Je n’adore pas le Tour de Bifurcating Buttocks
Welcome to July – a month when ridiculous numbers of Australians forgo rude quantities of sleep to watch a bunch of spandexed bulgers ride bikes in a big circle round a snotty nation on the other side of the planet.
Bitter? Moi? I’d answer “mais oui” but that would be playing right into the hands of le enemy.
France’s annual Tour de Tighty Pants brings mixed emotions for those of us who pedal pushies about the place on a daily basis. And by mixed emotions, I mean a seething combination of bitter and twistedness.
After all, we regular riders can only dream of receiving the rapt attention given to competitors in what has become one of the most watched sporting events in the world.
Cyclists in the Tour de Straining Quads are observed with microscopic detail. Their non-regulation saddle angles, their problematic shingles, their claims to have simply consumed a clenbuterol-tainted filet mignon on a rest day…
These two-wheelerites don’t need eyeball-searing fluoro vests to maintain spectacular visibility. As far as international media audiences are concerned, they glow in the dark.
We ordinary riders, on the other hand, have very different cycling experiences.
Half the time we are invisible. Cars drivers open their doors into us, bus drivers attempt to park on top of us, and SUV-ers only register our existence once critical chunks of our flesh have accumulated in their front grills.
In fact those top secret military researchers working on invisibility cloaks should try sending test soldiers into the field on push bikes to watch them disappear magically as if by magic from the radar.
Now you see ‘em. Now you don’t.
The only problem is that, as previously mentioned, the invisibility factor only works on 50 per cent of occasions. The rest of the time bicycle riders are hyper-visible: an irritant so potent we inspire a phenomenal, toe-curling stream of both road rage and footpath fury.
The names I am called on my daily electric bike commute from Sydney’s inner west to its east break the obscenity barrier and rate a screaming 10 on the explete-o-meter.
“Get off the blanking road, you blanking blanky blank,” bellow the drivers.
“Get back on the blanking road, or I’ll stick my blanking blank so far up your blank you’ll blank when you blankety blank,” bawl the pedestrians.
My experiences are hardly unique.
Google “I hate cyclists” and the two million plus results include multiple threats of cycle-o-cide as well as computer games which encourage the whacking of bicyclists with baseball bats. There’s also the claim that lycra-wearing cyclists resemble human condoms (hurtful because it’s true).
Facebook offers a number of aggressive bike dislike pages including “Hey Cyclists, Get the F—- off my road!!!”, “Screw you Canberra cyclists! There’s a perfectly good footpath right there!” and “I bet I can find 100,000 people who hate cyclists”.
The good news for bikers is that this last group only has 11 members. The bad news is that similar sites boast much larger populations and include comments such as “legalise vehicular homicide against cyclists” and “what a delightful day to run over a cyclist”.
I’m sure I speak for cyclists everywhere when I say: ouch. And also: what the hell have we ever done to you?
Apart from helping save the planet from car fume suffocation, surely we perform an important public service by giving everyone the chance the vent their bile. And while a few of us may display crappy commuting manners, does this really justify the burqa-strength bike-ism?
Aesop’s fable about the birds, the beasts and the bats offers some insights into the reasons cyclists are so comprehensively loathed
In this short and typically brutish bestiary, a great war is about to ensue between the birds and the beasts. But when the two great armies gather, the bat won’t commit to either, telling the birds he is a beast, and the beasts he is a bird.
Peace erupts at the last moment, but when the bat attempts to join the birds’ rejoicing, he is turned away. The beasts also threaten to tear him wing from wing. “Ah, I see now,” this unfortunate dilettante concludes. “He that is neither one thing nor the other has no friends.”
Cyclists are like the friendless anti-hero of this fable, in that we are half-castes who can flit bat-like between the kingdom of the roads and the kingdom of the footpaths without committing to either.
This is not an admirable decision if we only obey green traffic lights when road riding, or if we plough through pedestrians like we own the place after curbing up.
But many of us are actually polite, peace loving folk, who always obey the rules on the roads and who never fail to ting our “coming up behind ya” bells when we take refuge on the footpaths.
As such, I suspect that much of vitriol directed our way is jealousy of our nimble hybrid status. The rest is scapegoatism in that we provide handy receptacles for vague rage.
Well. While I don’t condone the selfish or dangerous use of any public thoroughfares, I do think that being neither one thing nor the other should carry fringe benefits as well as friendlessness.
As such, I will continue to risk fines (and so far I’ve copped only one) by sometimes riding with the beasts on the road and sometimes trundling along with the birds on the footpath.
Quiet back streets are a two-wheeled bat’s dream and I use them as much as possible. It’s amazing how much more enjoyable bike riding becomes if you’re not in constant fear of becoming road rissole.
Venturing onto most stretches of main road, however, requires a major death wish. And many of Sydney’s motley collection of bike paths seem calculated to cull as many cyclists as possible.
Some end abruptly with unsigned cement barriers or siphon riders directly into roaring traffic. Other “official” bike routes are no more than an optimistic image of a pushie painted on the road. Now that’ll keep the speeding semis at bay.
Given that a) it’s sadistic to force cyclists to ride only on the road and b) it’s eminently possible for pedallers to negotiate pedestrians with exquisitely beautiful manners, surely the time has come to give us bats a bit more breathing room and allow us – legally – to share the sidewalks.
Anyone who abuses this by racing along like they’re in the Tour de Bifurcating Buttocks should have their footpath privileges evoked immediately. But the rest of us deserve a break that doesn’t involve the fender fracturing of our femurs.
Get more Emma Jane at The Australian.
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