Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Public Relations on the Bike

Today’s post is inspired by a commuting occurrence that I only wish was rare but in fact is common place for anyone on a bike—public aggression. I was stopped on my way into work by a young(ish) late 30’s year-old woman on her way to the British Museum with a gaggle of sprogs. As I slammed on my brakes and swerved nervously to avoid this family who was darting across roads and gathering in the cycling lane (a fairly obvious green painted strip on the side of the road with day glow bicycle symbols imbedded into the surface), this lady wanted to know if I ‘know why people don’t like cyclists?’ as if I was to blame for almost dying, and possibly running into her kid(s) in the process. Of course, because this is not the first time this has happened to me (today), my politeness tank is on ‘E,’ so I responded, ‘dunno, is it because we are a painful reminder what it’s like to not be fat and old?’ and then, quoting Jay-Z ‘do I look like a mind reader? You tell me.’ Then, after witnessing the disgust on this individual’s face, not to mention a tirade that almost made me blush, if I didn’t start laughing (and remember there were children around), I was hit by what alcoholics call, ‘a moment of clarity.’ This WAS my fault. Cycling has received a lot of bad press lately; what with doping in the Tour, and some twat running down a teenager and what not. And, because I was so vain to believe that a lane reserved by the City for cyclists was for the use of myself, while cycling, and not as a public gathering place while not cycling, I did not realize that I missed a brilliant opportunity for some public relations and role modelling for the kids, a la the end of a Gi-Joe episode, that is quite obviously lacking in their lives. In short, my behaviour was out of line, because, as a cyclist, I am to blame for every traffic, commuting, marital problem in the GLA.

I have been commuting in London for two years. In that time, during what amounts to 2 category 4 criteriums per day on a completely open course complete with buses, taxis, white vans, motorbikes, scooters, hipsters of fixees (aka Fakengers), messengers (aka the ‘’bottom feeders of ‘professional’ cycling’’) and pedestrians, each trying to get to a non-existent finish line first...not to mention all variety of fixed road hazard, such as pot holes, man holes, man hole covers, service ducts and rain, I have decided that cyclists have a public image problem. Sure, we’re not all to blame all of the time for miscellaneous mishaps, but sometimes, a little extra extended courtesy can go a long way in diffusing a potential angry situation—or to brighten someone’s obviously gloomy day--besides a little positive karma can’t hurt in the world of bikes and autos. With that in mind, I have compiled a short list of what one should say when faced with road aggression in particular situations—these are tried and true, and guaranteed to get the necessary response.
1. Getting shouted at and/or honked at angrily by a boy racer in a 3 series BMW, Audi A3, TT or Porsche Boxster or similarly modelled bottom-end European Coupe. ‘Oh, I’m terribly sorry; I thought you were my hairdresser. I’ll be happy to get out of your way.’
2. Getting shouted at and/or honked at angrily by a middle-aged man in a Porsche or similarly middle-age-crises car ‘I’m terribly sorry to hinder you sir, but perhaps, if you are having difficulty negotiating the roads with a cyclist on them, you should consider alternative means of transport. The city has a wide variety of public transportation options, while, if necessary, the council provides ambulance services to pensioners.’
3. Getting shouted at and/or honked at angrily by a trophy wife in a Range Rover or similar ‘Chelsea Tractor while driving and talking on the phone. ‘I’m terribly sorry, I was distracted by your ‘tan’ and enormous fake tits; did your husband get them for you on Harley Street?’
4. Having to stop in traffic while an anorexic wanna-be glamour model waddles across the street, oblivious to what’s around while talking on his/her mobile but really more interested in being ‘noticed.’ ‘Move your fat ass!’
5. Having to stop in traffic while a hipster in ridiculously tight ¾ length trousers, Dutch architect glasses, and a cardigan crosses while pushing a brakeless fixed gear bike that he hand-built using boutique fixed gear parts, ‘hmm, I think my girlfriend/sister/mother/landlady has those trousers, do you shop at John Lewis too?’
6. Getting shouted at and/or honked at angrily by an estate agent. ‘I’m terribly sorry, the credit crises has hit us all. Can you give me a lift on your way to the Job Centre?’
Note: this one works equally well for investment bankers and derivatives traders, but you’re unlikely to see them driving. But, you can rework it to reflect their shopping trolley filled with tins for recycling: e.g. ‘Can you push me to the Job Centre.’
7. And finally, to another cyclist who would be better off on the Tube/Bus/Taxi but wants cycle 'for the environement, ‘I’m sorry, I think you dropped your Cone of Smugness on the hill.’ --Also works for electric cars, but only if you're passing them on said hill.

This, as you can see, is only a partial list, albeit proven effective by myself. More often than not, the motoring public will not give you the opportunity to try out your new found politeness, and you may have to resort to more everyday gestures and one word insults, ‘wanker!’ is my favourite, but, because language has become so diluted, especially expletives, it is sometimes useful to push insecurity buttons for maximum impact: so instead of ‘wanker,’ try ‘hooker!’ or ‘fucking-Tory!’ (if you can see they’re carrying a copy of the Guardian--if they have a copy of the Telegraph, try suggesting that 'the Church of England is better off now'). Now for the fun; see if you can come up with your own way to impress upon others your new found appreciation for them with overt politeness. I believe someone wrote a little book about ‘turning the other cheek.’

Because Knowing is Half the Battle