The socialising effect of the cycle path

We live an a world of anonymity. We cultivate, curate and nurture our singularity and detachment. We build walls, physical, metaphorical and technological to avoid each other. 

The way we move from place to place is impersonal and alienating. Even when we sit next to one another on the bus, train or tram, we politely ignore each other. We pass in the street like ghosts. Even our social media is fundamentally asocial. 

But I’ve rediscovered a wonderful phenomenon that I observed a few years ago; the socialising effect of the traffic-free path. 

My commute takes me along the Liverpool Loopline for much of the journey, a converted railway path, tree-lined and idyllic, cutting an arc through Liverpool’s suburbs. 

And moving along the path amid the morning birdsong, I make a point to say good morning, smile or otherwise acknowledge every person I pass. I nod to fellow cyclers, thank dog walkers who control their dogs when I pass. I even say hello to those who don’t. Most nod, smile or say morning back. 

I’ve made it my personal challenge to extract a ‘morning’ from the most morose of my regular fellow commuters- an earnest looking young man with glasses who really should be enjoying life’s bounty more than he appears. He rides too fast, too seriously. He hasn’t smiled, nodded or spoke yet but I have faith and pig-headedness on my side. 

I’ve pondered many times why the Loopline and places like it have this fascinating socialising effect. Maybe it’s the semi rural environment that brings out the human in humans, takes us back to a time when we acknowledged one another. Maybe it’s the isolation of this ‘urban lane’ that makes people feel reliant on their temporary linear community. Maybe the human scale, human speed mode reconnects us with each other? 

I thought it was a ‘cyclist thing’ but pedestrians, dog people and cyclists all exhibit the same elevated sense of social connection. Apart from Mr Surly with the glasses and the Strava obsession.  You know who you are. 

Has anyone else noticed this effect on their local cycle trail? 

13 thoughts on “The socialising effect of the cycle path

  1. David Long

    Congrats on your new job and commute! What a blessing.
    Here in the midwest most of us commute by car, very isolating. I ride for sanity and to stave off old age. I accept your challenge to be warm and personable to all i meet on the bike paths and trails, maybe even the neighborhood!

    That was a nice photo of the bike and path, sweet ride!

    Minnesota, USA

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      I like the idea of staving off old age. Reminds me of a poster I saw recently. “You don’t stop riding when you get old. You get old when you stop riding.” Thanks for following the blog.

    2. Sanity I agree with, we all need “head space” but staving off old age is just a waste of time.
      “time waits for no man” so for the sake of your sanity accept that the years are passing and age is only a number, its what’s in your heart, head and legs that really counts as the years pass and experience grows. Many more happy miles.

  2. George

    Great article…I am a canal cyclist so all this applies in spades. WordPress linked me from this to your towpath article where I can see you have made many of the points I would have made here. I have bought a huge dutch bell for my bike which can penetrate most jogger headphones!!! So far in two years commuting I havnt had a negative encounter..a particular hazard I have is fishermen jumping out of tents into my path..but also canalboaters doing the same from their boats. I do get head down “strava men” occasionally but the deep puddles and rough hardcore generally keep them away…so its generally a pretty social experience. There is the slighly awkwark social protocol of one cyclist negotiating to pass another though. .. 🙂

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      I forgot to mention I’ve got a nice brass Velo Orange bell that makes the brightest, loudest yet least offensive ding you can imagine.

  3. Sharen Carter

    I just stumbled upon this post and I feel it’s as if you’ve been sitting in my head as I ride along the bike paths here in Wollongong, Australia. Saying hello and good morning to everyone I pass is all part of the allure of the ride. Most people I pass share the cheer but I always feel a little triumphant when I get a begrudging hello or nod from some. I think pass your stravaman too – or at least his cousin. Thankyou for the post.

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      Hi @grpz. It’s the Nant Francon valley in Snowdon. Looking towards the Cardennau and Glyderau mountains. Awesome isn’t it!

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