In Dublin city, cycling is a pretty decent way to get around. You don’t need to worry too much about traffic; parking is free; it’s an efficient way to exercise. But it’s also fraught with peril. Every day that I get up on my bike is another day that I have at least one moment where I think I might die. It’s not a particularly nice feeling.
Any of you who follow me on social media will know that I’ve gone back to cycling after a bit of an absence; last year, I had the good fortune to have a Volkswagen up! to drive around for the year. This year, it’s back to two wheels for me, so I’ve been reacquainting myself with the pros and cons of Dublin city cycling.
My fellow cyclists won’t be surprised to hear that the cons far outweigh the pros. As a caveat, I should say that this is not a tale of pro cycling. I cycle to and from my home in Dublin 1 to my gym in Dublin 7, for example. A few weeks back, I cycled to Blackrock for an appointment. If I need to go into town, I cycle. I rarely cycle at night; I rarely spend more than an hour on my bike per day.
My observations are based on my experience: that of an amateur female road cyclist who cycles from A to B. I’m not an expert – but, really, for Dublin city cycling, should I have to be?
It doesn’t matter how ‘good’ you are – drivers hate you
This is the first rule of Dublin city cycling and worth bearing in mind every time you put foot to pedal. Unless the person driving the motorised vehicle next to you is also a cyclist, they hate you. They will express this by hasty acceleration as you indicate your desire to cross lanes. They will allow zero space between you and the kerb, parked car or (all-too-frequent right now) roadworks railings. They will curse at you. They will give you the finger. At least once, you will be called a cunt. (Perhaps not if you’re a man – I obviously can’t say.)
I was called a cunt one day as I cycled in the centre of a lane as I crossed a junction. The road ahead had a line of parked cars against the path. If I had cycled next to the kerb I would have got stuck. The driver rolled down his window and shouted at me through three sets of traffic lights until we tragically went our separate ways.
This is all despite the fact that I am a really careful cyclist. I wear high-vis. I obey the lights – even when I really shouldn’t bother. I indicate left and right; I have lights on my bike and I never give anyone the finger. I wear a helmet and I slow down for pedestrians, even if my lights are green. (None of this is out of niceness; I just know that bad cycling only puts one person in danger – the cyclist.)
You’ll need to replace your tyres rather frequently
Unless you are a pro cyclist, your tyres will take a serious beating in Dublin. My bike is a racer and the tyres are narrow. If I keep them pumped, things are okay but once they begin to soften, it’s a different story. Cycle lanes, on the rare occasion they’re not full of stationary vehicles, are full of litter and potholes. There’s one cycle lane between my house and my gym which has a bicycle chain, sprawled across it like a snake on hot tarmac. It’s been there for weeks.
There’s a strong temptation to avoid the cycle lanes altogether. You could just cycle in the centre of the road, sandwiched between cars. Nine times out of 10, I’m keeping speed with them anyway. But – oh yes – there’s the small matter of being shouted at through an open window. Better to risk the damage.
The Luas tracks really are out to get you
Someone recently asked me what was the best bus to get from St Stephen’s Green to O’Connell St. I told them to walk. It takes 15 minutes and you won’t sit in traffic for any of it.
It’s hard to see how the cross-city Luas is going to beat that time, or, indeed, beat the buses. It is, after all, an urban tram system that has to obey traffic lights and, let’s face it, doesn’t go very fast. Still, we said we’d do it so we’re doing it.
The Luas works have to be the biggest danger to Dublin city cycling right now – and they are everywhere. To block out the cycle lane is bad enough, but in most places around the city, the roadworks make cycling alongside the Luas tracks totally unavoidable. And I, for one, am nervous. I’m scared that a taxi (taxi drivers have a special hatred for cyclists) will shove me over into the groove. I’m afraid I won’t have enough space to cross at a right angle and topple over my handlebars and land on my elbows. I’m worried that, on a rainy day, I’ll slide right on to the metal track. (Cycling is scary.)
Other cyclists are assholes – especially on Dublin Bikes
Obviously: #notallcyclists. But there are a number of cyclists who are – how shall we put this? – total and utter dicks. I can’t count on both hands the number of times cyclists have cycled up my inside at speed or whizzed past me through a red light and almost ploughed into an unsuspecting pedestrian.
And that’s before we even address the issue of Dublin Bikes, which allows any idiot to get up an enormous bike, take up a huge amount of space and swerve in and out of traffic with gay abandon.
The obvious question, after all of this, is: Why do it? It’s a little like women in the workplace; if women left the workforce because they were sick of unfair treatment and unequal pay, no one would ever have to ensure fair treatment and equal pay. Things aren’t perfect and the Government needs to seriously pull the finger out and address a lot of issues around safe cycling and prioritising cyclists on the roads – but without people actually doing it, campaigning and relentlessly complaining about it, why would they bother?
Pic credit: Flo Karr via StockSnap.io