Well it’s been a few more days, and owing to some work which has required my close attention I have not written much for the blog. Oh and I have been playing Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook… Er, yes, um… OK, I’m a simple man — I deserve simple pleasures.
Also in an attempt to prevent myself from becoming a walrus, I have been out cycling. I only did six miles today, seven on Sunday, nine on Monday, and about four or five I think yesterday. It’s getting easier the more I do, which suggest to me I am slowly a) getting fitter b) learning the Highway Code – I look at it occasionally when I’m on the pc, as I grew up on a farm and most of what I know about how to drive in urban situations I learned from playing Grand Theft Auto — so my cycling does feature a series of Unique Jumps, careering through pedestrians with murderous intent, and drive-bys – only joking! — and c) increased confidence.
And for the majority of my readers who live nowhere near Cheltenham, my apologies. Most of this might actually apply locally to you too, and i’d be interested to hear so do comment as always…
Well I have learned a few really surprising things. Here are my
Top Ten facts about the wonderful world of bicycles in Cheltenham
1. Car drivers are NOT arseholes. Most are very friendly and look positively worried at the prospect of my ungainly bulk meeting their head through their windscreen. Some are so cautious it unnerves me. For the really timid, wide loads, and when it is clear I’m impeding traffic I pull over and let them pass me with a cheery wave. They really seem to appreciate this simple courtesy – after all it costs me seconds and stops them being stuck behind me as my fat arse wobbles across their view of the road. Everyone wins?
2. Car drivers do NOT try to kill you. With the exception of drivers of Range Rovers, who zoom past scaring you senseless, most car drivers and indeed van and lorry drivers are quite content to let you go unmolested so long as you don’t get in their way. Blonde-thirty something women in sports cars seem to wave and smile a lot if you let them out of a turning or pull in on a narrow road (odd breed – maybe it’s the same women I have met three times now?) and most car drivers really don’t have any malevolent intent unless you pull out in front of them (I don’t) or cut them up. (ditto…)
3. You do not need a death wish to cycle. I really was nervous to start with, as everyone kept telling me that cyclists die horribly all the time. I expect the statistics for fatalities and horrible maiming is higher than that of car drivers, but unless like me you actually do want to live forever, well what is worrying you? Seriously, I have not really felt in danger yet, despite making the odd mistake myself. This is the single greatest thing I am told by people who look at me in mild bewilderment when I say I have started cycling. I have no idea when everybody turned in to such utter wusses that the possibility of a little death before sunset dismayed them too much to do something??? Lord help us all!
EDIT: Axel in his comment gave this excellent website on some of the myths of the danger of cycling. It is so good I have added it here to make sure people see it. I keep hearing from people “but you will get squished by a lorry” – well maybe; but as I pointed out in my first blog piece, I am far more likely to die of obesity related illness or heart problems if i don’t stay in shape. Thirty minutes a day equals about 5 miles in these parts (a lot of hills). Anyway I am convinced that cycling is much safer than people realize, and hope this comes across.
4. Wherever you are in Cheltenham you are never far from a cycle path. I was amazed – they are everywhere. All the major arterial roads seem to have them, and I’ll be riding along and suddenly spot a cycle path and slip on to that instead. There are annoying 100 yard bits between them, and if any child or nervous type rides on the pavement between them I certainly won’t blame them (Just beyond Macdonalds on Tewkesbury Road heading down towards Swindon Village is one – cycle path vanished for maybe 200yds, then reappears on opposite side of the road and reappears at Tile City or whatever it’s called… Another example is the Railway Station — the Honeybourne Cycle Path is nice and level and incredibly gradual so the worst bits of living in a town in a valley, well bowl shaped depression are mitigated – but you get to the Railway Station and hey – where now? Lansdown Rd has a good cycle path, yet to explore that though!
There is also an amazing map of the cycle routes, which is free from Tourist Information, some cuycle shops or uni campus receptions, and I note with trepidation that I venture on an “experienced cyclists only” road whenever I leave my street, albeit rather cautiously and for a couple of hundred yards. This looks fantastic, I need to get one!
5. Some people really cycle commute all over Glos, and they are still alive. I have met people who commute to Gloucester, Brockworth, Innsworth and Tewkesbury. Not met them on the road I hasten to add – cyclists never seem to pay any attention to another cyclist, and if there is a secret cyclist handshake that allows you in to the inner circle I’m not initiated yet. Or you get people like my friend Little Paul, who does twenty mile cycle excursions for fun, and recently rode home in the dark after buying a bargain at a closing car boot sale – a crowbar. So he rides home with this crowbar balanced across his handlebars (and a guitar on his back) and while passing police look at him curiously none stop him to ask the obvious questions, till he gets right home and dismounts!
6. There is an inner circle – well a cycling group! I realized there had to be one once I noted that a) Cheltenham supports two bike shops within two minutes ride of my house, and may have more I have not noticed yet, and b) there are cycle paths everywhere. So I guessed there must be a pressure group — and here it is – Cheltenham & Tewkesbury Cycle Campaign and for University of Gloucestershire staff and students the Uni. Glos Bicycyle Users Group.
7. More people are cycling locally. The period 2002 to 2008 saw a 25% increase on bicycle traffic on Cheltenham’s roads. Hopefully this will continue to increase, and we will see less and less of the cyclists on pavements!
8. Did I mention people cycling on pavements? Don’t do it, unless you are under thirteen and the road is full of HGV’s or something. Well, maybe, if its up and down outside your house, but seriously, toddlers and dogs can easily be killed by people on bikes being inconsiderate, and really even on designated cycle paths like the Honeybourne you have to be cautious – other people use the path as well. Toddlers in particular seem utterly unpredictable, and I know slow to a crawl if they are running about. Ditto dogs. And as to the number of times I have nearly been knocked flying, or have been injured by morons riding full pelt down the High Street on the pavement, well next time I take out my wrath on them, and push them under a bus. Then I will kill their family, unto the third generation, burn down their houses and sing comic songs on the ruins.- and my singing voice is not something you want to inflict on your mourners, if any. You got that?
There are times when pulling on to the pavement is necessitated by road conditions, and the urge not to be killed. If other people are on the pavement, do what I do – dismount, and push your machine. It may save your life, should you meet me, and that of your immediate kinfolk. More importantly it may prevent pedestrians thinking all cyclists are arses, and glaring at me when I ride down the Pittville Park cycle path.
8. Ah yes, people who vandalize bikes. It has been brought to my attention that my policy of hanging people who vandalize bikes while drunk is considered by some barbaric. I pointed out that lots of people wanted to bring back hanging, and the retort “not publicly” was given. It’s a fair cop guv’nor. I suggest instead we adopt road side crucifixions. There, satisfied? Seriously, you probably need to lock your bike, and not leave it anywhere where students might wander after the pubs shut. Or kill all drunk students –your choice, but I’d roast them well before consumption as you don’t know what they have caught…
9. There are huge bits of Cheltenham I have never seen, despite living here for two decades plus. I found a railway tunnel (blocked up) on an abandoned branch line north of town, a fine modern church – St. Nicholas, Swindon Village, and a huge sex shop. Er, quite. And no idea, did not go in! (it’s at the very top of Swindon Rd, go straight on instead of turning right to Swindon Village.)
10. I may even get fit. Who knows? But I’m, having fun!