Getting to Trinity on two wheels

Cycling in Dublin is grim, but less grim than the alternatives


The first problem you’ll face in Trinity: getting there. This being Dublin, your options are terrible. You can remortgage your left kidney to pay for accommodation within walking distance of College. You can grow old festering in the endless sinkhole of a queue to sign up for a Student Leap Card in House 6, then spend every queasy rush‐hour morning rocking back and forth to the soundtrack of Dublin Bus trundling along, wheeling over and over what seems to be your humanity, flattening it down like roadkill. You can hone your acting skills trying to convince Luas inspectors that you are an American exchange student and have never heard of quaint Celtic customs like “tickets”, “fares” or “fines”.

But there’s a simpler route.

The first thing you need to know about cycling in Dublin is that it’s not worth having a nice bike, or even a bike that looks like it could be a nice bike with a fresh lick of paint. The first reason for this is that your bike will get stolen (I refer you to the fact that this is Dublin). The second reason is that your bike will be rained on and sprout rust (again, Dublin), plunge into many of our charming potholes (Dublin), and mostly be stuck wheeling along at a torpid pace to avoid collisions with bellicose commuters (Dublin). It simply does not make sense to invest in something that has dozens of gears or that you’d want to protect from damage. I got mine second‐hand from a place called “Bikes or Bicycles” on Clanbrassil Street Upper for €75.

Taxi‐drivers are your natural adversary and are to be loathed and feared. A lot of them have a charming habit of beeping the horn at you for being a cyclist. “What do you mean, ‘for being a cyclist’?” – I literally mean for being a cyclist. You can be ten metres away and they’ll do it. You can be cycling as quickly as a non‐moron would expect a cyclist to be able to go and they’ll do it. The beep isn’t a signal to get out of their way: they do it when you have nowhere to go. It’s not a signal to speed up: they do it when you’re going as fast as you can and aren’t obstructing them anyway. You have offended them in ways unknown and they want to make sure you know. I’ve even had one roll down the window and swear at me. I laughed, which I’m sure diffused their spleen.

Another thing: all sorts of randos and randomers and creepers and creeps will try to rope you into conversation. The middle‐aged man in the suit as you lock your bike to a lamp post: “You’d want to be locking it up alright!” (Thanks, Mr Pro Bono Life Coach.) The guy unlocking his while you’re unlocking yours and you’re both drowning in the rain: “Miserable, isn’t it?” (Yes, but I don’t like people.) And once, memorably, while cycling uphill in a skirt, some man of indeterminate identity from the footpath: “I can see your knickers!” (I know, babe. I am trying to get home.)

I suspect the creeps and randos are not a universal phenomenon, but they’ve been quite a noticeable element of my own cycling career. When you’re a small, unthreatening woman, men tend to think you want their input, that you’re begging for them to use up all your spare emotional labour. Why does cycling seem to exacerbate their behaviour? I’m not sure, but I suspect it makes me seem approachable and fun‐loving. Quirky Girl with Fringe and Large Glasses on Bike. Doesn’t Need to Be Anywhere In a Hurry Because She’s So Flakey and Whimsical. Probably Very Left‐Wing and Concerned about the Environment. Likes Talking to Strangers.

Nocturnal cat‐calling, for some bizarre reason, happens more often when I’m cycling than when I’m walking. Maybe a bike out on the road at midnight is a bit more of a novelty to the passing wolf‐ whistler than my usual pedestrian drunk‐shuffle, or maybe there’s something about squatting on a saddle that screams, “Hey, The Patriarchy, please reassert your ownership of this public space I’m daring to occupy.” Street harassment: condign punishment for being a woman.

Let us return to something I’m certain every Dublin cyclist experiences: becoming a leaky human rain‐sponge. You have not been wet until you have tried to get into town in the throes of a Dublin rainshower. The best bit is that every second bike I see in public has a waterproof saddle cover that was clearly handed out to the owner for free by some company with their brand emblazoned across it – yet I can’t even find a shop that will sell me one. I sometimes remember to stick a plastic bag on my saddle in case it rains. More often, though, I forget to do this and end up vainly attempting to soak up the rainwater by patting the surface with my lecture notes, a used tissue or whatever other porous thing I have lying about in my bag.

I have already alluded to the reality that your bike will one day be stolen. You can postpone this event by getting a proper lock – not one of those flimsy cable ones – and by using it to secure the firmest, hardest‐to‐prise‐off part of your bike – the frame, not the back wheel – to some reasonably sturdy piece of public property. Better yet, make sure your bike is the swine among pearls: lock it up next to nicer, clearly more expensive vehicles. When the thieves descend, your bike will be as overlooked as you were at the céilí in your first year at the Gaeltacht. (Some experiences can be, shall we say, formative.)

This account is perhaps making Dublin cycling sound a bit grim. That’s because it is a bit grim. There are no cycle lanes on many roads. When they do exist you have to share them with buses; lumping you in with large vehicles is a slightly counterintuitive way of solving the safety problem (viz. that you are lumped in with large vehicles) and creates the added annoyance of having to stop whenever the bus stops, or else get around the bus and hope it doesn’t suddenly get going again and nearly level you in the process. Oh, and a taxi will probably beep at you to let you know that you’re still a cyclist and they still hate you.

Often, the space between the parked cars on your left and the traffic on your right is so minuscule and the noise so overwhelming that someone could easily open a door without your noticing and turn you into a cyclist paté. Hapless tourists stand on the pavement and look slowly left and slowly right like sloths, then step out right in front of you with a sudden vigour that endangers both your lives. Your fellow cyclists are often reckless (though not nearly so often as motorists will tell you cyclists are whenever you complain to them about cars).

So why do I bother cycling? The biggest reason is money. Not only is Dublin Bus howlingly expensive in absolute terms, it’s also such an unpleasant way to travel during rush hour that the life‐happiness‐per‐cent ratio is even more unfavourable. The walk is long and boring – on mature reflection, I find it strange that I prefer the constant risk of falling off my bike and cracking my skull to the tedium of slow‐changing scenery, but there you have it. I can’t drive, wouldn’t have the money to get insurance and am anxious about fossil fuels, so that’s out.

Besides, I have my social media profile to think of. A charmingly dilapidated city cruiser bike is your best friend for a quick Instagram pose. Even during your most mundane excursions, a good wicker basket makes you look as if you’re en route to a picnic for elves, craft beer aficionados and Zooey Deschanel. If you get bruised or injured, or if someone purloins your bike, you’re guaranteed 70+ likes if you craft a good Facebook status about it. Like the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad self‐publicity.