I bought a bike this afternoon, the process having to be facilitated by a couple of mgs of valium because something about starting cycling in this City scares me that much. This makes it interesting; makes it something important to face up to and do.
Just the ride home from the bike shop opened up so many ideas - cycling will rewrite my urban experience. A few preliminary thoughts:
1. You go so fast. Three or four times as fast my usual walked 4mph and shit, I'm not used thinking at such speeds. Decision-making, navigating, keeping my eyes on everything I need to notice (cars traffic lights parked cars pedestrians holes in the road where the fuck i am) - this must be the source of my fear: the threat of overload in such a dangerous environment. Galloping on a horse - similar speeds, similar lack of crash protection - was at first frightening too; then it just became exhilarating. But there you've got the horse thinking about how to keep you out of trouble too - so perhaps my problems would be solved by a conscious (furry) bicycle?
2. You go so fast. This is going to make the City really small. I got back from Chalk Farm in what felt like 10 minutes, though it must have been longer - the concentration required puts you into a flow state where time is irrelevant. Yet that journey takes a good 45 minutes by bus, being an across-town orbital that doesn't mesh well with a largely radial system of bus routes. So now, fuck, is Chalk Farm close? Easy visits to my friend in Primrose Hill, Marine Ices, and that lovely vegetarian hippy cafe that kept feeding me free food? I'm going to be able to get to hitherto unknown places like Deptford, and the Lea Valley, and - fuck! - maybe the west. Correction: this is going to make my currently-frequented City really small, and enormously expand my perceptions of what's there and what's possible. Life beyond Zone 2 awaits.
3. This is going to require a phenomenal amount of navigational ability. I can usually look at a map once and memorise the route I need to walk - my recall of scale & direction & road names is good enough to absorb a mile or two's data in one go. But, going faster, a bicycle covers so many more streets. Futhermore, in the interests of not getting squashed I might like to stay off main roads where possible, requiring an even greater demand to remember labyrinthine back routes. Suddenly the Knowledge of this town's taxi drivers becomes something I too need to gain.
4. Cycling is also daunting because I apparently don't believe cars have people in - human-shaped amoral vegetables maybe, but not thinking caring people. Pedestrian life seems to have left me with the impression that it's my job to get out of their way, with no expectations that traffic will reciprocally try to avoid me. (After all, they're not going to be damaged by any close encounter.) So I carry this perception through to cycling, even though I am now a road user who should be a car's equal, someone to slow for and permit to turn and acknowledge right of way. I don't seem to understand that I am an equal, and cars should/will do these things for me; has pedestrianism left me with an inferiority complex? That says something about the hierarchical way in which our cities are currently designed/built - and perhaps makes a strong case in favour of those pavement-lowering, sign-removing, shared space reforms recently introduced along such roads as Kensington High Street.