Taken from A Hedonist’s Guide to Life
Mary Wakefield is assistant editor of the Spectator, and has a fancy bike and a death wish
To describe cycling in the city as a means of transport – even the best means of transport – isn’t good enough. That’s like calling skiing a way of getting from the top of a mountain to the bottom. Biking around a city is about harnessing the power of legs and cogs, honing judgements and risking death, or awful maiming several times a day, just for the sheer pleasure of it. City cyclists are psyched, pumped full of adrenaline; it’s why fistfights erupt at traffic lights and the air is as thick with swearing as it is with exhaust. But we also have a secret brotherhood. We seek each other out at parties and settle down for hours to swap stories about headfirst encounters with taxi doors, cracked collarbones and curb-smacked black eyes, all in full agreement that nothing will ever persuade us to take public transport again. For good bike chat at parties, try these:
Hop Like A Rabbit
Every city cyclist needs to know how to hop their front wheel up a steep curb at speed. Stand up on your pedals and lean back so that your weight isn’t on the front tyre. Just before the curb, pull up on your handlebars and bump up onto the pavement. It’s an essential manoeuvre for shortcuts and for sudden shopping impulses. However, the rabbit hop will make you the sworn enemy of all pedestrians. For this you need…
The Zombie Stare
However slow you go, pedestrians – or Pavement People, especially elderly Pavement People – will curse you with a violence and vigour that makes Mike Tyson look like Mika. Some may spit at you, others might lunge with walking sticks, aiming straight for your spokes. But don’t be offended or afraid, just make like a zombie and stare blankly into the middle distance. On no account reason with a Pavement Person. Their rage knows no bounds.
Pavement People like nothing better than patrolling public parks in search of cyclists who’ve strayed from the designated cycle path. If they spot you, the race is on. They’ll let out a great holler and begin running towards you, waving frantically. Under no circumstances must you stop. This is the city equivalent of foxhunting and your life is at stake. Change up a gear and keep pedalling until the yells are no longer audible. High speed is, after all, good for inducing adrenaline highs.
Cycling down stairs is fun; it surprises pedestrians and confuses police. Practise on a short flight of shallow steps. Freewheel slowly towards the edge and let yourself drop, keeping your weight back and only using your left, or back brake. Don’t worry, you’ll be just fine. And after that there are stairs worldwide to be conquered: the long flight in front of the Metropolitan Museum in New York; the stone steps in London’s Trafalgar Square; the Spanish Steps in Rome, and best of all, the 142-metre-long Potemkin Stairs leading down Primorsky Boulevard in Odessa straight into the Black Sea.
Unlike their more laidback country cousin, the city cyclist is a show-off. Even when the streets are deserted, they’ll still be performing for the pigeons. The first and most essential trick is learning to ride with no hands. Start by cycling around with just one hand, then gradually, with a thumping heart, peel off the other. Soon you’ll be swooping round corners with a mobile in one paw and a cup of hot coffee in the other. Remember though: it’s OK to drop the coffee in a life-or-death situation.
City underpasses and tunnels present a cyclist with the unique opportunity to experience the terror a small mammal must feel when chased by enormous, roaring predators. Lights on if you’ve got them, straight back and then however frightening the motorbikes sound, make like Orpheus and don’t look back.
Scylla and Charybdis
The sailors who passed between these two terrors of the Ancient World must have known something of the fear and excitement felt by a city cyclist as they discover they are on the inside of a bus sandwich. And as you race through the narrowing gap between bumper and bollard you risk being scraped to a thin paste on metal railings, or flattened as a monster lorry makes an unexpected left. Even so, ‘jumping the bus’ is the city cyclist’s answer to shooting the tube on a surfboard. It takes nerve, judgement and skill. Just don’t tell your mother.
Content copyright of Mary Wakefield
Buy A Hedonist’s Guide To Life here