There’s a stubborn, almost militant vein that seems to run through die hard commuter cyclists in the UK (and no doubt other cultures where cycling isn’t a statistically major form of transport). In contrast to our northern European counterparts, many of us (myself included) seem to treat our daily commutes as acts of individual heroism, especially when (as has been all too apparent of late) the weather takes an inclement turn.
Let’s contrast the approach of the UK cyclist and his Copenhagen counterpart. Exhibit A (above) is someone who I snapped one morning during some particularly nasty Manchester weather. Note his gritted teeth, knitted brow, earnest look. There’s no doubt that, at least in his mind, this is one ‘epic’ commute – a two mile journey that Shackleton would no doubt have been proud of. Mr Epic of Manchester here is not an isolated case. On rush hour roads throughout the country, you’ll bear witness to countless other display’s of grit, fortitude and determination. Piece them together, make a slideshow, dub-over Barber’s Adagio and you’ve got yourself one tear-jerking montage sequence.
Contrast this picture of grimness with the snap above, taken on a similarly rainy day in Copenhagen (pic from the excellent Copenhagen Cycle Chic). Despite similarly inclement weather, our subject is sailing along to her destination with the calm, relaxed aura of a two-wheeled Zen Buddhist. Note the altogether more pragmatic approach to weather protection! The task in hand is the same, the weather conditions are similar. So what’s the difference?
Of course the difference is obvious for anyone who knows about cycling in Copenhagen. Over there, bikes are a dominant force in the city centre. Proper facilities and a critical mass of cyclists on the roads mean that every journey is a more relaxed affair. Motorised traffic is separated from cyclists to a degree and, when they meet, the sheer volume of cyclists on the roads forces drivers to relent. These factors in turn have a soothing, calming effect on cyclists – they ride slower (no need to ‘compete’ or ‘keep pace’) – their shoulders relax. Their chosen form of transport isn’t a badge of resistance, a fight to be fought. It’s just the best way to get around.
I’ve been lucky enough to attend a number of Sky Ride city rides this summer and have experienced an albeit artificial, fleeting microcosm of that calming, strength in numbers phenomenon. Okay, these rides are on closed roads, however, one can still experience the relaxing effect of riding amid large numbers of other riders. The imperative to ‘push on’ disappears, no matter whether you’re a pootler or a training-junkie. The urge to be ‘epic’ disappears.
So how has this experience translated to my daily commute? Do I approach my commute in a less do-or-die, militant, ‘epic’ fashion? Well I certainly try, although years of programming are hard to erase. On a particularly rainy commute earlier in the week, I was caught in a torrential downpour just after leaving the railway station. The immediate urge was to press on the pedals harder and get to my destination (around 3 miles away) as quickly as possible. However, another thought struck me moments later – “What would I do if I was walking right now?” The answer to which was, “Why Eddie, I’d take shelter under something large until the rain eased off, that’s what I’d do.” And so I did. Hardly a mind-bending, paradigm shifting notion, I grant you, but the amount of grim faced bike commuters who soldiered on through the deluge as I sheltered bore testament to the fact that the primal urge to take shelter has been somehow lost on UK cyclists.
As it happened, I still got pretty comprehensively drenched, but I feel I made my first tentative steps to being less epic and more aligned with those blissful, almost mythic, riders of Copenhagen.
So, faced with a deluge, what would you do? Press on with stiff upper lip or take five and take shelter?
Take our ‘Am I Epic’ Test