Six months ago I was clinking about thirty quid a week into TFL’s coffers but then I bought a bike from eBay for £300. The investment has already repaid itself twice over, and I am blissfully indifferent to Boris and Ken’s wrangles over tube fares.
These days I cycle everywhere. As my leg muscles strengthen, wider and wider stretches of the city become manageable: Euston to Wimbledon is now a regular ride. But of all the risky activities that friends of mine do – clamber onto rooftops, hitchhike, steal food from bins, smoke – cycling daily in this crowded city must be among the most perilous.
I find that it’s fine as long as you don’t think about it. Pedal through the spring air, delight in a sudden aroma of blossom, gape at the view as you glide over the Thames, and nothing could feel more natural or secure. But take a second to be mindful of what’s going on around you and a pleasant mosey can collapse into blind panic.
On one occasion, I came to an acute consciousness of my surroundings while trapped between two flows of traffic. London roads have an unnerving habit of abruptly expanding, and at some point the one I was on had gained a second lane. A titanic engine roared behind me; I braced myself as a gargantuan truck with wheels the size of buffaloes loomed alongside, gusts of displaced air rippling out from its canvas hide.
To my right a steady stream of cars zipped by. I was balanced precariously on two thin tyres as tons and tons of reinforced metal hurtled past either shoulder. I had no option but to gulp the acrid fumes and roll onwards.
That was an instance of purely personal idiocy, but everyone who bikes in London will have had to navigate the whims of impatient drivers. A typical annoyance is the tendency of a few to blast their horn at any cyclist who slows their progress. This is a pet hate of mine: there you are, bobbing along in the open air, when suddenly there’s a great explosion of noise inches from your ear.
I say it’s a hate, but I am lying: really, I love it. If some bastard honks I feel it is entirely legitimate to hurl abuse in their direction. How often do you get to shout ‘FUCK YOU!’ at midday on a busy London street? It is a glorious release of aggression, a little frisson of savagery in the heart of docile civilisation, and I always feel cleansed afterwards.
In fact, despite the dangers and irritations, I’ve come to adore cycling here. Every day contains a stimulating challenge, a high-speed obstacle course of stationary traffic and enormous roundabouts. I’d recommend it to anyone – but considering the risk, it is probably worth acquiring everything necessary to make it safer: a helmet, lights and a high-vis top.
This also guarantees an unadulterated glow of righteousness when swearing at drivers.
Image by C.G.P. Grey courtesy of Flickr