Alert readers may have noticed I’m not posting so much about the cycle ride to Battersea any more. The truth is that although I’m still pedalling down to Vauxhall every day, I haven’t tackled the longer ride for weeks. The reason is simple – it frightens me. I realised this only gradually when I found that every morning there was yet another good reason why I couldn’t do the longer ride – I was recovering from a cold, I had to be in early that day, tomorrow would be a better option, etc. etc. And the thing that frightens me most are the roundabouts where I’ve basically had one too many episodes of the old vehicle pulling out into the road without either seeing or caring about the bike that’s in their way story. I may joke about it, but when it happens it’s terrifying and one of these days I feel sure either my luck or my legs will run out and I won’t be able to get out of the way.
I’m pretty sure it’s not me. I cycle in the midst of the traffic, not scuttling round the outside in the gutter. I have lights, and my reflective jacket and I signal my intentions as clearly as I can. But there are still simply too many drivers out there who just do not look for the bike. And I don’t intend to be the one that teaches them to do so the hard (or soft and squishy, depending on which bit of me they hit) way.
I’ve recently discovered the jealousy-inducing Copenhagen Girls on Bikes (put it away, boys, they’re real girls, not scantily clad Scandinavian fantasies). It has a deceptively simple formula – pictures of stylishly clad women cycling to work or school or home – interspersed with the odd bit of cycle advocacy. And it was only after checking it out for a week or two that I realised what was missing in the pictures. There are no helmets here, and no high-visibility jackets, no obvious safety gear at all even when cycling with kids in tow. Just people on bikes dressed in exactly the same way as people off bikes. Because any driver in Copenhagen is likely to be a cyclist too. And anyone claiming not to have seen the bike would surely get laughed out of court, for the cyclists there are everywhere.
I know what the answer is, here in London. We all have to get on and stay on our bikes. Not just in the summer months or during a tube strike, but until bikes are built into the consciousness of everyone on the road, not just the lycra clad. But I’m not sure I’m prepared to be quite out there at the bleeding edge just yet. Maybe when it’s lighter again, maybe when it isn’t raining all the bloody time, maybe if I move to Copenhagen. But for now I’m sticking to the back roads and the short route and the trains. I feel as though I’ve somehow failed. But I also feel relieved to be alive.