Cycling vs. driving – Part III

Well, I’ve made good on my decision to cycle to work every day. We’re experiencing some erratic weather here in Northern Ireland these days: continuous brief showers, often several times a day. This has sometimes meant that I wake up in the morning to a pleasant, dry atmosphere, only to open the back door after breakfast to find the rain pounding down. A couple of times I’ve had to bring a change of jeans with me to work. Then there are those evening times (like yesterday), when I venture out on my bike wearing a T-shirt, because the weather has been nice all day, only to feel the first drops of rain on my face when I start to head up the road. I sometimes feel the rain waits for me to emerge from my house before pouring down.

But weather is the least of my problems. Motorists are the big problem. If there’s one rule that should be written into the cyclists’ road safety manual, it’s this: “Expect no courtesy.” Of course, I can’t tar all motorists with the same brush, but a significant percentage of them are bad-mannered and dangerous enough to put me on my guard for every eventuality. Some motorists simply do not view bicycles as traffic. I guess they see a cyclist as something between a pedestrian and a motorcycle, so maybe they wonder what set of rules are supposed to apply. And sometimes they choose pedestrian. This is evidenced by the fact that a motorist barely overtook me before turning ninety degrees left into a side road, causing me to break and yell, “Wake up!” One of the teachers in the school car park did the same thing to me, and I was fuming. On another occasion, a car was emerging from a side road and was required to give way to me; I was cruising along the main road. I saw him preparing to gun forward and I yelled. Unfortunately, this was in the town centre, and every shopper within earshot suddenly whirled around and looked at me, to my embarrassment. Well, at least I got the guy to stop. Sometimes, when I ride my bike, it feels like I’ve put on an invisibility cloak. Once, I stuck my right hand out as an indicator, and the motorist behind me decided to overtake me regardless. Some other jerk had the bad manners to overtake me then blare his horn at me because I wasn’t keeping to the edge of the road; what I was actually doing was trying to filter into the right hand lane of a road that was branching into two. There are now certain junctions that I simply will not cycle through. I get off and walk, and it’s a terrible reflection on the attitude of motorists today. Another trouble spot is when I have to overtake a parked car, and I can hear another car approaching behind me. You’re never sure whether the guy is going to cut you off and force you into the back of the parked car or allow you to overtake it.

I’m not the sort of guy who is prone to outbursts of anger, so I disappointed myself on those couple of occasions when I let loose. It doesn’t happen any more; I’ve learned to simply accept that there are many idiots in the world and some of them drive cars. So I shrug off anything bad that happens. Notice I haven’t spoken out particularly against the “boy racers.” I’ve been quite alarmed that people of both sexes who are older (and should be wiser) are equally to blame in their poor attitude to cyclists.

On another theme, school kids (who recognise me from the school) can react strangely to things that are not often seen – like a member of staff on a bicycle. Often it’s a pleasant, “Cool bike,” but once, some guy spotted me and started laughing his head off like I had just cracked the joke of the century. In his trendy, teenage, pop-culture-infested excuse for a brain, I guess the idea of a thirty-four-year-old on a mountain bike just didn’t compute – because thirty-four-year-olds are just ancient and couldn’t possibly take an interest in something like personal fitness. Oh, of course. How could I have been so dumb? I must look like a fool; I’ll sell the bike immediately and go lie down on the sofa.

I’m now quite a bit fitter than I was when I bought the bike a few months ago. Chinese takeways don’t even have their full flab-increasing effect, because I have to fly down on the bike to get one. Well, in all honesty, I don’t think I’ve lost much weight, but my thigh muscles feel really strong and my endurance levels are much higher than they were. Cycling’s also a lot more enjoyable than all the jogging I put myself through in recent years.

In mid May, I allowed my car insurance to lapse. I actually came very close to selling the jeep (something I’ve been thinking about since a post I wrote in summer 2006), but in the end I put the insurance back on again. Although most of my activity revolves around Portadown, there are certain things that four wheels are indispensable for. I’m especially thinking of my long-standing desire to get into canoeing or boating. Can’t exactly tow one of those on a bicycle.

A couple of days ago I took the jeep out for the first time in about two and a half months. Thankfully, nothing had seized up (although I did find a little moss growing in the door). Today, I’m in work – and, yes, I got here on my bicycle. Now that I’ve managed to make this change in my life, there’s no way I’m going back to driving to work. Well, a good hail-storm might make me keep the bike in the garage, but that’s not going to happen very often. So, my life won’t be going completely “zero emissions,” but close … at least until I get myself a big stonking diesel-sucking cabin cruiser! Well, a guy can dream.

9 thoughts on “Cycling vs. driving – Part III

  1. Arg! I’m without bicycle at the moment due to technical difficulties. I’ve learnt my lesson now and I’m scouring the car boot sales for a spare bike.

    Over the last two years, my experience has been a mixture of unreasonable levels courtesy (people actually stopping at junctions to wave you into the flow of traffic) and gangs of kids shouting abuse and throwing things. Last year, when it was football season, I considered getting a football shirt and hat. The plan would be to ride around disguised as a proper football liking bloke with short hair.

    I don’t drive, myself, but I acknowledge that you would be restricting yourself by getting rid of the car altogether. Any idea as to the cost savings that you’ve made so far?

  2. Yeah, I’ve had stones thrown at me once recently, in the local school neighbourhood, but thankfully it was only once. Now I go home a slightly longer route to avoid a recurrance. All things considered, I’m having a great time on two wheels.

    Hope you get a bike sorted out soon, Mike. I enjoy reading your cycling blog.

  3. Karen G.

    just visited your site for the second time and actually read something this time in! am looking forward to reading more when i get time!
    just a quick comment on the fitness aspect of cycling…you may feel that you haven’t lost any weight, but muscle weighs more than fat, so though you may weigh the same, you have very probably trimmed down at least a little bit. i think that’s always an encouraging thought whenever i do any working out (which is, like, never! but hey, i have done yoga in the past, does that count?).
    had to laugh at the idea of towing a boat or canoe on a bike! what a great idea! you know, maybe you could come up with something and patent the idea! of course, it would probably only work for canoes or kayaks, but we can’t do everything in the world!
    enjoy your visit state side and have a safe trip home.

  4. Hi, Karen. Thanks for dropping by. Yeah, towing a canoe with a bicycle – definitely doable; the only thing that puts me off is the reaction of onlookers. In America, your range of what is considered “not weird” is much wider than it is in Ireland. Back home, anything remotely uncommon has people looking at you like you’re going around with a clown costume on.

  5. Karen G.

    so riding a bike while wearing a clown suit and pulling a canoe is probably really out of the question then!

  6. Karen

    hmmmmm…i think a benefit concert for the darryl sloan clown suit and canoe fund is in order! lol!!

    and darn it, somebody stole my idea about the bike canoe trailer!

  7. You’re right. We do tend to kind of ignore the unusual here in the U.S.. For example, A 6’4″ Irish guy walking into the local Barnes and Noble in Springfield, MO, didn’t raise an eyebrow. Hope you enjoyed the pizza and I’ll look forward to hopefully seeing you next year.

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