Photograph of fixed gear menace by Outlier
Riding in London you encounter all types. In images of cycling cities – Shanghai, Copenhagen, Amsterdam – the cyclists filtering through the congested roads look as if they’re all riding the same bike. Upright, practical, utilitarian, and anonymous. Over here there is no typical cyclist, each one encountered is different to the next – businessmen on Bromptons, sensible office workers on hybrids in high-viz, sporty types with dropped bars and lycra shorts. But there are some that float above the rest of us – not necessarily faster, most certainly not safer, but insufferably cooler.
I’ve played by the rules my whole life; fearful of authority, worried about parental disapproval. I wear a helmet, I stop at red lights, I avoid undertaking busses. My cycling clothes are sensible and practical, my commute treated like any other ride. I’m conscious of my lack of cool, but feel gripped by good sense and manners.
I regularly encounter on my ride to work my commuting nemesis; like the group of lads that hung around at the far end of the playground sharing cigarettes, I am lured by his disregard for rules and authority. His clothes tread carefully the line between practicality and style – dark, a slim cut jacket, jeans, black Sidis and cycling cap, messenger bag slung over his shoulder. His bike a stripped down fixie, simple, elegant. No doubt, on closer inspection, it would reveal nods to obscurity, an eye for tasteful componentry. But most of all, he glides.
Lean and athletic, yet his pace is insouciant and steady – he never stops. He weaves amongst traffic, only modulating his pace as the obstacles demand – squeezing through gaps, judging speed and distances so as to never have to brake. The lines on the road, the traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, junctions, directional arrows, all mean nothing to him – he goes where he chooses and picks his fastest path.
I’ve seen him hit by a white van. He sprung up as if he’d bounced off the tarmac, and was ready to hold his ground against the offending driver within seconds. Last week I called him a twat when he turned across my path. Part of me wants to see him come a cropper, for an old lady to clobber him with her handbag as he pushes through a crowded zebra crossing, but another part of me wants to be him. To feel that freedom, to be liberated from my conscience that admonishes me for the slightest infraction. I want to be that cool.
Arriving at work we access our secure bike parking through the office building loading bay. Messengers are often hanging around, dropping off a package or waiting for their next assignment. I imagine their thoughts when they see us mollycoddled commuters solemnly pushing our bikes into the lift. Amused by the lumbering mountain bikes and sturdy shoppers, irked by the lightweight racers hamstrung by a stop-start six mile commute.
I want to apologise. For clogging up their roads, for getting in their way. For being fearful and polite. Out in the countryside us racers might own the roads, but here in the city it’s these guys – the outlaws.