You’ve probably seen by now that comedy LibDem MP Lembit Opik has been staging a typically humourous ‘protest’ outside the Houses of Parliament by riding his Segway PT up and down in the road outside.
The reason behind this gloriously impromptu comic showcase is that it is currently illegal to use the Segway PT on Britain’s roads or pavements. Now this doesn’t seem to make all that much sense – after all, the Segway is a pretty cool device. Aside from the fact that it’s an untapped mine of comedy gold (a fact which the producers of Arrested Development definitely recognised), they do have the potential to get people out of their cars.
But, really Lembit, is the Segway really the best way to acheive this? Lots of people have already pointed out that the Segway’s claims to environmental purity are somewhat damaged by the obvious fact that it runs on electricity. Opik and the other members of the pro-Segway brigade are pretty quiet when it comes to mentioning the device’s £7,000 price tag. But most of all, thanks to the necessities of health and safety, you look like an idiot driving one.
It seems strange to go to all this trouble to protest for the right to ride a device that gets people from place to place without using their cars, when such a device already exists. Perhaps someone should tell Lembit about the bicycle?
It does all the things that Lembit wants his Segway to do, but it does them better. It’s cleaner than a Segway, requiring no energy except that which you provide yourself. It can be considerably faster than the Segway’s top speed of 12.5mph. It’s got a much smaller vertical footprint, so you can get many more cyclists on the road than you could Segwayers. And they’re cheaper – £7,000 would buy you many many bicycles.
So it seems an obvious choice – get off your PT and on your bike…
Titled “What Commuter Cyclists Can Learn From Chris Hoy”, the article details several techniques that the regular cyclist can borrow from our Olympic heroes.
Taking nothing away from the amazing acheivements of Hoy, Wiggins, Pendleton etc, how on earth can you even start to compare the two modes of cycling? Commuter cycling shouldn’t be about breaking speed barriers or riding slipstreams – it should be a safe and pleasant way to maneouvre oneself through a city.
As Andrea points out very well, this sort of attitude is extremely detrimental to the public image of the cyclist in London. By cycling aggresively, one only succeeds in pissing off other road users and pedestrians. The biggest lesson one learns from cycling as opposed to driving is just how little time is saved by trying to go fast. The road systems in central London are designed to stop you from going too quickly – stop signs, road junctions and traffic lights all combine to make any excess attempts at acceleration entirely futile. Just as jumping traffic lights is an activity that does more damage to the public image of cyclists than it aids your journey.
I’m not saying that cyclists should be timid and weak on the roads – all intrepid commuters are aware of the importance of holding your position and imposing yourself on the traffic which might otherwise ignore you – but the sort of aggressive idiocy championed by fixed-gear riders and messengers is annoying for all road users, and off-putting for those potential cyclists who might be tempted to brave the streets of London.
So well done Chris, Bradley, Victoria and Rebecca. Many congratulations on your many medals. Let’s hope that you’re amazing feats will encourage more people to cycle in London. But let’s also hope that they don’t feel the need to copy the way you ride a bicycle.
So I haven’t ridden in to work in a couple of weeks. The reason has nothing at all to do with the weather – I am, after all, an Intrepid Commuter, and have regularly cycled through the worst of what London’s weather system has to throw at me.
Instead, I’ve spent the last two weeks commuting in on the bus. Why? Because I bought myself a new iPod, and have been revelling in the pleasures of a half an hour lazily cochetted in the corner of the 453, listening to excellent podcasts (courtesy of, amongst others, Adam and Joe, This American Life and The Guardian) and doing the crossword on the back of G2.
It takes me almost twice as long as it would if I were cycling, but the attraction of the ipod is too strong at the moment. I’m hoping that the novelty is going to wear off – at the very least, I’m writing this blog about cycling in London, and my current habits have lead to a real dearth in posting. Moreover, I’m missing the pleasures of whizzing through traffic with the wind in my hair, and the very real buzz I get when I stroll in to the office, Brompton folded up beside me, blood pumping nicely through my veins.
But the whole experience has got me thinking – how compatible are my two pleasures? Do cycling and technology really mix nicely?
The argument for wearing a helmet has been written about a great deal recently, and its a discussion that has some reasonably well defined grey areas. However, I don’t see that listening to an ipod at the same time as negotiating London’s congested roads and notoriously difficult drivers is something that can be so easily justified. Surely doing so is a recipe for disaster, as cycling in London must require a great deal of concentration.
Perhaps in other parts of the world more suited to leisurely cycling, ipodding would be more acceptable. I’m sure savvy Copenhagenite cyclists must use their ipods all the time? I’d love to know if anyone does.
But the time for cycling must return – especially now that the British summer is all but over. The dampness, the slick wet roads, the misty rain that fogs over one’s spectacles – these are the pleasures only an intrepid commuter can experience!
We at Intrepid Commuter love the quirky and stylish West-End bike shop Velorution. Its a cracking little store, with a great stock of bikes, friendly staff (headed by the occasionally grumpy Italian Andrea) and a strong sense of bicycle philosophy. And its where I bought my Brompton from!
They’ve even got a pretty interesting blog. But I was a little taken aback by the most recent post that appeared on the site yesterday. Entitled Go Back to Your Count(r)y, it’s essentially a fairly vitriolic tirade against London’s ethnic minorities, who, in Andrea’s eyes at least, have a less than stellar attitude to us cyclists.
To quote Andrea “whenever I am in an area with predominance of Africans, Jews, South Asians, Cockneys or other uncivilised lovers of black tinted windows, the respect for vulnerable road users sinks to Thirld World levels”.
Now avoiding the issue of whether or not that statement qualifies as sweepingly racist (and I’m leaning towards the obvious answer that it is), I’m not entirely sure it’s accurate.
On my own personal meanders through London, I’ve been on the receiving end of abuse and car-horns from all sorts of road-users, of all racial backgrounds. In fact, it often seems that those road-users who are most ‘at home’ on the streets of London – the buses, the cabbies – are the ones that shout at me more often.
It seems, in my experience at least, that it really doesn’t matter what colour your skin, or what country or indeed county you hail from – most people in cars are ridiculously intolerant of us cyclists. That should be the focus of your argument Andrea – by entertaining cod-racist ideas like this, you’re only diluting your argument and allowing the people who might be able to make a difference to ignore you.
Ace Cycle Blogger, and pioneer of Copenhagen Cycle Chic, Zakkaliciousness has just started up a new blog – The Slow Bicycle Movement.
Expounding on all things great about cycling slowly, SBM will surely follow in the footsteps of Zakk’s other great blogs, and hopefully win over a few more people to the cause!
Intrepid Commuter is proud to be a member.
We’re big fans of superlative bicycle culture photoblog Copenhagen Cycle Chic here at Intrepid Commuter.
And while London is still a way off Copenhagen in terms of cycle culture and general style, Intrepid Commuter hopes to show that we can rock the cycle chic over here as well.
Most of us have to go to work some way or other.
If you live in London, like I do, you’re almost spoilt for choice when it comes to transport. Over the years, I’ve taken cars, buses and tubes, but have come to learn that there really isn’t a better way of getting to work than by bicycle.
You get all the advantages of walking to work – the fresh air, the proximity to the street, the chance to look around you and marvel at the wonderful city that we live in – but you just get there quicker. Which means a little more time in bed, or the opportunity to take a great meandering route through the city on your way to the office.
No one likes working, but there’s no reason why the journey there and back each day shouldn’t be ace.
Of course, commuting by bike – especially in London – has its downside. The weather isn’t always kind, the cycle routes aren’t always clear, and the other people you’re forced to share the road with are often psychopathic. Its a risky trip, but its never boring.
Intrepid Commuter is here to celebrate those of us who are brave enough to make that journey to work by bicycle and to highlight the innumerate pleasures that we get to experience each and every day.