Opus Dei on wheels

Observations on cycling

Earlier this year I exchanged a quietly spoken driver and a silent BMW for a bicycle. (Look on my status, ye mighty, and despair.) This is no smug, evangelical tale of green conversion. I cycle for convenience rather than doctrine, and in my heart I am more white van man than two-wheeled crusader. When I see traffic gridlock I feel pity rather than superiority; when I spot a parking ticket on a windscreen I don't cheer, I think of the waste of money.

While motorists are over-taxed and unloved, cyclists pay nothing towards infrastructure and expect the traffic to part in front of them as if they were Moses.

I am law-abiding. I believe that one should choose between a pavement and a road. Cyclists say they are forced on to pavements because slow-moving vehicles do not give them room to pass. Is that an excuse? When I drove a car I often found myself stuck behind other vehicles, but I do not remember overtaking them via the pavement.

And then there are traffic lights. The cyclist's take-it-or-leave-it view of traffic lights is currently a matter of passionate debate. The actor Nigel Havers recently named cyclists who go through red lights as his life's greatest grievance, and the cycling websites pulsate on the issue. Statesmen of cycling, such as the Guardian's Matt Seaton, have been calling for calm, but he cannot bring the "Lycra louts" to the table.

After four schoolchildren were run over in Lambeth, Andy Shrimpton, who runs a bicycle shop in York, started a Stop at Red campaign. "It is really becoming a problem - even at parties people ask if you're one of those cyclists who run red lights," he says.

Another cyclist, Newsnight's Stephanie Flanders, has warned of the exponential growth of individual risk-taking: "We don't think it's dangerous to go through traffic lights or to ride up one-way streets or cycle on the pavements. Just so long as we are the only ones doing it. But now everyone is doing it the cost afflicts us all. Think global warming as applied to the Highway Code."

To this, one woman blogger responded: "It is disappointing to see people in the trade with such an inferiority complex that they feel the need to pander to the whims of the motor lobby. It reminds me of Blair brown-nosing Bush before the Iraq invasion."

Cyclists have an ideological grievance against cars simply because they are a more advanced and powerful form of transport. When I cycle I find cars elaborately indulgent as I wobble along. When my bag of newspapers recently tipped out on to the road, the drivers could not have been nicer about stopping, while other cyclists sped past me, ruthless and with arteries bulging.

Cyclists like me, dressed in ordinary clothes and proceeding in a law-abiding manner at reasonable speed, know how much the crazed, banana-shaped figures with bricks for calf muscles and weightless machines despise us. Yet all we want to do is get to work and back, not sign up for Opus Dei on wheels.

Sarah Sands edited the Sunday Telegraph. Her new novel, "The Villa", is published by Pan Macmillan

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