Friday, 11 October 2013

Oi mate, your wheels are on fire!

Why is it that the simple act of riding a bicycle provokes so many people to advise, admonish and abuse? I have never once been shouted at when walking down the street, and am rarely castigated while driving (to the best of my knowledge - two layers of glass probably muffle a reasonable amount of dissent). Whilst out and about on my bike on the other hand I am heckled on a weekly basis.

I find that the heckling tends to fall into one of three categories. The first is the complimentary heckle; by far the most pleasant to receive but also the rarest. I have had a total of two positive heckles in my entire cycling career which I wish to record for posterity:

  1. The builder who shouted 'Go on Wiggo' as I sprinted past him on my way to work (I was late as usual)
  2. The motorist who congratulated me for averaging 25mph on a flat stretch of road (I had a tailwind). This was especially welcome as when he pulled up next to me at a set of traffic lights and wound down his window I thought he was going to complain as he had been stuck behind me for the preceding mile or so. 

Category two is by far the most common type of heckle and these can be loosely grouped together under the general heading of 'advice'. A prime example of a type two heckle came on my way home last night when a driver honked their horn, flashed their lights and gesticulated in the direction of the cycle path on the other side of the road as they overtook me. The Highway Code is actually quite clear about use of cycle lanes and cycle tracks - rules 61 and 63 both state 'Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer'.

This particular cycle track is a classic of the genre and works like this:

First you are taken onto a narrow pavement. After a hundred yards or so you are forced to stop, wait for traffic and then cross onto another narrow pavement before, after another hundred yards it stops abruptly. At that point you have to enter a t-junction and once more wait for a gap in the traffic to turn back onto the road and continue on your way. 

Clearly the track does not exist to benefit cyclists and 'make your journey safer'. Indeed I can only think of two possible reasons for its existence; one is to irritate pedestrians and the other is to inculcate a sense of self righteous indignation in motorists. This latter certainly seems to me an area that would warrant further research; if drivers are encouraged to be particularly riled by their fellow road users for the duration of specific short stretches of road they may become more tolerant at other times. If this theory were to be proven a network of Intolerance Zones could be established across the country. We could have a new road sign:

In this instance my intolerant motorist did me a favour. I decided to give chase to explain the error of her ways and the finer points of the Highway Code at the next available set of traffic lights. As the road has a gradient of about 7% at this point and I was heading uphill this chase was both utterly futile and very good exercise.

Category three is the random heckle. This is most often straightforward abuse. 'Poofter' or its multifarious similes are understandably popular monikers for anyone with a predilection for skin-tight clothing. Happily I have found that the residents of Sussex can be much more imaginative than this however. My partner, G, is a particular magnet for inventive invective; stand-out moments came from the urchin who informed her that her wheels were on fire (they weren't) and the portion of McDonalds fries flung (accurately) from a passing car.

The most frustrating thing in all this is that I never have a good riposte; my normal response is stony silence, and the next few miles are inevitably taken up with the rehearsal of a series of ever more witty or withering put-downs. The problem is that there is no time for a lengthy exchange; if anyone knows of a catch-all response that consists of no more than three or four words I would love to hear it.

No comments:

Post a Comment