Friday, 28 December 2012

The Bike Bells Weren't Ringing Out On Christmas Day

The streets round our way weren’t exactly packed with kids on new bikes and scooters on Christmas Day but we did see a few. It does seem traditional toys are increasingly old hat while iPad thingies are what the kids of today crave.

Our Bairn got a wee scooter, replacing a little wooden tricycle she’s had for two years and hasn’t shown a huge amount of interest in. Except when the Tour de France appears on telly - then she starts racing round the flat.

Quentin and Ned
She also got what could have turned out to be a thoroughly boring board game about buses. But she loves it. I love it too. Mainly because the passengers look like Quentin Tarantino and a Ned from Still Game. (Did I hear you say no wonder, all bus passengers look like that? See me in my office afterwards.)

Anyway, back to the scooter. My heart stopped briefly on Christmas Eve when I smugly suggested to the Bairn she was getting a bit big for her wee trike, to which she replied no she wasn’t. Aarrgghh.

But in the end the scooter proved a huge hit. Helping her maintain a straight line instead of veering off into bushes has brought back all sorts of memories of Christmases past for me. I remember my younger brother and I getting matching BMXs in the late 80s. They were red and white. Mine had stunt pegs. In my jogging suit and wearing my Sony Walkman I can tell you I was the hippest dude in town.

In fact, I can recall every bike I’ve ever had, all the way back to a wee metal tricycle with a red and yellow dragon on it. (Does that mean it was a Raleigh?) I had a Grifter at some point (three gears!) and when we moved to Germany I got a bike with a back-pedal brake. Awesome for skids.

No new bike for me this Christmas - the three I have in the shed are enough to be going on with. This past year has been a bit of cycling revolution for me - I do much less leisure cycling and lots more commuting in the saddle. I’ve also been made acutely aware of the insanely car-centric society we encourage.

Edinburgh in many ways leads the field when it comes to supporting cycling in cities. The council has promised to spend a decent (and increasing) chunk of its budget on cycling infrastructure. The city is full of ups and downs and cobbled streets but it’s also full of amazingly straight avenues with dazzling architecture and green spaces. If any of Scotland’s seven cities is suited for a cycling culture like they have in Holland and Denmark it’s Edinburgh. I love the idea of simply going from A to B without breaking a sweat and needing high-vis gear and a survival of the fittest mentality.

Sadly it seems the car is king and there’s the most violent reaction to any suggestion to make areas of the city centre car-free. The other day I tried to get from George Street to Holyrood and was genuinely terrified. Between the roadworks, the tram tracks, the HGVs, the buses and the hoardes of Christmas shoppers ignoring the pedestrian signals I was utterly confused and mortified. Quite why Princes Street couldn’t have been made a walking and cycling only zone I don’t know. To have that world famous shopping avenue cut off from the gardens by lanes of zipping traffic is pretty idiotic when you think about it.

My switch from cycling for fun to commuting also seems to have led to an increase in punctures. Maybe it’s just that I cycle through fairly industrial bits of Edinburgh. I’m also increasingly aware of the behaviour that gives cyclists a bad name. I recently stopped at a red light at a very busy junction near Meadowbank stadium only watch the woman on the bike in front go sailing straight ahead. A bloke on a bike pulled up beside me and pointed out he’d cycled behind her for a fair distance watching as she went through loads of red lights. When our light went green he set off with the intention of flagging her down for a chat. I wished him luck.

My favourite encounter of the year has to be the one on a main road between Portobello and the city centre. It was early morning and there wasn’t much traffic but I still pressed the button to use the crossing. Off to my left I could hear a roaring noise like a jumbo coming in to land. It was a motorbike. He’d clearly just got up to a good (almost certainly illegal) speed and was having to slam on the brakes to allow me to cross. As I did so he yelled “Come on! 7am! Give us a break!” I pedalled on with the coolness of Quentin Tarantino on a bus.

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