Five things I hate about cycling: Cars
Its taken a month, but I have finally completed my exhaustive analysis of everything wrong with cycling. After hills, sweating, roads and punctures, all that remains is my very least favourite thing about cycling: Cars.
Risk is an interesting phenomenom in our society. On the one hand, environmental health can shut you down if you make a sandwich without washing lettuce; on the other, there’s no legal barrier to sitting on a flimsy metal frame with half inch wheels, doing 30 mph on uneven tarmac as lorries overtake you at 70, with a feeble layer of polystyrene as your sole protection.
When doing 13 mph down my road, I’m not too worried about lorries, but I am very concerned about the lady in the Corsa who hasn’t looked in her wingmirror, and is about to open her door. Or the chap who overtook me on a high street, then turned left, causing me to crash into the side of his car. And I say I’m not too worried about lorries, but I don’t love it when they force you off the road into a ditch and you lose a front tooth.
The root of the problem is that cars are large, fast vehicles with limited visibility, often driven by impatient people. As a cyclist, its easy to despise the more obnoxious drivers, and paint them all with the same brush. Certainly, the operator of the car that hooted me last month whilst I was traversing a free flowing, highly dangerous roundabout fully deserves a slap.
However, we do need a little perspective; after all, many of us cyclists are drivers at other times, and all of us know how easy it is to forget to look in the mirrors before turning left, how easy it is to miss the cyclist hidden behind a truck, or in line with the sun.
Last week I pulled out at a cross roads after very carefully trying to assess if there was a bike coming down the hill. Despite my best efforts, there was a cyclist, who I very nearly brained. Whilst his not wearing a helmet implies there was little brain to risk, the point remains: cyclists are vulnerable, and, ultimately, feeling vulnerable is not the same as having fun.
I actually tried to come up with a realistic solution to the problem here.
The biggest issue is that not only are bikes very vulnerable, they are also vastly in the minority. Multiple studies show that the more people there are walking and cycling, the safer it becomes. In Amsterdam, you are twice as likely to be murdered as killed cycling. Overall, in Denmark and Holland, countries with much higher rates of cycling, you are three times less likely to die when riding.
So, the best way to make the roads less dangerous, less terrifying and thus less offputting to cyclists is to get more of us out there. Which probably means I should write a 5 things I love about cycling series…
Five things I hate about cycling: Punctures
I don’t like roads, I don’t like hills, and I need a shower just getting my bike out of the house. Coming in at number 2 on the list of things I hate about cycling: Punctures.
Punctures are the intermittent pain that haunts cycling, especially those of us with road bikes (and thus skinny tyres). They may strike sporadically, or you may go through periods where they appear to be an incessant companion; either way, one constant remains: to cycle is to puncture.
The botheration is threefold: time, expense and frustration.
I have to be at work at 8am. I usually leave around 6:15, arriving at work around 7:20, have a shower, eat some food, and I have maybe 5 minutes to spare. If I get a puncture, I need to squeeze an extra 20 minutes into that. That’s assuming that I have actually brought my repair kit, unlike last time…
Whilst inner tubes aren’t terribly expensive, I find spending money on them very painful. I think its knowing that I am paying money for a task that I find very unpleasant. If you’ve ever changed a tyre on a road bike, you’ll know its a dirty, fiddly, finger trapping exercise, perfectly designed to cause annoyance. No one ever enjoys paying their dentist, and I don’t like buying inner tubes.
All this leads to a great deal of frustration. On more than one occasion I have felt like smashing up my bike and buying a Ferrari. The main thing stopping me is doing this is a desire to be healthy, and a lack of a spare £120,000. However, no such barrier prevents me from being grumpy and outspoken about my hatred of all things rubber for several days after a puncture.
This one took some thought. Solid rubber tyres don’t go flat, but they also require physiotherapy at the end of every short, bumpy journey. The key will be to reduce the frequency and irritation of punctures.
For frequency, the government simply needs to implement my plans to provide brand new glass-like roads across the nation. As a result, I will enjoy biking more, and get significantly less punctures into the bargain.
For irritation, I propose that all cyclists are followed by a support vehicle à la Tour de France, promptly swapping bikes for you at the first sign of trouble.. Whilst this will cause an increase in emissions, I will fund the carbon offsetting out of the savings I make on new inners. The cars themselves can be paid for out of penalty taxes on towns with too many hills. Sorted.
Five things I hate about cycling: Terrible roads
There are two issues that cause my blood to boil here: road layout, and road condition. Come with me for a moment, as you go on an imaginary cycle around Sheffield.
You hop on your bike, wobbling as you attempt to navigate around all the pot holes on your residential street. You make a turn, making it to the main road, where the road surface is heavily worn tarmac, with raised sharp pebbles showing through – the technical term for this type of road is a “tyregrater”.
Vibrating through that, you find yourself on a lovely smooth run of tarmac, and just start to get some momentum running… when you hit a series of speed bumps the width of the road, with nowhere for cyclists to skirt round them.
The incline increases, and soon you are in a speedy downhill, but immediately have to start braking heavily, because at the end of the road, the sharp hill ends suddenly with a traffic light, a traffic light that stubbornly remains red no matter how much you glare at it.
Then you turn left onto a cycle lane. The cycle lane appears to pass through several car parking spaces (with cars in them), a bollard and a set of railings. Its also on the edge of the road, where many uneven layers of tarmac over the years have combined to leave a craggy 45 degree slope. After a few minutes you come straight to a roundabout with cars racing round so aggressively that your death would have been certain, if you hadn’t just gone over a massive hole in the tarmac surrounding a drain cover and punctured both tyres.
You throw your bike in the nearest dumpster, and get on the bus.
While this is a (mild) exaggeration, I have actually had all of these experiences, and have several of them every time I hop on my bike. I hate feeling like a second class road citizen, but being on a bike, this is often the case.
My biggest bugbear with road layout comes in the form of cycle lanes. Renowned amongst seasoned cyclists for being unsafe, unrealistic and unhelpful, I generally tend to avoid them, at the same time resenting the money that is spent on them.
I have included my own submission, with a caption to accompany it below:
This delightful two way cycle lane, near the University in Sheffield, is a beautiful example of urban cycle planning. Located right next to one of the most dangerous roundabouts in the city, the track used to join the dual carriageway at right angles, leading to a distressingly deadly arrangement.
Happily, the city council obviously listened to feedback from cyclists, and helpfully installed some railings between the end of the cycle lane and the main road. Since this, there have been no reported accidents on this 3 metre track!
Is this because cyclists ignored the track from the beginning and just take the filter lane on the left, which gently and safely feeds into traffic? Or is it due to the visionary work of Sheffield City Council? I leave the decision up to you.
When it comes to road condition, especially in Sheffield, we have had some hard winters over the last few years, with a lot of freeze thawing, leading to many roads resembling a patchwork of repaired sections of tar. Unfortunately, lumpy road + inner tubes that are 3mm thick can only lead to one thing… but I will cover that in another post shortly.
The solution, on this occasion, is partly realistic, and partly less so.
Firstly, its time for the council to spend a lot more money on roads. Lets spend a few hundred million, and get some nice smooth roads. We’ll probably save the cost on petrol savings from the reduced friction. Well we won’t, but still, let’s do it.
Secondly, we need to change all the signs, so that cycle lanes become “car lanes”, and the bikes are given the sole licence to ride on the rest of the roads. Absolutely guarantee you would see a lot more cyclists around!
Five things I hate about cycling: Sweating
Previously, I told you that my fifth biggest hate about cycling was Hills. Coming in at number 4 is: Sweating, and the need to shower.
So why is that you ask? First off, if you aren’t male, you may not be aware of the scale of the problem. A 2006 study showed that if you exercise 14 fit men for an hour and a half, they will produce nearly 16 litres of sweat between them. As a comparison, your average bucket is about 9 litres. Men literally are capable of sweating buckets.
This wouldn’t be a problem if our society wasn’t so discriminatory. One side effect of civilisation, it appears, is that there is no such thing as sweaty professionalism. Apparently the ideal businessman does not have wet patches back and front of his suit, and it seems that most people don’t want their doctor to be dripping whilst they examine you.
Unfortunately, on the scale of sweatyness, running from 1 (A rock) to 10 (Really old Brie, wrapped in socks, in a plastic bag, in monsoon season), I hit about a 9: I am definitely a sweat monster, especially when I have to deal with hills.
This all ends up frustrating me, since I can rarely use cycling to replace my normal mode of transport without knowing that I have somewhere to change afterwards. It means that I have to pre-plan every trip, often having to check out new locations at least once before I can cycle it.
Replacing a 10 minute car trip becomes rather impractical, since it becomes a 30 minute cycle, followed by a 10 minute hunt for showers, and 20 minutes making myself look presentable. And when the showers are locked/being replaced/filled with stacked chairs – all of which have happened to me – it can be a real problem.
A few years ago, I cycled 7 miles to work, only to realise I had forgotten my suit! It is hard to express the extreme misery I felt inside when I realised that I was going to have to cycle all the way back home, grab a suit, drive in and be an hour late for work into the bargain. If I could have cycled in a suit without fear of drowning, this problem would go away.
This brings me onto my solution for Sweating – compulsory laser treatment for all men, coupled with a readjustment in the attitudes of society toward odour. Sorted.
Five things I hate about cycling: Hills
In fact, I tend to savour the “burn” that hits you whilst you climb up them, and the post-exertion endorphins after the hill levels out. The feeling of achievement at the completion of a big climb is fantastic too.
What I don’t like is that when I contemplate going for a ride, the first thing that jumps into my head is “Nah, can’t be bothered”. This is probably because I live in Sheffield, erroneously renowned for being built on 7 hills, like Rome. This is wrong - Sheffield is worse, it has 8.
Leaving my house in Sheffield, I can cycle about 2 miles without pedalling, zipping down roads of seemingly ever increasing grade. The downside of this is that every single ride I ever take is followed by an ankle grinding crawl back up to somewhere high above the cloud line.
And it’s not just me. When London first trialled their cycle scheme, they had a problem with bikes disappearing from the stations at the top of hills, and the stations at the bottom being too full. The problem has been even worse in Paris and Barcelona, both cities that have more hills. In Sheffield, I suspect they would need some kind of continual conveyor belt, back up from town into Crookes.
This brings me onto the perfect solution for Hills – the city council needs to built a ski lift up to my house. Sorted.
Five things I hate about cycling
My tires were slashed and I almost crashed but the Lord had mercy.
My machine she’s a dud, I’m stuck in the mud, somewhere in the swamps of Jersey.
“Rosalita”, Bruce Springsteen
So, last week I was cycling to work. It’s a 15 mile trek with some pretty chunky hills, but not too bad in general. However, as I was rolling down the off-ramp off the A61, just a mile from work, I went over a pebble.
I saw it ahead of the front wheel, maybe 30 centimetres away, too near to avoid. I saw it coming, and had time to think just one thing: I hate that pebble.
Moments later, there was the double bump, as both wheels went over it. Then seconds passed. Maybe 3. Just enough to give me the tiniest of hope… and then the vibration started, handlebars shaking whilst I pulled over to the side of the road. I stopped, just as both wheels went flat, as skinny wheels became useless rims with rubber hanging off them.
As I walked a mile to work, I decided my next blog posts are going to be about what I hate about cycling. So, in reverse order, over the next few posts, I am going to cover my five least loved aspects of bicycling: