Patrick Freyne: The six kinds of cyclist you’ll meet on the new Liffey cycle track

‘Cycling in Dublin always felt like behaviour of post-Catholic masochists’

 Patrick Freyne on the route of the proposed Liffey cycle track. Photograph: James Forde

Patrick Freyne on the route of the proposed Liffey cycle track. Photograph: James Forde

 

Freynes don’t cycle. It’s an article of faith among my people.

“Freynes don’t cycle,” my dad would declare, and then we’d all point at passing cyclists and laugh. It’s a happy memory for me.

“I need you to cycle along the proposed route of the new cycle paths on a Dublin bike,” my boss said.

“Freynes don’t cycle,” I said, but he was having none of it.

Smiling parents cycling their children around in waterproof war chariots. Photograph: iStock
Smiling parents cycling their children around in waterproof war chariots. Photograph: iStock

I know what he had in mind. He was looking at my soft supple flesh and imagining non-life-threatening injuries I might be able to write about after I inevitably careened into a bus on Bachelor’s Walk or a lost Italian tourist in a leprechaun hat at O’Connell Bridge. That’s the sort of thing that happens to me usually. I’m like the Wile E Coyote, so I am.

Cycling in Dublin always felt like the behaviour of post-Catholic masochists to me, stubborn fools at war with reality. Not that I want to paint all cyclists with the same brush, of course. There are many types of cyclist in Dublin. Six of them, in fact.

There are tourists ambling unapologetically along the footpaths of the city centre on Dublin bikes as though they’re on a country lane.

There are the people who work in the IFSC and who are “giving back” by having their unwholesomely expensive bikes stolen once every fortnight.

There are the people of spandex, who have become one with their bikes, Third Policeman style.

There are the smiling parents who pull their sullen infants along in specially-created waterproof war chariots. All of these children have thousand-yard stares and therapists already. When they grow up they will have huge gas-guzzling cars and work for oil companies.

There are the youngsters, wheelying en masse down the centre of the road. They’ll be on unicycles before the year is out, if my trend-forecasting skills haven’t deserted me.

And then there’s the military wing of the cycling community. The people in high-viz jackets with gopro cameras on their helmets, who like to upload badly-filmed arguments with taxi-drivers to Facebook in between navigating their divorce proceeding.

That’s it. Those are the six kinds of cyclist.

All of these people are crazy. Cycling isn’t crazy, of course. Cycling makes sense – for your health, for the environment, to annoy George Hook. But cycling in certain parts of Dublin city centre at certain times of day is the behaviour of a stone-cold loon.

Befriending tough buses

I’ve been to other cities such Berlin and Amsterdam where there is proper cycling infrastructure and where cyclists are the apex predator, dominating the streets and terrifying pedestrians with their judgemental stares and hideous war cries (a tinkling bell). Cars actually tiptoe by in these cities, so unimportant are they to the metropolitan consciousness.

And good enough for them too. As a committed pedestrian, I hate cars more than I hate bikes, and I hate bikes more than I hate scooters, and so on down to roller skates.

In Dublin, however, cars are the least of a cyclist’s problems. The streets along Dublin’s quays are owned by buses and trucks. Pedestrians stick to the footpath like mice to skirting boards, and cyclists are like the Borrowers, risking death for the opportunity to get to work.

I’ve heard death-defying tales of near-misses from project managers who normally work in the safety of open-plan offices and I’ve seen things from the window of the 123 bus that only Immortan Joe has seen on the Fury Road.

The new ¤20 million plan from the National Transport Authority is designed to create proper segregated cycle routes along the Liffey banks of Dublin.

Currently the cycling route from my office down to Heuston Station and back is madness itself from a safety point of view, filled as it often is with buses, cars and vans.

Delivery men like to park in bike lanes and open their doors flamboyantly to surprise us. There’s a stretch after O’Connell Bridge where a bicycle symbol sits atop the words “Lána Bus”, like those little birds that groom hippos.

I don’t know what happens at busier times of day in these shared bike and bus lanes. I think the cyclist is meant to befriend one of the tougher buses in the hope it protects them from the others. I’ve never read a bike safety manual but I presume that advice is in there.

On the way back to the office on the north side of the river there are bits where the bicycle lane just disappears and there are bits where the cyclist finds themselves squeezed between two double-deckers like the fleshy jam in a bus sandwich (to be honest with you, I was more hungry than afraid at this point, hence that metaphor).

Here’s the thing: unaccustomed as I am to cycling, navigating this problematic route at 11am on a weekday is hardly the traumatising event it might be at other times in the week.

So my editor looks a little disappointed when I came back without a comedy bump on my head, circling songbirds and a bicycle wheel wrapped around my neck. “It was grand,” I said. “My hands were a bit cold.”

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