dilluns, 27 de juliol de 2009
Cycling politeness: more rewarding than you'd think
Cycling in city traffic doesn't have to be a nightmare – unexpected considerate drivers and pleasant exchanges can even make it fun
Per Peter Robins al Guardian 27 Juliol 2009
Cycling 'has a way of making you part of a city'. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA
The white van drove in slow and close, its front window staying level with me, for what seemed like minutes, hooting as the driver pointed with ever more violent emphasis. And I was afraid. Until I realised that he wasn't pointing at me. He was pointing back down the road, to where my bag had wriggled free from the elastic cables on my rack and quietly plopped into the gutter. I was his good deed for the day. I don't remember the following moments so clearly, but I hope I had enough composure to thank him.
It's not difficult, as an urban cyclist, to cultivate a sense of grievance. Easier in London, certainly, but still easy in the other cities – Oxford, Nottingham, a touch of Sheffield – where I've cycled. It has something to do with cyclists' lack of an assumed place: whatever space you're hoping to claim is apt to be seized by some car, some overtake-and-then-brake moped, some van, some towpath dog walker. You don't have the power to force your way. Almost every route must be negotiated. This is also, however, the special joy of city cycling.
On the days when I can convince myself that considerate van drivers are at least as common as the nightmare creatures of stereotype, there seem to be few forms of active citizenship more direct and pleasurable than being polite on a bicycle. The business of making your way – of seeing what's coming; of catching the eye of someone on the pavement in advance and either slowing slightly to let them cross or speeding up a little not to delay them crossing; of moving quickly and purposefully and mindfully enough to work with the traffic – feels delightfully skilled and grown-up. It offers the promise of arriving at your destination happier, rather than merely sweatier. If you're competent enough – I'm not, always – to display good nature clearly and decisively, it can also get you cut more slack by other road users.
Besides, being on a bicycle has a certain way of making you part of a city. I get asked for directions more when I'm on a bike than when I'm on foot – a bike suggests you're local, and opens you to both drivers and pedestrians, at least if you're as slow as I am. It seems only right to try to go with the grain.
There are, of course, many days when all this doesn't work. Careless and downright hostile drivers exist; you have to be ready for them. My own carelessness and impatience are also real (I've found it rather harder to maintain equilibrium over a 19-mile round-trip commute than I did over 14 miles, and I do not share Caleb Crain's Zen calm at the lights), but letting them rip never seems to get me anywhere quicker.
Sometimes, as Dave Hill's cycle instructor told him, you have to be a warrior. It's important to be prepared for those times. But it's all too easy, in steeling yourself for such moments, to assume away others' good will. Often you don't have to be a warrior. Often you can be a diplomat. Diplomacy is more fun.