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On your bike…or ‘get off our pavements’

What possesses the people of London to gleefully take to two wheels and ride them with kamikaze abandon, asks Jo Knowsley.

It’s a peculiarly British rebuke: ‘On yer bike’ – a rude but effective way of telling someone to ‘naff off’, or ride as fast as possible in another direction. Preferably a long way away from you.

Now, though, the vast number of people cycling in London (around 200,000) has heralded a new cry: ‘off your bike’…or to put it another way…’get off the bloody pavement.’

Cycling in London increased a whopping 119 per cent between September 2019-September 2020, bumped up by lockdown, and encouraging people who have no experience of road rules, or ever having driven a car, to gleefully take to two wheels and ride them with kamikaze abandon. I’m not talking about experienced, considerate cyclists here. I’m referring to the entitled lot who believe that because they’re carbon neutral they can ignore all the rules of civilization.

The statistics on the growth of cycling come from Strava Metro, the business platform of fitness app Strava, which works with TFL and collects data from its anonymized tracker of city business patterns. But the anecdotes come from everywhere. 

Speak to anyone, in any suburb, and they’ll tell you the same story: being a pedestrian in London 2021 (and we Londoners love to walk) is more dangerous than parachuting or bungee jumping.

A friend and neighbour of mine who like me lives in a leafy east London borough about a half an hour walk from the Square Mile, is hesitant to leave her front garden because she’s so often been nearly mown down by a man or woman on two wheels racing past her gate.

Mothers in the park have had their prams up-ended, dogs have been collected and many more of us – as yet unmolested – now peer cautiously around every corner in case there’s a potentially deadly apparatus hurtling towards us on two wheels.

In Britain it’s illegal to ride on the pavement. Bicycles are considered vehicles and allowed only on roads or cycle ways. The maximum penalty is £500 but there’s a more lenient £50 fixed penalty notice. But mainly the miscreants get off scot-free.

Those who get caught are not penitent but furious. Can’t people see they’re superior beings who have been penalized for being Green?

On a local ‘friends’’ FaceBook page, for business in the park near me, one furious Millennial Snowflake, name withheld, posted this warning to other free-wheelers:

‘USEFUL WARNING TO CYCLISTS! DO NOT cycle on the pavement whatsoever round here, even if it’s for just a few yards on a completely empty pavement near your house. There’s a number of quasi policemen from the council (Tower Hamlets Enforcement Officers) cruising around in an unmarked car, and they will fine you £50 on the spot if they catch you. Just like they have me.’

She went on to bleat: ‘I am not an aggressive cyclist and I am aware it is illegal to cycle on the pavement. However, it was 8pm, the pavement was completely empty, and there were cars parked all along my narrow and busy road, there is no cycle lane and I don’t feel safe pulling out between the cars outside my flat. I was in a hurry to get to a much-needed exercise class.’ Oh dear.

She continues: ‘I WILL OBVIOUSLY NEVER DO THIS AGAIN (the caps are all hers) for all you tiresome, petty people banging on below (she received an almost entirely critical online response) I never usually cycle on the pavement and obviously I don’t want to knock people down or, god forbid, squash a small expensive dog (so a large cheap dog is ok then?).

In conclusion, after more abuse of the ‘quasi police officers’ who apprehended her, and thanking those readers who appeared to understand ‘how irritating this has been’, she says: ‘The rest of you sanctimonious, judgemental (sic), cravenly obedient sadsters who apparently follow the letter of the law at all times…have you considered moving… to a police state. I hear North Korea is lovely at this time of year. See ya later, suckers. I genuinely don’t know why some of you are so anti-cycles.’

Her arrogance left me speechless. But then came this, from a friend, on my own FB thread where I’d shared her story, and which I feel sums it up nicely.

‘I only murdered one person. I don’t usually murder people but I was in such a hurry…It was a little murder, not some massive bloodbath, but it didn’t stop some little Hitler from reporting me and before you knew it I had a couple of uniformed Gestapo-type men take me down to the station.

‘Honestly it’s like a police state when you can’t commit one ickle homicide. I mean this is Hackney. We paid £1.7m for our townhouse so it’s not like we haven’t contributed. We may as well be living in North Korea if they don’t let us murder someone once in a blue moon. Well that’s it! As soon as I get parole we’re moving to our other house in Southwold and renting this one out.’

Perhaps the original author should be encouraged to move out of town. Or to put it more succinctly: ‘get on her bike’

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Jo Knowsley

Jo has held senior staff writing roles on some of Britain’s leading newspapers including the Sunday Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday, and is now a freelance writer. She has reported on major breaking stories around the world and has written for magazines and newspapers in Britain, Australia and New Zealand in publications as diverse as Marie Claire, the Daily Mail, Metro, Saga and Grazia. In the past she focused primarily on news-lead reports and interviews. Today she writes across a number of platforms on subjects ranging from property and travel to theatre and features. She grew up in New Zealand and has made her home and career in London since 1990.

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