it: a rare lovely weekend. The sky truly, madly, deeply blue, as it's
meant to be and often is in other countries. You're on your bicycle.
There's no other traffic. In fact, the road has been closed to cars.
How do you celebrate? My personal ode to joy involves letting hands
slip from handlebars and guiding my bike by mind power à la Uri
Geller, though I try not to bend the frame. It's the closest I ever
come to levitating.
Have you ever cycled hands-free? Not as a public demonstration of your
prowess, but as a private declaration of your freedom? Well, the Bill
doesn't like it very much, and they've let me know.
To inaugurate the Millennium for Sticklers I pedalled down the Mall
in London, which is closed to motorised traffic on Sundays, and aimed
myself at Buckingham Palace. Rode a nice straight line into the arms
of a PC. "Don't you think it's safer with your hands on the bars?" the
constable asked. "Yes," I answered, perjuring myself. The technique
was firmly suggested. Spirits on a stall, I complied.
You cannot argue with The Law. For The Law simply Is. You obey it, or
risk being called an anarchist. The Highway Code, a quasi-sacred
text, has this to say about the matter: "[Cyclists] should keep both
hands on the handlebars except when signaling or changing gear." Hard
to disagree with such common sense advice. Until you feel an ode
to joy coming on, that is.
How could The Law possibly know (and would it care if it did?) that
I've been riding this way most of my life, and my instincts for self-preservation
guide me even when my hands do not? Indeed, that the technique has taught
me better control, and is evidence of the unique relationship I have
with my machine? Certainly no motorist is so intimate with his car that
he can confidently steer it with the slightest nudge of his hips....
I am in most respects a model cyclist, endeavoring always to be considerate
to my fellow travellers no matter how many wheels they've got; even
stopping at red lights my grandmother would blow. But The Law isn't
omniscient, despite the advances of CCTV, and when it catches you red-handed
or even no-handed it's impossible to plead innocence due to previous
I'll wager that any cyclist who's laid down some decent mileage in the
city knows The Lecture. Its exact content varies according to the crime,
but one ingredient is usually tossed into the pot: "You cyclists think
you're above the law." How many errant drivers are treated to "You motorists...."?
Only then will you feel the full weight of the sins of the community
on your shoulders, its collective guilt a cross you must bear due to
your convenient proximity and culpability.
Perhaps The Lecture is a small price to pay for being a member of a
civilised society, but it's a large price to pay for being a minority.
Because you know, and she knows, even as she's wagging her finger at
you, that the only reason you fell neatly into her sights is because
of you're on two wheels instead of four: easy prey. She's powerless
to make much of a dent in the motorised mayhem, so she makes a calculation:
your errors = X number of driver errors. Don't know what X is, but it's
big. It doesn't hurt her image with the non-cycling public to be seen
having a stern chat with us peddlers every so often, either.
Then there's the simple matter that in this country the urban cyclist
is ipso facto a nonconformist: another large blip on PC radar. We just
can't win, except by being perfect, and as we're all fond of telling
ourselves, nobody's perfect.
To many, the police represent sane order in a world which would otherwise
spin mad. They do society's dirty work, and as representatives of The
Law, serving it in the front lines every day, they deserve respect.
Who am I, alone on my bicycle, keeping my balance in an unbalanced world,
cycling through the trenches every day, representing nothing but a single
free human spirit, to argue?
Postscript: The following weekend. Same sky, venue, modus operandi.
I pass a kid on a unicycle. Now why didn't I think of that?
Plus, May 2001
After you've indemnified
and held me blameless, why not give
it a try.