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Musings

Cycling for my Life

What can be more scary and life-threatening than the risk of getting Covid-19? Keith Lyons finds how his daily joy has menacing dangers

Cycling in New Zealand. Photo shared by Keith Lyons

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”

Arthur Conan Doyle

While out cycling recently with a friend on a weekend ride, I was reminded that the Covid-19 pandemic has been raging waning and morphing for the last two years. With Covid cases set to peak this week in my part of the world, optimistically we hope that we’ll be in a post-pandemic world by the time 2023 starts.

Many of us are wishing for a return to normal, to the good old days of 2019. But we know deep down that while enterprise and everyday life may resume again, there is no return to normal. We can’t turn back the clock. My parents in a retirement village and rest home are still shielded to ensure the virus doesn’t spread. I have people I’m close to who have died from Covid. On both hands I can count how many friends and acquaintances continue to live despite the pandemic.

Looking back on the last two- and a-bit years, one of the good things to come out of it was that I bought a bike and got into cycling. The first bicycle I found abandoned during my lockdown walks. The second one, an e-bike, I bought in mid-2020, and last year got its mountain-bike sibling, With public transport more inconvenient as well as slightly hazardous, biking would seem to be an ideal solution for commuting and recreation. I do like the freedom it gives me, though as I found out yesterday, cycling in the rain loses its romantic notions when your every item of clothing is sodden.

Cycling has been a great vehicle of joy for me, not just for the quick run to the greengrocer, or an outing to a beach, a cafe or the hills. So today when I met a buddy for an easy ride beside a meandering river to the sea, I couldn’t but feel happy to be freewheeling along, appreciating the clarity of the river, the trees turning into autumn colours, the pleasantness of it all.

However, for me, the joy of cycling has a flip side. Even in a flat city like the one I live in, which seems so well suited to cycling. Even with its network of cycle lanes and dedicated cycle paths. I’ll be honest with you, cycling scares me like nothing else in my life. What terrifies me is the vulnerability I feel when on my bike in traffic. I feel small, insignificant and sometimes invisible.

Cars, buses and trucks speed by at 50-80km/hr within touching distance away. Not only are they travelling three or fours times faster than me, but they also weigh 15 or so times my weight. If a driver is inattentive or distracted (for example, on the phone), and I get hit or clipped or rammed by a vehicle, I know that I will unlikely be able to walk away from the crash.

My rational mind fights with my fearfulness. After all, studies show that cycling is more likely to extend your life than to shorten it — physical inactivity contributes to 1-in-8 deaths. And cyclists can fall off bikes by themselves with no other vehicles around. Yet almost every time I venture out on my bike, I have a near-miss. It could be a motorist running a red light, making a turn cutting me off, opening a car door without checking, or exiting a driveway too fast.

It is not just cyclists who are vulnerable. Walkers, children, the elderly, and motorcyclists are all neglected in transport planning, where motorised vehicles are given priority over other users who aren’t shielded or protected from impact. Recent research estimates that an adult pedestrian has around 20% of dying if struck by a car at 60km/hr. The odds are worse if it is a truck. Have you ever heard of a cyclist crashing into a motorised vehicle and causing damage or injury? Probably not.

Yet, for health and fitness, for reducing emissions and for the good of the planet, getting on your bike is good for your being, your body and the world. I cycle cautiously, wishing that my fellow road users are exercising the same alertness and consideration.

Keith Lyons (keithlyons.net) is an award-winning writer, author and creative writing mentor, who gave up learning to play bagpipes in a Scottish pipe band to focus on after-dark tabs of dark chocolate, early morning slow-lane swimming, and the perfect cup of masala chai tea. Find him@KeithLyonsNZ or blogging at Wandering in the World (http://wanderingintheworld.com).

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