I remember when the bicycle was safe and it was fun
The next time I cycle I'm gonna bring a gun
These are part of the lyrics from the song Fish Face, I discovered after reading a chapter from the fourth edition of The Cycling Anthology, from punk band Abdoujaparov, named after one of cycling's most terrifyingly scary sprinters.
Following a decade using public transport, driving or walking, or a combination of the aforementioned, and becoming a commuting cyclist once again, the verse perfectly encapsulates the sentiment I've been feeling out on the roads since my return.
Many motorists don't want cyclists occupying the same space they do. Many cyclists still ride as if the roads were trafficked like they were 20 or more years ago, when every road user was a little more forgiving, and a little less intolerant.
Today's conflation of mindsets does not meld well within the urban universe.
For me, one of the biggest problems seems to be taking off from the lights. The pedal-powered fraternity are, in comparison, notoriously slow off the mark, which seems to drive what I find to be the most insensitive of road users - taxi drivers - bananas.
On one occasion, I heard the familiar, though entirely unnecessary, revving of an LPG engine behind me, and, when I looked behind, said taxi driver - whose top light was lit, indicating he was not escorting anyone other than himself - impatiently shaking his head.
Am I supposed to take off from every light as if it were the opening laps of the national criterium championship?
There's a certain irony here, in that among our cacophony of diverse road users, so many of those who spend the most time on the tarmac are the least patient. It's a disturbing inverse relationship, since the most experienced should be setting an example of what to do, rather than what not to do.
Still, it was enough to make me map a different, albeit longer, route to the same destination the next time round.
If you can avoid a busy intersection or a set of traffic lights by taking a road less travelled, even if it takes you a little longer, do it. If you can't, a little 'thank you for being patient' wave seems to do the trick unless you've got a rampaging redneck behind you.
I've also realised any more than four or five kilos in the backpack is too much, regardless of the length of journey.
The extra weight on your shoulders makes riding a bike less enjoyable; you're not as agile with a burden on your back; if, when loaded, you're making multiple trips per week of any distance, you'll soon be left with shoulder/neck/back pain; and it can make you unnecessarily sweaty and overheated (not what you want before work - or a first date).
So online I went and ordered a pannier rack and bags. (If you're running disc brakes like myself you'll quite likely need a disc-specific rack - brands like Topeak, Tortec and Tubus all cater to such a crowd.)
A large backpack also inhibits your ability to be seen, and since the majority of commutes are done on your lonesome, visibility is a rather important element of your ride, if not the most.
I've noticed a large proportion of what appear to be experienced commuters care little for fashion, and go as high-vis as possible. In my teens and 20s I would have shunned donning a high visibility vest or jacket like your see roadside workers wear - and yes, I'm talking about those garishly lurid fluro yellow/orange numbers with the Scotchlite strips - but I actually feel bereft without one.
So for the second time in a fortnight back to the web shopfront I went, and Google-searched both 'high visibility vest' and 'high vis cycling jacket'. To be completely honest, I can't wait to get it - the peace of mind will moderate my anxious looking-over-my-shoulder-at-all-times tic, I'm sure of it.
For me the moral here is that unlike cars or motorbikes you cannot be heard - so do everything you can to be seen.
Speaking of, I invested rather heavily in some seriously good lighting.
What I've observed is that most commuters use a flashing rear light because static red makes one too akin to a motorbike. Again following the 'be seen, be seen, be seen' mantra, I use it both at night and during the day. As for the front light, it turns out so powerful is the shine, a tosspot walker yelled out to me one night last week, 'Turn it down, will ya, for faaarrk's sake!'
Rather than say something smart, I shone my light back in his face to expose him for being the tosspot he was (the light is my 'gun') and kept pedalling as the road continued to light up in front of me, passing a bunch of cars stuck in peak-hour traffic before safely arriving home in the cool of night.
For me that's a win.
I'd be interested to hear what commuting tips you might have to make your journey a little less chaotic and a tad more enjoyable, or how you chose to deal with the last person who had a go at you for the simple 'crime' of being on yer bike.