In our mass-motorised world, cyclists are typically marginalized, both physically and culturally. In the popular mind, we are a tribe, sharing characters and outlooks and bearing a grudge against motorists. Our ride on 26 February, the third of our family rides, challenged that view – not with hostility but with happiness.
It wasn’t difficult to get into the happy spirit: blue skies and sunbeams always lift the biker’s heart. With babies in carriers, walkers guiding tots on balance bikes and big kids bowling along, all adjusting to a communal pace, there was a compelling atmosphere of cooperation that contrasted with the competition we feel on most urban roads.
But notable too was the accommodating behaviour of the motorists. Perhaps it was the sight of oldies alongside infants, novices with veterans, serious cyclists with fair-weather ones. Maybe it was the confidence motorists drew from those pedalling being so visible, for we were many and multi-coloured, a conspicuous caravan of travellers, with no risk of collision.
So it was mutually liberating: motorists didn’t feel apprehensive, cyclists didn’t feel threatened. Parents had brought kids, kids had brought friends, friends had brought fluffy toys and together we were a formidable but friendly presence.
Non-cyclists often need to change their perception of cycling: it’s not a sport, typically it’s a means of transport as indispensable as any form of travel. But on days like 26 February it’s just for leisure – a pleasure to be treasured in such clement weather among such good company.
As we pedalled out of Lordship Rec and through Tottenham, there was no question of motorists overlooking us or, as they often do, consigning us to the gutter. Add to that the conspicuous safety of the parks, cycle lanes and LTNs we used on the carefully curated route and it meant those pedalling and those driving were altogether free of fear of conflict.
Wheelspin by wheelspin a statement was being made; the physical revolutions of those wheels were a tangible illustration of the active travel revolution we are all aiming for.
To quote the book title of veteran cycle campaigner Carlton Reid, ‘The roads were not built for cars’. Rides like this by ordinary people on an ordinary day will demonstrate that to everyone. Then, with stresses reduced and pollutants diluted, we can all breathe a little easier. Phew.