I was riding home recently (not for christmas) at a very gentle pace. Most of my riding is done at a gentle pace these days. It’s a combination of incipient decrepitude (is that an oxymoron?) and a medieval lurgy that sits on my chest emitting ropes of mucous. So, I was riding home recently when I had the misfortune to be interrupted by a Mini driver (not the Minnie Driver, that would make this a markedly different blog post) who took umbrage at me being in his way at a particularly narrow piece of road as he attempted to overtake and thus catch up with the stationary traffic hurtling up the road. It was one of those garage courtesy cars with writings on it. I tapped on the side of the car, gently. My reasoning is that if i’m able to tap on the side of a car, the car is probably about three metres too close. As is usually the case, my attempts at self-preservation were seen as a violation of the human rights of the recipient and an invitation to further discussion. Often, further discussion is simply a euphemism for ‘threat of unrestrained serious physical violence, including stabs to the head’. In this case it was a genuine attempt to engage in discussion. I ignored him and rode on; he was, after all, stuck in traffic. Somehow, some miles further on, he caught and overtook me and repeated his invitation.
“Can I please discuss this with you”, he said, with what can only be described as a passive aggressive tone of barely suppressed rage. The kind of anger that simmers, but it is repressed with such extreme effort, that any suggestion that they might be angry is met by an angry denial that they are not angry. He opened up with his trump card:
“I’m a cyclist.”
It’s great when people drop the “I’m a cyclist” bomb. He clearly hasn’t read my blog where I articulate what it means to be a cyclist. Shame on him. He followed it up with:
“I ride MTB, I ride watt bikes, I ride on the road“. As if it wasn’t enough to be simply a cyclist, it had to be followed up with some sort of cross-tribe emphasis. The watt bikes bit had me laughing. He had a foppish demeanour and came across a bit like Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s day off. I don’t think he liked it when I laughed. I resisted the temptation to ask ‘watt bikes do you ride?’ or to reply with: “You’re not a cyclist, you’re an idiot. There’s a clear difference between to the two in this case.”
Instead I opted for what I thought would be the less inflammatory approach, a wearying and possibly patronising retort based on his suppressed rage:
“That’s lovely. I’m really glad you identify as a cyclist. It’s great, and I’m really happy for you. I’m surprised though that as a cyclist you attempted to drive into another cyclist. It doesn’t seem to be consistent. I’m also surprised that you’re in such a hurry and quite so angry about this”.
I have to add that at this point I had already made the value judgement that if things turned nasty and the guy got fresh, I could probably take him down by throwing my helmet at him. He didn’t have the air of physical psychopathy that is sometimes encountered. If he did, I would have been long gone, hiding somewhere until the coast was clear and wouldn’t be writing about it now.
“I’m not angry or in a hurry. I’m not angry at all”. He said, with the aforementioned barely suppressed rage.
“That’s good, because I suspect you’ve driven the wrong way in a rush hour to tell me how much of a cyclist you are and will now have to drive back again. I hope it doesn’t happen again with another cyclist on your way back to where you were before”.
He was fuming by this time. He moved back towards his car and he unleashed his final slab of rhetoric, the true insult:
“You’re the kind of cyclist that gives other cyclists a bad name”. At which point it just seemed so surreal and other-worldly. I felt as those all my life has been a mere prelude to this moment. Finally, I’d been on the receiving end of the mythical words spoken. I told him:
“Thank you. That’s a lifetime’s ambition ticked off. I genuinely didn’t believe people said that, and if they did, no-one would ever say it to me. I’m humbled.” He gestured from inside his car, as though I had to move off first in this spaghetti western on bikes. I stayed still. He gestured again, then jumped out of his car to throw his final insult:
“And this isn’t even my car!”.
As is often the case when you hear something for the first time you then can’t stop hearing it. I was walking my bike over the elaborate scaffolding structure in the harbour that has replaced the bridge being replaced. There is a very large sign saying ‘cyclists walk’, and it’s narrow and a bit edgy and full of pedestrians. Walking is the ideal option. As I came to the other side a ‘cyclist’ rode his bike onto the bridge. I told him to walk and he got really stroppy and more than a bit pissy with me. An elderly couple gave him short shrift and he stopped talking, embarrassed. They then turned to me and said, “He gives cyclists a bad name”. I replied, ‘to be honest, he gives himself a bad name’. And they nodded in acquiescence. Besides, I’m not sharing the limelight with other cyclists giving cyclists a bad name, having worked so hard to earn it I want that badge for myself.
This sign really isn’t that clear, to be honest. And they should have another one to be sure, perhaps a yellow one.