Image from Wolfpack Hustle: Marathon Crash Race, a film of the unsanctioned city racing held in Los Angeles. See the trailer here. The film will be shown during London Bicycle Film Festival, 5-9th October.
“I prefer the rain. There’s less newbies, nodders and plodders out there, getting in my way. I’m riding to work and I want to get there fast, flying past the gridlocked cars and sneering at the morons inside. I curse at the dimwitted bus drivers. Expect the unexpected from mini-cabs. As I race through the traffic I wonder who would drive a car in London anyway? Rich tossers and lazy bastards.
But the sun is out today, and with it the hoards of lingerers and dawdlers. Competition on the roads will be fierce, and so will the fight for space; I’ll need to constantly jump ahead of the shoals of bikes in order to see the clear spaces ahead. I hesitate slightly over today’s bike choice; the carbon road bike means more speed on the straights, but the Canondale Bad Boy is better for diving through traffic, hopping over curbs, the disc brakes are handy for those evasive manoeuvres. Today will be about speed, so I slip my drinks bottle into the holder of the racer and pull on my SPD shoes, tightening the straps firmly.
I crank up my iPod as I leave my front door. I like to listen to rock, anything loud with guitars – it keeps me pumped and alert. It also blocks out all the abuse I get from car drivers. They see us cruise past from the confines of their tin cans, and they can’t stand it. Agitated and jealous, it all just explodes out of them as vitriol. They don’t understand – it’s not us who are the problem, but them. They can shout and swear all they like, but they’ll never catch me. I take delight in flexing my vocabulary and repertoire of lewd hand gestures before disappearing through the traffic.
You might think I’m the sort of cyclist that jumps red lights, but I don’t. I see it as part of the challenge. It builds strength from blasting out of all those standing starts. Sometimes I track stand, sometimes I don’t. On approaching a red light I filter through the cars, usually on the right down the centre of the road asserting my presence. It’s vital to get to the front – especially if there’s dawdling cyclists already waiting. You can waste seconds getting past guys grinding away out of the blocks in massive gears, or some wide load woman with a basket on the handlebars.
Ok, it’s true I sometimes skip through a light – but only when I know it’s safe. I’ve been cycling through London for years so I know when it’s ok. I can make those judgements. I’ve memorised the sequencing and I can blast through an amber in the knowledge I can sail through without getting side swiped by a car. I don’t run down pedestrians, I give them enough space to cross. It’s this experience and know-how that gives me the edge. A wheelsucker can be burnt off through junctions when I can take the risks they dare not take.
There’s a lot of things I hate about cycling in London. White van men. Taxi drivers. Mini cabs. Chelsea tractors. Pedestrians. Pedestrians on phones wandering across the street without looking. Boris Bikes. Tourists. Tourists on Boris Bikes. Mopeds are good for drafting, but little else. Motorbikes should learn what ASL boxes are and who they’re for (e.g. not them). If everyone knew their place and kept going at a decent pace, learnt to indicate, to stay out of bike lanes, to know where they’re going, we’d all get along just fine.
The ride home is when I really let rip. All that bullshit at work is laid out there on the road, I’m my own boss, my own master. No one can catch me. I race along the Embankment with the rest of the commuting peloton. We hit crazy speeds and jostle for position. I’ve seen crashes, and the aftermaths, and ambulances pulling up at the scenes. But I don’t think of the dangers. Well you can’t, can you?
I get home buzzing. I feel totally alive after the near-misses and the risks I took. But after the endorphins fade, a strange hollow feeling creeps up on me. As I run my head under the shower I notice a slight tremble in my hands, my heart is still pounding. I recall moments from the ride sometimes – when I swore at the women crossing the road without looking, at the driver who switched lanes around Hyde Park Corner – and feel a pang of guilt. Maybe they didn’t deserve the shit I gave them. I recall slipping through the gap between the bus and the truck just as it was disappearing – it was a stupid mistake that I could have paid dear for.
Sometimes the abuse aimed at me stings. Occasionally I can see that they were in the right, and maybe it was really my fault. But I shrug it off – if you’re going to cycle in London you can’t let all that crap get to you. You’ve got to forget the fear, to be aggressive or you’ll end up being the victim. Tomorrow morning I’ve got to get back out there and do it all again and nothing is going to get in my way.”