In praise of cycling

Life on two wheels can be chaotic, but cycling has many benefits.

Cycling in Dublin is an experience in itself. It is an eco-friendly, healthy and efficient mode of transport in a city with an ever-growing population – yet it still remains a difficult and hazardous task to successfully navigate the city by bike. Every day, cyclists face the challenges of a city that runs on engines, of unforgiving elements and of the infrastructure that cannot effectively incorporate them into the road community.

Cyclists are generally disliked by all other road users. We tend to dismiss red lights and footpaths as inconveniences that hinder the way to our destination. We frustrate other road users with our lack of knowledge and reckless disregard for our own safety. For many cyclists, helmets are optional, and indicating is occasional.

We weave through the traffic from left to right, scanning eagerly for a path through the engines and pedestrians. Unpredictable and impatient. Taxi drivers growl as we cut in front of them to turn right or bypass them in their slow inner-city crawl. At the right hours of the day, we trek through Dublin’s streets in packs, lining ourselves in threes or fours along the single cycling lane.

Deliveroo cyclists power up one-way streets and pedestrians jump sheepishly out of our way as we climb onto the footpath to skip the traffic. We can even be seen cutting through Temple Bar for a quick shortcut, breaking our teeth on the famous cobble stones and scaring tourists along our way.

Yet the sins of the few should not represent the many. Most cyclists follow the rules of the road.  We are acutely aware of the horsepower that drives the double-decker buses and taxis as they shoulder through the narrow streets pushing to meet their deadlines. We adhere to the rules in the hope they will keep us safe.

In fact, we are often the victims of a city that struggles to accommodate us. The daily battle with the elements and the city’s notorious hills aside, the daily commute can be a dangerous sport for many that adopt two wheels. We are vulnerable to the frustrations of a driving community that waste their fuel in the city’s inner traffic.

As a regular cyclist for two years and a Deliveroo driver for one, I have experienced my share of aggression. Personally, I have been driven onto the footpath by impatient cars. Taxis have rolled down their windows beside me to scream profanities into my ear. Car doors have been opened into my face. Even pedestrians have stepped in front of me. Incidents like these are common, for even the most occasional of cyclists.

More so than the other road users, however, our problem is a serious lack of infrastructure. Dublin’s cycling systems are incomplete and at times dangerous. Cycle lanes are vulnerable places to be: cars use them as parking spaces, taxis as collection points. Some cycle lanes suddenly merge with either the footpath or the road, forcing the unsuspecting to weave into oncoming pedestrians, or worse, traffic.

Yet the benefits of cycling are clear, which is why so many have taken it up. In the last three years, the amount of cyclists on Dublin’s streets has increased by five percent. The Coca-Cola bikes that line many of Dublin’s streets have the city by storm. Cycling frees up the other public transport systems that run through Dublin, improving the flow of everyone’s commutes.

It is also an answer for an environmentally conscious city seeking to reduce its environmental footprint. Residents benefit from the reduction in noise and air pollution that burdens Dublin’s atmosphere, and tourists appreciate a calmer, cleaner destination.

For a student, it is the cheapest and quickest way to travel. With the advent of sites like done deal and gumtree, it is common practice to buy a decent bike for as little as fifty euro. No tests or lessons are necessary. Neither are servicing or petrol.  

It is also an enjoyable way to travel. I still remember my first journey into the centre of Dublin – the thrill of free-wheeling between the cars and buses on my first day of college, and watching the city as it emerged from the trees and houses that line Rathmines. The buildings grew taller, older before my eyes. It was a defining moment for me as a student; one when I felt like I belonged here.

Things are improving for us cyclists, with several new cycling paths all around the city centre, and further plans to install over 200km of cycling lanes in the next couple of years. Even the Luas works have sought to incorporate cycling lanes into their development.

Yet progress remains fragmented and slow. Dublin is lagging behind its European counterparts. As it scrambles to modernise itself as quickly as its competitors, it faces decisions regarding its infrastructure that will define the city for years to come. Us cyclists should not be forgotten in this age of mechanisation. Although the city rushes to build itself around an intricate public transport system it should not forget that sometimes the simplest solutions can make all the difference – that sometimes, a modest bike is all you need.