I think I might have gone on ad nauseum on this site a while back about the joys of cycling in Holland, and in the likely event that you didn’t catch that message, here it is in summary:
- Dutch people are, as far as I can make out, all lovely in every way…
- …and they all ride bicycles. Which means that….
- being a cyclist in Holland is an absolute pleasure…
- not least because they’ve covered the country in a fab network of cyclepaths that can get you anywhere, without a sniff of a car. Or car driver…
- …who, incidentally are all lovely and polite as well, although I believe this is partly due to the rule in Holland that any accident involving bike and car is automatically the car driver’s fault.
Plus, it’s flat, which means that you can rattle away for a few hundred miles on one gear if you want. Which, last year, I did.
This year’s expedition did involve a few more gears on my part, and as a result we went a tad faster and further, but the lessons from last time are just the same…but more so.
Which means that the last few weeks of cycling in the UK have, for me, brought into sharp relief just how far behind we are compared to countries like Holland.
The last couple of bike rides provide no end of good examples:
- Piling into potholes on major roads. If you’ve thought ‘ouch’ when hitting these in a car, just imagine what it feels like on a bike
- Following a cycle path that appeared, Wile E Coyote-like, to end at a brick wall
- Following a hatchback in Norwich in traffic, just missing the lit fag thrown out of the window by the driver, swerving to the left, then just missing the lump of phlegm gobbed out of the window by his passenger. I don’t think either of them knew I was there; it’s just the way that people behave when they’re in a car
- Getting overtaken while going around a roundabout – impressive driving skills to get through the gap, but it scared the living daylights out of me
- Cycling in central London and mixing it with the tourist pedestrians, lorries, taxis, and, my personal favourite, the 18 metre ‘bendy bus’
It just all a bit crap, frankly.
And while I know that we all rely hugely on four wheels(or eight, or sixteen) to get about, unfortunately almost all the issues I have as a cyclist in the UK are related to big vehicles that put me or any other cyclist in danger. As a matter of principle I would never drive a journey of less than a couple of miles, but nowadays I have to really think about this, especially if I’m travelling with the kids. Which means one more car on the road, half an hour less exercise, and so on.
So, given all of the above, I’ve decided to get a bit radical on my bike. Whilst I don’t think the urban warrior/cycle courier is really me, I’m going to make sure that people in cars at least see me, and if they tee me off, I’ll try to engage them in conversation about driving with at least one eye on their fellow road user. All of which, of course, means that the next edition of the Emu may well be written from an A&E department*.
Feel free to wish me well in this quest. Whilst I don’t think one more saved journey will make a difference, a hundred might, and imagine how fab the world would be if we all saved, say, 50% of these marginal journeys. Might even persuade that strange people friendly coalition that appears to have been left in charge of the country to put a few cycle paths in place.
*Cue my favourite on-stage joke…’this song features Chris, who when he’s not playing guitar, is studying to be a Doctor. To demonstrate this, he’s going to spend the entire evening tonight in A and E…’