Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hell on Wheels

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure opens with Pee Wee (Paul Reubens) dreaming of winning the Tour de France on his very girly red bike. When the bike gets stolen, Pee Wee reveals the psychopathic single-mindedness that distinguishes cyclists from other people who use public spaces. He will stop at nothing to be reunited with the object that defines him. He sacrifices all other relationships to this end. Girlfriend Dottie and dog Speck can only stand by helplessly as the quest takes flight. Pee Wee, wittingly or not is your archetypal two-wheeled monster. When he’s on the road, he is Lance Armstrong – or whoever the 1980s equivalent was, I can’t be bothered to look it up.

The news this week that the profession known as ‘cycle courier’ is to go the way of chimney sweep as a career choice is welcome. This excuse for mad people with road kill where brains should be to terrorise our streets has been rendered redundant by the increased use of electronic document transfer. No more will the arrival of little brown packets requiring signatures cause the evacuation of reception in search of the nearest available fresh air. No more will the areas around public toilets and fast food outlets be the mobile offices of boy racers between jobs.

If ever there was a place less conducive to dangerous antics on fast moving metal objects, it’s the tiny, dog-leg streets of the City of London. Add to the mixture a generous sprinkling of large stationary objects that are apt to take off unexpectedly like buses and the ubiquitous white van, and there can’t be a person who regularly goes on foot in central London who hasn’t had a close encounter with a hell-bent rider dreaming of a yellow jersey. I habitually look before getting off buses because, yes innocent people of the world outside WC1, they will cycle up between buses at bus stops and the footpath if there isn’t room to go around the other way. Can’t keep those pen-pushers waiting now can we?

The other day I witnessed a reticent school kid emerge from behind a bus and ascertain, perfectly reasonably since the space between the bus from which he had alighted and the one standing on the opposite side was not big enough for a even a motorbike, that it was safe to cross. He reckoned without the ipod wearing kamikaze in lycra chasing a personal best. By some miracle (the cyclist would no doubt cite great skill), what looked like inevitable impact was narrowly avoided. The cyclist, as if controlled by some internal programme, immediately let loose a torrent of invective at the hapless child whose only fault seemed to be that he was there.

I have friends who cycle of course (Hi Carole and Mike) and they are civilised people who don’t ride on footpaths, at least I don’t think they do. They also don’t wear those strange pointy helmets that look like an eagle’s head. This could be the key. Maybe these silly hats induce bird of prey fantasies.

Once the cycle courier menace has been dispatched, attention must be turned to that other great two-wheeled threat, the nervous family who want to cycle because it’s so environmentally friendly and good for you and life affirming blah, blah, blah. Presumably by the same bizarre logic that created the self-righteous own-the-road ethic that has become the cycle couriers’ stock in trade, the families that cycle have concluded that it’s all right to ride on the footpath because the road is too dangerous for their children. And they have the nerve to tinkle their little bells, which these deluded souls believe, is a polite request for you to move out of their way.

My friend Katy, who’s American told me a great joke. I have, of course, embellished it for added topicality. Red Tarmac and Black Tarmac sitting in a bar:-

Red Tarmac: I’m tougher than you. People play competitive games on me. Tennis, basketball. I’m a running track. Hurdles, man that’s gotta hurt.

Black Tarmac: Yeah right. I get the heavy lorries, joy riders, roller bladders, women with those killer stilettos, ouch.

Suddenly the bar goes quiet. All attention is on the entrance. Green Tarmac struts in.

Red Tarmac: Finish your drink man. We gotta get outa here.

Black Tarmac : Yeah. It ain’t safe with that guy in here. He’s a cycle path.

Tip: This joke only works in an American accent. Enjoy.

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