Tumbles, tantrums and tales of a terrible new cyclist
Our cycling series continues. After six months in the saddle and two falls, the stress of my inadequacy on a bike is giving me grey hairs
Meadhbh McHugh, with her not-so-beloved bicycle in Grand Canal Square, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
‘If I die on my bike,” I told a friend shortly after trading life on four wheels to life on two, “it will be a stress-induced heart attack that does it, not an accident.” Perhaps this was a morbid and over-dramatic conversation to have after only a few days of pedal pushing, but I had already discovered I was, and remain, a terrible cyclist.
After six months in the saddle and two falls, I can confirm the sentiment still stands. The stress of it all is giving me irreversible frown lines and grey hairs. Okay, one hair, singular. It could have been blonde.
Even so, I have to ask myself, is the environment worth it? Do I care about my children’s children? I don’t even have any children. Are the money and time saved by cycling, as well as the supposed health benefits, enough to justify this daily dalliance with danger? The jury is still out; at least until I can afford taxis – now there’s a way to travel.
For the terrible cyclist, there is disaster everywhere. I learned this with fall one: the Luas track. To everyone else, the Luas track is just the Luas track. Lying there, minding its own business, facilitating the shiny, silver tram on its way in and out of the city.
To the terrible cyclist, it is a devil, luring you in, tempting you to cross it, giving no indication that you can’t cycle directly into it without flying off over your handlebars. Some would say this is common sense. I would say this is Lucifer at his most cunning.
Luas Track Incident has left me scarred: physically and mentally. After a week of hobbling and getting too friendly with the Hailo app, I managed to resume my cycling life, but I still shiver when I see a track line, and hold my breath as I cross it, from a perpendicular angle (I’ve learned), lest I be dislodged from my saddle and strewn across the road.
Fall two was an education in taking kerbs, and in how not to hang grocery shopping from handlebars. It was also a lesson in how to recover from a fall with grace, if said incident happens in front of a busy, outdoor-seating coffee shop.
My impulse was to exclaim to a kind stranger who stopped that “I knew there was something wrong with the brakes”; I said it sort of triumphantly, as if it were a pub-quiz question we had previously disputed. He nodded pitifully and I went on my way, cursing the contraption I was now wheeling from ground-level. A bad cyclist always blames her bike.
But the falls are not the worst, and the scars, I hope, will fade. After much rumination, I can blame only myself. The daily trauma of dealing with bulldozer buses, beeping taxis and confused cars (are you turning left or aren’t you?) is what is most ageing.
Signalling to switch lanes as three streams of cars come behind you, while also maintaining your grip, is a skill I cannot manage without sweating. Cars on the cycle track make my heart go faster. No cycle track (too common) and my stomach drops. Jay-walking pedestrians affect the palms of my hands. Cars jerking out of side-streets give me instant wrinkles.
Parked car-doors opening suddenly into the cycle lane are the stuff of nightmares. They are also the stuff of street legend among the two-wheeled community; everyone has a fall story, but those who’ve been struck by a parked car-door receive the most amount of horrified awe. I don’t think I’d ever get back on the saddle. Mirrors, drivers, mirrors!
Roll on the good times
Still, there are good times, too. Cycling on cobble-stones through Trinity College Dublin with the cherry blossoms in bloom, while fancying myself as Sylvia Plath at Cambridge, is pure pleasure. There is something literary about a bike, I convince myself, as I forgo the taxi rank.
Then there is cycling in convoy with friends after dark on deserted, lamp-lit streets, with Dublin a playground as the city sleeps. Or jacketless, in the freak June sunshine, chasing the trees down the river Liffey, dipping the nose of the bike in and out under their shadows. While being carried along by the breeze and sun, you can’t help but look at the neighbouring car-passengers struggling with sticky seatbelts or those on foot, plodding slowly towards Phoenix Park, and feel smug.
I am free, free as a bird, on a bike. No timetables or bus-routes, no petrol required, no distance within the city too far. On these days, there’s no other way to traverse the town or country.
But then, inevitably, the weather turns, and you’re back to being assaulted by the elements, the wind giving the appearance that you are cycling on a treadmill, so little distance are you covering.
And then the heavens open and you have to get off the bike, whimpering “I’m a terrible cyclist; please, please will someone give me a lift?” to those who pass unaware, ensconced in their motorised bubbles, with radios on.