Saturday, 10 July 2010

Isn't it nice to have some company on the road?

The fair weather cyclists are out again in force and even on the potholed car-tailored streets of Coventry I now pass several cyclists on every journey. I even found myself in a two-wheeled tailback a few days ago. A greater presence of cyclists on the road makes us less invisible and encourages motorists to look out for us, since they're seeing us more regularly. It also creates a good cycling atmosphere, with a solidarity between those who choose to bike, enjoying the sunshine (and those fair weather cyclists perhaps thinking that they should fish their bikes out of their sheds more often...).
But it seems to me that the summer's brought not only a rise in cyclists but also a spike in heckles and comments, of the bike-ist (the word for bike discrimination?) as well as sexist kind. Is it the sunny weather that disposes men in white vans to compulsively whistle or holler at women on bikes? And what impulse makes people (teenage boys, often) want to make unintelligible, distracting noises at cyclists as they fly down a hill? Yet the ubiquitous comments are often harmless, or even funny. Sometimes I get an almost encouraging 'Come on!' with clapping as I'm pedalling up a hill, or 'Isn't the Tour de France over? (No...)' as I nip past a pedestrian. I think what the increase in comments shows is that (as well as the fact that good weather makes people chatty) people find a sgnificant number of bikes on the road a curious and novel phenomenon. The increased presence of bicycles in the summer has a knock-on effect, as people take notice and begin interacting with us. If the numbers of cyclists on the road stayed constant and even increased rather than dipping back down again at the end of the summer, the novelty and therefore the heckling would wear off, as cyclists became a part of everyday life, as much as cars.
The same goes for the sexist comments: women cyclists are still in the minority, so verbal abuse will continue until our numbers our stronger, until we become a 'normal' part of everyday life. There's little I can do (apart from shout back) about the other category of heckles I get (again due to being in a minority): my ginger hair. The scientists say we're only going to get fewer, so that will mean more abuse, until we begin selective breeding...

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