For those of us who cycle to work, this is an interesting read (linked below), particularly on the health benefits versus pollution equation. Thanks to the great bike-to-work scheme, I invested in a good road bike and started cycling to work some months back. Here is my story of a reformed bicycle outlaw.
As a student, I used to cycle everyday from Clontarf to UCD and back again, a daily 30km. My journey was cut in half when I started working in town and then it was halted abruptly by going on my first posting to Washington. In the intervening quarter of a century, I did virtually no cycling except for a brief period at home when I crashed heavily on the Rathfarnham road and was saved from serious head injury by my helmet.
So when recently I hopped on the saddle again it was back to the future. The bike was a bit of a hound at first, speeding off on the downhill from our housing estate as I wobbled astride this narrow-wheeled machine. But the old cyclist in me came back and I soon found my form. That included the hunter-gatherer approach to traffic lights which I approached with stealth and speed, calculating how to break red lights with a minimum effect on my velocity. It was a thrill and I justified it on the basis that it was war on the roads between bikes and cars.
Then something happened on the Rathgar road which has a lovely long slope into the city centre and a wide cycle track. It allows for a very fast clip along its expansive Edwardian elegance. Unfortunately, precisely halfway along it there is a traffic light. Its a straight-forward intersection with a less travelled road and breaking the light is a simple calculation of cars and pedestrians with the helpful pedestrian light at the intersecting road. One morning I cut through with ease but as I passed the paused cars I heard a distinct shout of an indistinct word from one of the cars, clearly aimed at me. A bit like the laugh that caused an existential crisis in Camus’s ‘The Fall’, it made me think.
In fact, it changed my cycling habits radically. I tried it first as an experiment. I would stop at red lights, plain and simple. It was an odd feeling to suddenly become a law-abiding road user and not an ecstatic outlaw yahooing my way along. And then I had a moment. I was stopped at the lights that mark the start of the Rathgar Road, in Rathgar village in fact. The sky was a clear deep morning blue and the tall mature trees enveloping the church there were iridescently green and lovely as the church spire vaulted into the heavens. Heightened awareness from the cardio of cycling added to the lustre of the scene. When the light turned green, I moved on. Since then, the zen of actually obeying the rules of the road means my mind is free to stop calculating about survival on the margins and enjoy the glory of my surroundings as I pedal along.
Does this add appreciably to the journey time? Barely, I would hazard and it allows my middle-aged cardio system a rest, particularly appreciated on the largely uphill journey home. As I stand still at an empty cross roads patiently waiting for the light to change, I speculate on the car behind me wondering when I don’t move on and get out of his/her way like some cyclists would do without a thought. I let cyclists who break lights go on their merry way with nary a thought about pursuit. Maybe I and the many fellow cyclists who wait on lights instil a little more respect in drivers about cyclists. And in such small things maybe its a kind of low level peace building between the machine that is helping to kill our planet and the one that can help us save it.