I wasn't quite sure where to start with this project however I've had one particular piece in my head for a while. As anyone who follows me on Twitter might be aware since we moved to Nottingham in May I've taken up cycling to work. This is primarily because the traffic in Nottingham is abysmal - it can take up to an hour and a half to drive the nine miles from my house to where I work! But it's also been a good way of keeping fit and not spending too much of my already overcommitted salary on bus fares...
I'm a reasonably fit person so cycling 18 or so miles in a day wasn't too much of a shock to the system. The first time I made the journey however I stubbornly insisted on taking my ancient, very heavy mountain bike which meant I arrived home half dead. My boyfriend then insisted I take his much lighter and very swanky road bike which has significantly improved both the experience and my time - I can do the journey in about 50 minutes now. I'm not particularly an expert cyclist but I can see a distinct improvement in my stamina as well as in my leg muscles!
I haven't cycled very much since I was a teenager and I've got a lot more cautious since I was last on a bike, probably because I've spent so much time as a driver over the past five years. I understand how fast traffic moves and how little drivers seem to pay attention, even to other cars, let alone to breakable things like cyclists and pedestrians. I was, therefore, unenthusiastic about the prospect of entangling myself with rush hour traffic with nothing but a helmet, spiky pedals and some borrowed Lycra to protect myself. Luckily Nottingham is a really cycle-friendly place and there's a National Cycle Network route which runs virtually from my house to where I work which keeps me off the main roads.
One of the things about this whole cycling experience that has really surprised me is the rudeness of other cyclists. Whilst I'm not a particularly committed cyclist I have a lot of friends who are - both in real life and through twitter - and they are some of the nicest people I know. I was therefore expecting more in the way of camaraderie from the many other cyclists I've encountered on my travels but honestly apart from a slightly pervy man saying hello and a couple of awkward conversations whilst locking my bike up at work the solidarity has been non-existent. In fact I've come closer to being knocked off my bike by other cyclists than I ever have by a car, particularly of note was the man who cycled through a red light at a pedestrian crossing last week and nearly sent me flying.
The other unexpected aspect of cycling, particularly on the route I take which is at least 50% on the pavement, has been the ignorance of pedestrians. I like to think I'm a pretty considerate and patient person but cycling has tested this quite severely! I just do not understand why, when a cycle route is clearly marked, a person would choose to walk down the middle of it and then glare angrily at any cyclist who dares to try and use the cycle path. Also, now the schools have started back, I spend most of my morning commute facing down the mouthy teenagers who wander aimlessly about the pavement. Irksome...
I've been almost pleasantly surprised that no-one in a car has yet made a serious attempt to run me over - I was really expecting to have to spend a lot more time avoiding bad drivers. There are still plenty of people who drive a bit too close but I've not really had any close calls. I think being a driver makes me a more aware cyclist, I'm used to having to anticipate potentially dangerous situations well in advance - something which is much more important as a vulnerable cyclist. I'd also like to think being a cyclist has improved my driving, at least in terms of being aware of other road users.
I'd be interested to hear other people's experiences of "urban" cycling - is the lack of sympathy for your fellow cyclist a problem particular to Nottingham?!