I was a bicycle outlaw. In a choice between momentum and traffic lights, I chose momentum. The roads were a jungle. Cars, buses and trucks were careless and dangerous beasts. Stop signs and lights were energy sapping traps.
Then I had a revelation. I am an outlaw no more. My Damascene moment happened on the Rathgar Road.
Some background. Thanks to the great bike-to-work scheme, I invested in a good road bike and started cycling to work shortly after my return from Israel in 2015. More or less downhill from the outer edges of Rathfarnam to Clonmel Street in the city centre. Back home, a bit more of a puff uphill to an elevation of 100m above sea level. About a 16 km mile round trip.
As a student, I used to cycle everyday from Clontarf to UCD and back again, a daily 30km. Work and postings intervened. In the quarter of a century that passed, I did virtually no cycling.
So when I hopped on the saddle again it was back to the future. Being a narrow-tired road bike, it was fast, a bit of a hound in fact. Speeding off on the steep downhill from our housing estate as I was wobbly at first. But the old cyclist in me came back and I soon found my form. Speed and momentum was all. It was war on the roads. Getting the advantage of cars was key and this meant that they had to obey the rules and I didn’t. That levelled things out, I thought.
Approaching traffic lights and intersections called for cunning and timing. How best to break an inconvenient red light with a minimum effect on my velocity. How to use pedestrian lights to allow fast passage through an intersection. How to scan the approaches to a stop sign so I could ignore it. This was fast and exciting.
Then something happened on the Rathgar Road. It is a boulevard of Edwardian elegance, with a long slope into the city centre and a wide cycle track. It allows for a very fast clip. For the bicycle outlaw, precisely halfway along it there is an unfortunate traffic light. Its a straight-forward intersection with a less travelled road. Breaking the light is a simple calculation. The pedestrian light across the intersecting road was for me a green light that allowed me ignore the red light facing me.
One morning I cut through with ease but as I passed the paused cars I heard a distinct shout of an indistinct word. It was clearly aimed at me. My outlawry had been noticed. And 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 then I had a moment. I was stopped at the lights that mark the start of the Rathgar Road, a complicated intersection in Rathgar village. It was springtime, a bit chilly still. The sky was a clear deep morning blue. The tall mature trees enveloping the church there were iridescently green and lovely. The church spire vaulted into the heavens and it took your mind there, just as the builders intended. 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. The survival of me and others, come to think of it. Between the humdrum of pedalling along, there are moments to take in the surroundings, to notice things. There’s time to ponder. What a great word. Ponder. To obey the rules of the road is to cycle and ponder.
Does all this law-abiding stuff add appreciably to my journey time? Barely, I would hazard. I often catch up with bicycle outlaws that zip past me at lights. So my journey time is about the same. The pauses allow my middle-aged cardio system a rest. As I stand still at an empty cross roads patiently waiting for the light to change, I wonder if drivers notice.
It would help if the bicycle lanes were maintained, if the potholes along them were fixed, if cars were not allowed to park there. One morning I counted fourteen cars parked in the bus/bicycle land on the Rathmines road between Leinster Road and Military Road.
I am not alone, not by a long shot. Plenty of cyclists pull up at traffic lights along with me. Over the couple of years I’ve been cycling, there seem to be fewer bicycle outlaws. Or is that my imagination?
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.