O, we of the two wheels! How we moan and shout at each other! How we lack community spirit! How we imbue ourselves with a sense of self-righteousness every time we climb aboard to commute!
"Don't run the red light!" I yell, as another cyclist whizzes by me.
"They're trialling it!" she yells back over her shoulder. "You're allowed!"
"No, you're not! It's illegal!"
"Don't undertake!" I hear my fellow cyclist shout to another.
"Look where you're going!"
"Tuck in. I need to get by."
In all honesty, the most surprising thing I have had said to me whilst commuting on a bike has been, "Good morning!"
I was rather taken aback.
"Good morning," I spluttered in reply, wondering what the catch was. My expectations of rudeness among cyclists is such that I felt there must be something dishonest about this man's greeting.
Why do we act this way to one another? I am yet to figure it out, apart from the idea that cycling in a big city can be nerve-wracking and makes us snap at each other. Lots of things are stressful though and this is not always the reaction. Often people support each other better when in situations of stress.
We cyclists have enough to deal with - the age-old taxi drivers vs cyclists tensions are ever present, pedestrians sometimes check the road for cars but not cyclists and step out, vehicles cross one's path to turn left, vehicles stop randomly and open their car doors into the cycle lane, throwing you violently from your bike (I speak from experience on that last one).
Yet the one refuge we might have, support from one another on the roads, is completely lacking. As a pedestrian, I smile often to my fellow pedestrians, have no qualms about stopping someone to ask for the time or directions, even walk for long distances when I could use public transport, just because I am enjoying the sensation of walking and being a pedestrian. As a public transport user, I find myself and others equally considerate, allowing those less able to sit before oneself, helping the tourist who can't figure the tube system out, yelling "Thank you driver!" as one gets off the bus. In case you think I am suggesting that all pedestrians and public transport users are amazingly friendly, I am not. I am suggesting that my feeling of community is greater and that I feel comfortable and relaxed.
As a cyclist, I know that my greatest enemy is my fellow cyclist. We race each other down Kensington High Street, the lycra-clad City workers bombing past with a cursory glance over their shoulder at us lowly bike hire scheme users. They weave in and out of the stationary traffic, now in the middle of the road, now on the right, now on the left, doing that standing-on-the-pedals backwards-forwards thing at the light so that they don't have to commit the ultimate crime of just stopping and putting one's foot down on the ground to wait. Us bike hire scheme users trundle along behind the buses, stopping whenever they stop, looking impatiently around, wondering whether to dart out and around the bus, aware that we are ridiculed by the Serious Cyclists for partaking in the sin of not having our own bikes.
Drivers dislike us too. Why do drivers dislike bike hirers so much? Is it because we are perceived as being less capable, too bumbling, we get in the way?
There is a barrage of unfriendliness from all sides. Pedestrians, bus drivers, taxi drivers.... we are, in some circles, hated for having dared to take to the road on two wheels. Yet, despite knowing this, we exacerbate it by also being unfriendly to each other. What more unpleasant way could there be to get to work?
I, for one, never took up cycling to experience feelings of intense dislike for my fellow man. Did any of you intend that, fellow commuting cyclists? Why not copy the man who surprised me one day by shouting "Good morning!" as he rode toward me on the other side of the road?
Instead of shouting, "Look where you're going!" maybe we could say, "I love your bike!" or "Isn't the weather nice?" or "Nearly the weekend!" Maybe if we choose not to perpetuate the unfriendliness, we will feel less stress while cycling and therefore less inclination to be rude to one another.
I imagine I will get a lot of strange looks when I give this a go tomorrow and that no-one will follow suit but perhaps I will feel calmer and friendlier and that will be one less voice shouting on the roads. It has to start somewhere.