There’s a lack of civility in cycling culture and most cyclists I speak with are frustrated. Sarah Goodyear in the Atlantic Monthly article ‘Cyclists Aren’t ‘Special’, and They Shouldn’t Play by Their Own Rules’ proposed that cycling has transformed from a rebel culture to part of the mainstream, but our behaviour hasn’t caught up. I believe we don’t see bikes as vehicles. If we get fined for running red lights, not wearing helmets and not having bike lights, then bikes are vehicles. Like us, drivers of vehicles are legally and socially obliged to adhere to standards of civility. They rarely overtake a slow car by jumping the queue and overtaking an intersection or roundabout, let alone run red lights or drive with an iPod in their ears. Our transition to a mainstream alternative needs to adhere to these legal and social obligations. Or we could leave 5 minutes earlier and slow down.
Undoubtedly, our main goal in cycling is to arrive at school, university or work on time, with environmental, civic, or health benefits as considerations. When cycling, we think as commuters. Lately, my cyclist idealism has been gradually shattered from the utopia of environmentalist and civic-minded culture. I’ve cycled to work from Northcote to the CBD for almost a year, always taking the cyclist-dominated Canning Street from Park Street in Fitzroy North to Carlton Gardens. Canning Street reflects everything about Melbourne cycling culture – the city on the move, every shade of Melbournian from lycra-clad to Ned Kelly beards to vintage single speed bikes to parents riding with their kids – either tented rickshaws towing their little emperors and empresses, or in a front barrow for organic produce and kids alike. I’ve noticed blatant discourteous actions: Cyclists cutting to the front of the queue at the traffic lights then running the red light to gain a head start, overtaking people giving way at a roundabout, overtaking in the middle of intersections and roundabouts, and wearing iPods.
Previously, I satisfied my anger inventing a stereotypical personality for the uncivil. Those who work in high powered positions in the CBD in finance companies, ride cross country at grammar school, have tough spinning class instructors, who’ve paid over $1,000 for their bike so want their money’s worth, and almost certainly own Ford Falcons – their aesthetic and driver behavioural equivalent. Given the speed-freakery of the prominently lycra-clad transgressors, it was an easy joke. However, I gradually noticed rule breaking covered a much wider spectrum of cyclists. Inner city kids rocking tattoos, facial hair, and headphones. Masculine hippies – which given my experience at Ceres Bike Shed, made a lot of sense. My flatmate told me “You’ll soon do this too”. Occasionally and unintentionally I do.
(Published in the Northsider, June 1st, 2013)