When stress relief becomes stressful
I ride bikes for many reasons, for fitness, for racing, for fun and for transport.
Bikes are my main means of transport. I have a car but I rarely use it. Sometimes I travel on my own bike, more often I travel on the cargo bike, with my two children. I am self employed and work around my children so I spend much of my time on the cargo bike ferrying children to school, to nursery, to swimming lessons, to gym lessons, all the things that children do. On an average week, I clock up around 70 miles by cargo bike.
I like using bikes for transport. Not only do I get to cycle while going about my daily business, it is quicker, it is cheaper, and I am never stuck for a parking place. Cycling is my stress relief, it keeps me sane.
Last winter, with ‘the beast from the east’ there were a couple of days when I had to resort to the car when the ice on the cycle paths got too bad. It was not fun. When I use the car, I feel like I have spent all day bundling the kids in and out of it. I find driving like this really stressful. There are traffic jams, aggressive drivers, and the uncertainty of not knowing how long journeys will take and whether or not I will be able to ark when I get there.
By contrast, the bike is easy.
However, recently I am finding that I do not feel relaxed on the bike. More and more I seem to get to where I am going angry and stressed. It is still quicker and cheaper to go by bike, but I am losing the element of stress relief.
I am starting to feel as stressed on the bike as I do in the car.
This is not good.
Because cargo bikes are heavy and therefore slow, my 70 miles a week means around 7 hours of cycle commuting. During much of that 7 hours, I feel as if I am a target for other people’s anger, and this is making me angry too.
Here are some the things on the roads which are making me angry:
- Close passes by cars – this is not a daily occurrence, it is far more frequent. In the 15 minute journey from home to school, I would expect 5 – 10 close passes by vehicles.
- Cars driving straight at me – I just do not understand why drivers pull out to pass parked cars when there is clearly a bike coming toward them in the lane they are pulling into.
- Drivers gesticulating or shaking their heads at me – who knows what some of these gesticulations are even about. Sometimes it seems to just be anger that I am on the roads at all.
- Drivers telling me that I should not be on the roads because I do not pay road tax.
- Total strangers commenting on my parenting ability based on my choice of transport with my children.
- Drivers who do not feel the need at stop at red lights.
- Cycle route crossings which prioritise drivers so it takes an age to cross roads.
- Being told that I should be on the paths, not the roads.
But, after years of cycling, I am used to such behaviour from drivers. I think that what is really stressing me out is that the anger directed at me is not limited to the roads. I use cycle paths too. Now I know that cycle paths are not just cycle paths, they are shared paths. I honestly believe that I do share the paths and am courteous to other path users. Yet. below are some of my daily experiences on the paths:
- Dog walkers who look straight at you yet make no effort to control their dogs and share the path.
- Being told that I should not be on ‘the pavement’ even though it is a clearly marked shared path.
- The expectation that cyclists must thank all other path users even if those others do absolutely nothing to display an attitude of sharing. I do thank others, I was brought up to have manners. Yet, I also always slow down, move to the side, look out for others, yet rarely do I get any thanks for this.
- People wearing headphones who complain that I made them jump when I passed them because they couldn’t hear me ringing my bell or calling…because they were wearing headphones.
- Being told that I should be on the roads, not the paths.
And all this anger and aggression does not stop when I get off the bike. I really should stop reading social media, because the things I read there cause me even more stress. For example:
- Being accused of jumping red lights simply because I ride a bike (I do not jump red lights, on a bike or in a car).
- Suggestions that cycle paths need speed bumps (if I want to ride fast, I ride on the road).
- The constant attitude of drivers vs cyclists. I drive and I cycle.
- The attitude of indignant fury from drivers whenever new cycling infrastructure is suggested or trialled.
- The media focus on incidents where others have been hurt by cyclists, whilst completely ignoring the horrifying statistics on incidents where cyclists have been hurt by drivers.
The thing is, all I want to do is get to where I need to go.
I have no point to prove. I do not think cars should be banned. I do think cyclists should also obey the rules of the roads. I don’t think pedestrians and cyclists need to be segregated, they just need to use common courtesy (on both sides). I do not think that I am better than anyone else, but I do not think that I am any worse.
And, I will not be bullied.
I will take the lane and stop cars from squeezing passed me when there is not room for them to pass me safely. I will continue to use my bell to communicate my presence on paths, but I cannot help it if headphones stop pedestrians from hearing me. I will give way to drivers when they have priority, but not when they do not.
Peter Walker’s excellent book, Bike Nation, has a chapter called ‘Why Cyclists Are Hated’ which makes for interesting reading. I have found myself feeling hated on a bike recently and it is an attitude I really do not understand.
I honestly believe that, with more people taking to bikes, attitudes towards those who cycle are slowly changing. However, some days I really struggle to hang on to this belief. Those are the days when I find myself more and more convinced that simply leaving the country and moving somewhere like Copenhagen is the way forward.
This week has been the October break and with my children not at school or nursery, my cycling miles are much curtailed. I have really missed the bike. The fact that I love cycling will keep me cycling regardless of the attitudes of others. Hopefully the enforced time off the bike will curtail the urge to move immediately to Copenhagen and I will regain my perspective.
Either that, or I will just move to Copenhagen…now there’s an idea!