practising in the quiet road outside the school when some idiot in a Porche shot past us, before pulling up our instructor and having a go about training kids in a derestricted zone (it was actually a 30 limit). Long story short, the guy got jittery, and ended up deciding that no one who wasn't completly secure and stable could take part in the test. It turned out that only one kid came into that category, and of course it was me. So I had to sit in the classroom on my own, whilst all my peers went and earned their certificates. I was gutted. I've hardly got on a bike since - the only time I did, the chain fell off, and so did I. So that's why I don't like cyclists. The green-eyed monster strikes again.

Of course, on top of all that, there is the fact that urban cyclists (and London cyclists in particular) are the most sanctimonious group of people you could ever wish to meet. Part of this, I'm sure, arises from the fact that cycling on busy roads in a city centre is genuinely dangerous. One of my colleagues, who has now gradutated to a scooter, was telling me the other day about being bullied by a bus driver who actually tried to knock him off his bike and then pulled a face at him - scary stuff. But the green factor has added another dimension to the whole look-at-me-aren't-I-smug-and healthy act. As a pedestrian, who walks a lot in London, these people have become doubly insufferable - I'm not creating any emmissions either, but that still doesn't make me morally equivalent to these two-wheeled eco-warriors with their tinkly bells. I have heard rumours of pedestrians actually knocking people off their bikes at crossings and explaining to them that actually the red lights do apply to them as well, but I reckon that's more bravado than fact. Let's face it, in most cases, the bike-rider has a definite advantage in any physical confrontation.

Anyway, the point of this somewhat vitriolic post is that I thought the one place I was safe from my bi-pedal (see what I've done there?) nemeses was on the train. But then somebody somewhere decided to invent the prtable, fold-up bicycle. So now, what happens when my fllow commuters and I get on the train every morning to take up our positions standing by the doors? There's a metal monstrosity nestled smugly on each side of the carriage, forcing us all to file into the seating area, treading on toes and whacking people with bags in the search for something to hold on to. One of these days, I might just pick one of them up and shove it defiantly into the overhead storage racks, just to see if anyone challenges me. Mind you, the last time I tried something like that, I nearly got into a fight. So probably best not.

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