Or, How cycling made me a bad person. 


By Dirk DeLu.


Some time ago a friend made a Facebook post. The topic was lobbying for better cycle infrastructure and it generated a number of civil comments, until an anti-cycling commenter described Christchurch cyclists as fascists.

Recently at a Council presentation on cycle infrastructure I was told that being an advocate for cycling made me a communist. 

Both instances illustrate anger, fear and ignorance. Fine, we can safely vilify the opposition; right? No. 

Bringing back cycling as a commonplace transport mode scares the hell out of those who have sunk into car dependency.  They have invested their lives into cars. Cars are expensive, sometimes ruinously, unhealthy and leave us stuck in traffic instead of getting to where we wanted to go as quickly as we had imagined getting there. Left fuming in gridlock is not good for body and soul.

Cars also erode our humanity. They force us to make choices which threaten the lives of others on a daily basis and isolate us from our communities. 

People are sucked in, often from an early age and convinced that there are no practical alternatives. imagined power of control is as illusory as the imagined reliability of quick and easy transport. The end product is frustrated drivers unwilling or unable to accept that the product is not ‘fit for purpose’. Someone has to be blamed for their disappointment. 

Is it any wonder that peer reviewed research findings and real world examples of cycling’s many benefits fail to change minds?

This cultural disease has very deep roots. It pervades our thinking, more in some less in others, some of us conscious, some not.  We are going to have to be strong but gentle to help ourselves and our culture to get past this addiction. 

The NIMBY’s (not in my back yard) are the most motivated. Whether a business or residence which has benefited from ratepayer funded on street parking, losing a privilege is not appreciated. Especially when seen as a right.

We need to reach out and build community which supports walking, cycling, public transport and yes, even cars. Connecting with each other’s humanity is likely our best strategy.

Cars are a part of the answer. Whether it’s the private vehicle, a taxi or a shared ownership scheme some of us will need cars at least some of the time. What we don’t want are roads and parking dominated by the nightmare of obsessive car dependency. We do want to be able to safely ride our bicycles efficiently to the places we need to go.

Why is it that cyclists’ can lose sight of this and see car drivers as the enemy? Why don’t we just accept that we need to be nice to get nice responses? How come we have not figured it out that pissing off motorists, some of whom we know can be dangerous auto addicts; can result in tragedy for ourselves or other cyclists? 

These questions are the reason for the subtitle above, ‘How cycling made me a bad person’. 

Recently there was a piece from the Canterbury District Health Board, which offered 5 practices which lead to wellness. I was disappointed that being active was fifth in effectiveness. The others, in order of importance were:

  • Take notice. Be curious, notice the beautiful, the unusual, treasure the seasonal changes and live in the moment. 
  • Give. Volunteer your time, help a friend or even a stranger, and be active in your community. 
  • Learn. Try something new, rekindle an old interest, take a course or seek out new activities at work. It builds confidence and might even be fun.
  • Connect with the people around you be they family, friends, neighbours or work mates.

Now looking at this list one cannot help but see how some are integral to cycling. On the bike we are engaged with the world, see nature and note the seasons. We constantly practice balance, awareness and work on finding better routes. I have watched cars whiz by, while I and other cyclists help out a pedestrian, cyclist or even motorist in need. Meeting people is much easier when not encased in a steel and glass shell and some of use even try to encourage others to join in the fun. 

OK; so how does cycling make me a bad person? 

Perhaps it’s acculturation, my attitude or disposition, or maybe it is how travel by road has devolved into conflict. 

When I am on my bike on a quiet trail or well-designed cycle infrastructure, life is good. Those activities which lead to better health are practiced and strengthened. Even going uphill or against the wind or in the rain, it can still feel good. Many of us find cycling rejuvenating. 

When I am in traffic, often on narrow bike lanes with on street car parks, or on lanes not quite wide enough for a car to pass safely, the reality that my life is in the hands of drivers can be pervasive and stressful. 

Most of the time things are OK; I can still enjoy the ride. It is those times, once a week or more, when a car cuts me off, passes within a few centimetres, or hurls abuse for my mere presence that the damage is done.   This is when the joy of riding is replaced by fears for my own vulnerability, even mortality. This is when cycling makes me a bad person, a combatant in the war on the roads. And sometimes it carries on into my day.

It also impacts how calmly and rationally I respond to the dominant transport culture. 

Having the media wage a campaign against people who want to safely cycle does not help. It just divides us and encourages conflict. Lives are at risk.

Clearly it is not the cycling that is the problem, but the worst aspects of our car culture and lack of suitable infrastructure which are the problem. I know this and it is why I lobby to make cycling a genuine choice for everyone. 

No, the car-obsessed will not appreciate us and some will never learn the joys of cycling, more’s the pity. 

If we can share the joy and benefits that cycling brings to us many will come along. I know that many who are not cycling know that there is joy to be found. Let us work to share the health, freedom and even joy of cycling.

Be safe, polite and create a community of wellness.