I find it hard to say I am a cyclist. My daily journeys on two wheels hardly seem to merit the term. I’m a person with a bike, which I acquired by accident rather than design. That probably makes me even more of a fake.
I was mildly embarrassed today when I was hailed by a real cyclist, one who cycles lots of miles and threads his way through London, as one of his tribe. I felt like a complete fraud.
I am the most faint hearted of bike riders. I am scared rigid of lorries, of fast cars that drive within ten feet of me, of turning right, of unheeding pedestrians, of unknown roads, of potholes.
But during the course of these months of short cycle rides to and from work, I have started to love my bike. That doesn’t mean I look after it; it is absolutely filthy and I think the brakes need oiling; they certainly squeak enough. I pretend its dirt is a disincentive to thieves.
I love not being on the bus with a bunch of over-testosteroned schoolboys. I love pedalling madly to vent the frustrations of a morning. I love riding through the park and seeing the sniffer dogs being exercised. I love cycling slowly home at dusk. I like the independence and the forward motion.
I don’t cycle anywhere near enough to be called a real cyclist, though I am slowly acquiring the gear, and not just annexing my walking stuff, and I don’t think there’s any fear that I’ll ever share the fate of the postman in Flann O’Brien’s classic, The Third Policeman. The same theory is in another of his novels, The Dalkey Archive. If you’ve not read either, put both on your Christmas list.
Here’s a taster:
“The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles…when a man lets things go so far that he is more than half a bicycle, you will not see him so much because he spends a lot of his time leaning with one elbow on walls or standing propped by one foot at kerbstones.”
― Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman