A Momentary Wiggins

We’ve been asking people online if they have had to change their route – or even give up cycling altogether – because of the conditions they encounter on their bike. This brilliant guest blog from poet and songwriter Ellen McAteer was one impassioned response:

The shock news of Bradley Wiggins and his coach being knocked off their bikes by motor vehicles in separate incidents brought me up close to my own increasing fear of the daily commute. The Southside of Glasgow is pretty hostile to cyclists. However, I know many fine people who brave it to cycle not just to work, but also to nights out, shopping, and taking the kids to the park. Free transport, free gym, what’s not to like? Well, potholes for one. Hidden by large puddles. Into which aggressive truck drivers bully you. Revving, honking motorists who HATE that you have a designated space in front of them. Who muscle past you, or park right in them, a storming act of passive aggression. If only it stayed passive.

There’s a bunch of wild kids always hanging around a certain chip shop, who started by throwing chips at me every evening, and ended by chasing me down the road and pulling the bunch of flowers I was bringing home out of my pannier, throwing them all over the road. I was so shaken I cried. It felt like a hate crime. I don’t know why, but the sight of a grown person on a bike seems to offend and alarm most of the residents of Govan and Linthouse. The one stretch of designated, car-free cycle path on my route is always bristling with broken glass like the top of a security wall. Even my local lollipop man, lovely friendly guy who says hello every morning and checks the road is clear for me to cycle across into the park, seems unnerved by my choice, even as he tries to keep me safe. Maybe he wonders why I would voluntarily cycle through the rain and wind he braves for the sake of a salary. As he sees me roll out into a snowstorm, he says, with satisfaction, “Ah! Ye wilnae be doin that much longer.” As I continue to prove him wrong, concern etches his face. He fears for me. And thinks I’m a nutter. He’s right on both counts, of course.

Reading David Brennan’s sad blog about his friend who gave up cycling, and other comments online on the Wiggins and Sutton accidents, my inner militant began to stir. I had a band rehearsal after work in Shawlands, and had been planning to train it, being very scared indeed of the Renfield St/Union St/Jamaica Stand/Glasgow Bridge trajectory that fires you into the madness of the A77. But then I determined to stand up for my rights. Strapping on every visibility aid I could muster, I donned my helmet and turned on my lights.

It was exactly the chaos I thought it would be. On Renfield St, there is a “bus/taxi/bike lane” – yes, great idea. It annoys the drivers, and sends you rearing in and out of these huge chunks of metal with poor visibility during their frequent, often abrupt, stops. That then turns into three lanes of rush-hour cars driven by tired, angry, want-to-get-home people. Lanes switcheroo as to whether they’re going ahead, left or right, threatening to suck you into the one-way. You brave the little green bike box at the lights as cars and people growl behind you. Then you fly off and are transported in a few seconds of breathtaking beauty as the bridge spins you through a perfect sphere of pink and gold light, before a boneshaking jolt of reality drums from beneath, and you remember to keep your eyes on the acne-scarred road ahead. I dodged between parked cars and moving cars, was predictably shouldered into one by the other, had to stop behind parked cars, and at one point was actually forced to steer into a steel barrier out of the way of a bus. I was very amused, when I stopped swearing, to look up at the ABC and see that Motorhead were playing. Yes, that about sums it up.

But I will not give up my daily cycle. As a working mother of twins, it is the only chance for exercise I have. I love to spin through Elder Park, and ride along with the river Clyde for a while. I get a lot of writing ideas while on the move – it is a sort of meditation. There’s a freedom in it, moving under your own steam, not dependent on buses and trains, seeing things other commuters don’t, and smelling them, breathing them, feeling even the drabbest daylight brighten the inside of your skull. You learn to start early, avoid the pre-9am madness, and get in for a peaceful cup of tea feeling rested and well. I can time my getting home to a certainty, 20 mins to prepare dinner before kids get home. And best of all, there is that lovely post-endorphin moment when you feel all is right with the world. Please, keep cycling.

Ellen McAteer

 

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