Photography by Jordan Clark Haggard/The Blue and Red
Ask a non-cyclist the reasons why they are reluctant to cycle through the city to work – after all it’s cheap and quick – they’ll cite the accepted vision of London’s roads. Impatient van drivers leaning on their horns, resentful of the cyclists’ very existence on the road. Swerving, U-turning taxis, diving towards the curb at any unexpected moment. Posh mums on the school run, towering above traffic in their 4x4s, one ear to their phone, one eye on the kids squabbling in the back seats.
But ask the downtrodden commuter, the veterans of London’s packed narrow roads and confused street designs, and they’ll point not towards the motorist as the rivals to their little patch on the road, but to their fellow cyclist.
During the recent tube strikes, space on that thin strip of tarmac – you know, that half a metre between curb and traffic – was at a premium. It was worse than the elbows out argy bargy of a 4th cat sprint at Hillingdon, and no less dangerous. A constant battle to get to the front. Except there was no ‘front’ – beyond each shoal of cyclists and cars lay another, and another. There was no getting ahead and away from the pack because the pack stretched from the first pedal revolutions of the journey right to the last (I think there’s a metaphor for the futility of life in there somewhere).
So there were two options. The first, acceptance and patience. The second, to go berserk, weaving in and out, jumping curbs, swerving past pedestrians, blazing through red lights, pushing grannies out of your path… the cyclists of London chose the latter.
There is no sense of camaraderie amongst the city’s cycling community. We treat each other like dirt; there is no respect when joining a queue of cyclists already patiently waiting at red lights. Ignoring any antagonism caused by their actions, many will push their way to the front of the queue, beyond the ASL box, and then beyond the lights, and then nudging into the oncoming traffic itself. Any hold up seems to be an affront to cycling as a means of transport; there should be no delays, there is to be no waiting, not even for your fellow two-wheeled traveller.
Of course I am not immune to such impatience. On many occasions I’ve cursed an inconvenient traffic light just as I’m reaching my favoured cruising speed. But I’ve noticed a strange effect that racing and training has on my cycling, especially through the city – the more I cycle the more patient I become. Aggression and testosterone gets used up, it’s spread too thinly to be wasted jostling with commuters or taxis.
My cure then for the impatient commuters and cyclists of London is to set them loose each weekend on the circuits of Hillingdon or Hog Hill, and for them to flog every last ounce of pent-up frustration out of their systems. A few crashes would also help to weed out the careless – possibly the odd broken collar-bone could provide an appetiser to the damage a car bonnet or bus wheel could cause.
Patience is also a useful virtue for the racing cyclist to adopt. Unfortunately adrenaline and patience are like oil and water; no sooner has the heart rate increased does the brain succumb to impulse. Just watch the eagerness in any 4th cat race to chase down every break, to pursue any hint of a breakaway. They’ve yet to learn the art of racing with patience, of watching moves carefully and assessing each for its chance of success.
To discover patience in racing takes patience itself. Right now during winter club rides it’s hard to watch riders hare off up hills without a pang of panic. But stick to that training plan – there aren’t any prizes waiting at the crest of each hill. Bide your time until the racing really starts, and learn the art of remaining patient even when your heart is racing.