Sunday, October 22, 2006

Life of a Dublin City Cyclist

Some days I feel like a member of an endangered species: despised by many, facing stiff competition from my own kind, consistently relieved of essential assets by the wandering fingers of passers-by and regularly harassed by officers of the state. Yes, you’ve guessed it; I’m a cyclist.
Thankfully I am not alone but there are times I feel that the vast majority of the Irish public have scant regard for the precarious nature of our daily adventures. We do not pollute the air and we do not add to traffic jams. Rather we are visions of healthy living on every horizon, yet we are not understood. We are generally considered, certainly by motorists, to be an unfortunate irritant on the road - certainly not in any way an equal, and have to be reminded at regular intervals to ‘Get off the f**kin road ya f**kin gobsh***’. We are misunderstood – and we need to redress the balance.
I’ve been cycling around Dublin for a number of years now and I cannot believe that I managed to survive for so long without a bike. Previous to this I was a walker, a bus-user and a taxi frequenter but the pull of economic reality and time-management issues propelled me towards the logic of becoming a cyclist.
I have never owned a car and indeed I can’t drive. The last time I sat behind the wheel was at the bumpers in Salthill where I was the talk of the amusement park. An unsuspecting Spanish student incurred my wrath by daring to access the blue bumper car that I wanted before me. I had to settle for a rather less manly pink effort which made Senor Spanish Student public enemy number one in my eyes. Thankfully no representatives of Fáilte Ireland appeared to be present as I pinned him repeatedly against the outer ring of the bumper track causing him to swear at me in Spanish and making all his mates hoot with laughter from the viewing stand.
As always happens with bumper cars, your turn ends far too quickly. I ran enthusiastically toward the ticket booth a wanting another go and imagining in my little head that I was winning over the crowd and that surely it was only a matter of time before roars of ‘Ole Ole’ would be ringing in my ears. However the glaring look in the eyes of my companions and indeed the menacing grunt of the bumper attendant as I skipped past him convinced me that my time would be better served at one of the hoola-hoop stands.
I did receive a kind gift of a number of driving lessons once as a birthday present but I spent so much time putting my hand on the driving instructors knee instead of the gear-stick that I’m sure he was getting the wrong idea. ‘As long as you don’t make a mistake when you go for the hand-brake’ he muttered after I apologised yet again for another transgression. I didn’t go back for another driving lesson after my gift certificate had expired and I don’t think the instructor was too upset.
So I have become reasonably content with the life of a cyclist. However I must admit that I rebelled against the term ‘cyclist’ for a long time. I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a helmeted, lycra-wearing reflector-junkie. When I’m cycling merrily along, I don’t like the sight of a Stephen Roche wannabe with all the cycling must-haves sticking his slender buttocks in the air as he passes and waddling off into the distance with his rear red light flashing even though its only 3:15 in the afternoon. I like the freedom of doing my own thing, and trying to impress on people that I have no real interest in perfecting the art of negotiating through my native city on the back of a bike. I want my body language to scream: ‘This cycling buzz is surely only a temporary stint until I take time out of my busy schedule to buy that black Beemer!!’
However the only screaming that took place in the first number of weeks was done by little old ladies trying to dodge me or mothers grasping the arms of their children as I approached at full tilt, completely unaware that I was breaking some well known rule of the road.
I’m a committed cyclist now who knows better. Far behind me are the days when red traffic lights used to call to me to tempt me into breaking them. I no longer believe that pedestrians have less of a right to the path than I have. And I have overcome my hesitation towards the reflector culture. Arriving alive is now a priority with me.
Certainly there are drawbacks to cycling – the weather being one. But on a rainy day you do get the satisfaction of passing out the endless queues of traffic elongated by the large population of Dubliners who are allergic to rainwater and therefore feel they have to drive to work. You will have something stolen from your bike – if not the entire vehicle – at some stage. And yes you will lose all faith in humanity for a number of minutes and fill the air with blue tones when the realisation hits that the empty space in front of you is where your bike used to be. However for sure physical exercise and for a speedy way of getting from A to B, I can’t recommend it enough. Just don’t let the red lights tempt you into breaking them. Listen to the Garda when he tells you not to go down the one-way street frequented by heavy-goods vehicles and lock your bike.
It’ll be good for you and you’ll get there quicker – I promise!