Magazine article The Spectator

Mary Wakefield: Yes, We Cyclists Really Are Nasty

Magazine article The Spectator

Mary Wakefield: Yes, We Cyclists Really Are Nasty

Article excerpt

One morning a long time ago, when the Spectator offices were still in Bloomsbury, I hopped my bike up onto the kerb outside the new Pret a Manger on Theobalds Road, locked it to a post and went in. A man followed me, his face vacuum-packed with fury. He shouted: 'No bikes on the PAVEMENT', then he spat in my face. Not a soul moved. Only a few looked up from their contemplation of the sandwich calorie count. They thought, I suppose, I deserved it.

And since that day, I've defended my fellow bikers against any number of anti-cycle fanatics. We're not innocent, I thought, but we're undeserving of this terrible rage. We're scapegoats.

Well, I've been wrong. For 15 years I've been wrong. After two months of using Mayor Boris Johnson's newly completed east-west cycle superhighway I've realised that our detractors have a definite point. Cyclists are unusually unpleasant. We're as vile as we're made out to be -- perhaps worse. In all this time of thinking us maligned, drifting through the back streets on my way to work, I'd simply never met my own people en masse before.

Commuting on the superhighway is a miserable experience. We wait to join the main drag in unhappy little huddles, never meeting each other's eyes, just staring at the unnatural calves of the man in front. There's a uniform here: mesh T-shirts; Lycra shorts with little circular pads on the bum; helmet, shades, headphones that curl around the neck then vanish up into the head like ear-eating snakes. Some people have two water bottles to demonstrate their superior fitness and hydration. Every rucksack is made by Osprey.

Once on the Embankment section, where it's possible to pick up speed, cyclists really show their hand. Between the eastbound and the westbound lanes there's just enough room for a single bike to overtake. It's a little like it was back in the day when A-roads had a shared overtaking lane. Cars approaching each other would flash their headlights and decide who used it first. Cyclists don't collaborate. They play chicken. The average speed must be 15 mph; any clash means a 30 mph mangle of bike and body parts, but still no overtaker ever wavers or falls back. Their bug-eyes lock and they accelerate towards each other. It's terrifying. And as they power past, I fancy I can hear them thinking: 'I'm a cycle god, half-man, half-machine.' Though I expect they're listening to Coldplay.

Now you might say that cyclists on this stretch, the Lancaster Gate to Canary Wharf route, don't represent all of us; that these are just banker boys super-saturated with testosterone. But the sad fact is that what's especially true of the superhighway crew is also true to a lesser extent of cyclists city-wide. I just don't know of another road-using group with less fellow feeling. …

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