A festival of cycling

Last night I went to a discussion about cycling. I say “discussion” but it went by the name of a “cycling festival” – I’m not a world expert on festivals or anything but it didn’t seem much like a festival to me. Where were the overpriced burger vans? Where were the plastic cups full of slightly warm lager, with the requisite bits of grass floating on the surface? Why didn’t everything smell? It was certainly an improvement on the last event I went to that combined “festival” with “bicycle”, namely a massive ponce-fest in London Fields, necessitating jumping out of the way of chumps with NHS-style glasses every few seconds in what felt like the trendy equivalent of a marine commando assault course.

No, last night was much more civilised. Six speakers, a rich and disconcertingly orange man chairing the event, and lots of chat about my favourite mode of transport. Having left my bike at work and taken the tube to the event, I’m obviously in no position to comment on anything, however what’s a blog for if not spurious hyperbole and ill-thought out asides? I agreed with lots of what was said, and it got me yearning for a) a new bike, and b) for some sort of cycling adventure (time to revisit my idea of cycling to/around Holland?). These two ideas are linked in my head – my current bike is not suitable for, well, very much, and certainly not in the constant state of disrepair I keep the poor thing in. I find myself eyeing up other bikes like Charlie Bucket outside a sweet shop, sure in the knowledge that once I have this new, amazing, slightly mythical bike, my cycle to work will be transformed to an idyllic jaunt in perpetual sunshine. Cycling will become so much fun that taking off on endless bike rides will be a joy! I can see the world! It will be phenomenal! Of course, this daydream depends on the idea that the roads suddenly become cycleable, rather than the impersonation of an earthquake zone that Walworth Road attempts quite convincingly, and motorists lose their psychopathic homicidal tendencies.

However, I didn’t agree with everything that was said. Firstly, while motorists who stop in the advanced stop boxes were slated, there wasn’t the outright condemnation of these selfish bastards as I would have liked. I like to pull up next to these cars, point at the big picture of a bike in its own little box, and shake my head sadly at them. I like to sit next to motorbikes and tell them “you don’t belong here, this isn’t for you”. I particularly enjoyed knocking on the window of a driving instructor’s car and pointing out that they were breaking the law – well, if the instructors are teaching kids to break the law and endanger cyclists then what hope do we have? Instead, ‘staying calm’ was suggested as the best way to cycle. I’d love to stay calm while cycling but I find people trying to kill me inherently stressful.

The other thing that I didn’t agree with was when the otherwise totally awesome Graeme Obree said that he’d be happy to pay road tax if it meant that motorists treated cyclists with more respect. There’s no such thing as road tax!! There is, however, such a thing as Vehicle Excise Duty, which varies depending on engine size. As my bike does not have an engine, I don’t have to pay VED (as a curious aside, cars built before 1973 are exempt from VED – a total nonsense when you consider the billowing clouds of pollution created by my dad’s antiquated fossil fuel guzzling tank of a car). Even if there was such a thing as ‘road tax’, I wouldn’t agree with cyclists having to pay it, as the amount of damage that a cyclist does to a road is minute compared to the mass destruction caused by HGVs, buses and cars – take a look at the trench in the road at the top of Denmark Hill if you don’t believe me.

I would have liked last night to have mentioned strict liability laws – something I believe very strongly that we should have in this country. Cyclists are under-protected and placed in situations of risk by the avoidance of this issue and the unwillingness of town planners to think coherently about providing a safe route for cycling. These things annoy me no end – but then perhaps I should take more heed of the advice to stay calm and not get so stressed?!

All in all, though, it was an interesting evening and it’s always amusing to watch Will Self being such an utter arse. I might even give my bike a bit of a clean to say thank you for being such a trusty steed…

This bicycle rambling was brought to you courtesy of the train to work this morning, as I’m trying to limit the amount of cycling I’m doing to rest my damaged leg.

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