The only time I’ve ridden one of my three bikes in the last year was going to get my booster jab in mid December. Why? What’s wrong with me? Why would I have 3 bikes and not ride any of them? It sounds odd, but really I think it comes down to a mix of reasons that have just worn me down to where I’m at now.
Before covid, I was doing a relatively long ride once a week or so on a Monday or Tuesday. At that point I was working part time, and having those two extra days off a week was crucial to my mental health. It made working a pretty miserable, low paid job a lot more tolerable. But over time I was becoming more and more frustrated and disillusioned by the lack of car-light route options. Knowing that there was one somewhat enjoyable route to a location; and that taking any wrong turn would lead to stressful, fast moving traffic and the general feeling of being a second class citizen sucked so much of the fun out of these longer rides.
This wasn’t the first time I was feeling like this. I’ve had a couple of long breaks from cycling over the years. The first one was from about age 18 to 23, and then from 27 to 30. The first time was due to generalised anxiety disorder, and then the second 3 year gap was when I started a new job and I felt that I couldn’t cycle the 5 miles there because it wasn’t cycle friendly. I got a scooter for two years and then a car after that. Which brings me back to where I started doing those longer rides.
Looking back now on when my anxiety was the most incapacitating, I wonder how much of that time was attributable to what I now know about our unsustainable economic system, as well as that trapped feeling I had as a cyclist. Maybe subconsciously that played a big role in me feeling the way I did, but I couldn’t articulate it at the time. Maybe I knew that this society wasn’t made for people like me. When it came to the decision to buy a scooter and later drive a car, I was definitely very aware by that point that people like me who wanted empty roads and everyone cycling weren’t welcome here. Electric cars made me feel as if I wasn’t succumbing to society’s demand to drive, and that I was doing it on my terms. But I really wasn’t. I think it’s pretty clear that had I been living in a more accepting society rather than a closed minded one, I probably would have kept cycling all the way from childhood to now with no breaks. And my anxiety would have most likely been a lot more manageable too.
When covid came along, I felt a kind of relief at being locked down for months from April to June 2020 and being restricted to 30 minutes of exercise per day. It meant that I only had time to go from home to the seafront and back again to stay within the time limit. There was one route that allowed me to make it down there almost car free. It also allowed me to avoid the majority of pedestrians and other cyclists in addition to the few cars that were still driving around.
I continued in that pattern for a few months, occasionally trying some other local routes while the traffic levels were so low. When the full lockdown was prematurely eased, I went back to just riding that one route to the seafront. It became gradually less fun. The couple of busy roads I had to cross filled up again and took ages to cross, the noise returned, but it was still by far the best route to ride. I decided I wouldn’t go back to doing any long rides again until after the pandemic.
Then, the temporary covid bike lanes appeared in August and officially opened at the beginning of September, months after the full lockdown had ended. I decided to ride on those instead and change up my route. At first it was a novelty to have a whole car lane to myself going into town, but it wore off when I thought about how polluted it was with so many cars right next to me. I stopped using it even before it was removed at the end of November (just three months after being installed).
By that point, I had stopped riding long distances, seen drivers become more and more dangerous and anti-bike, experienced a (albeit fleeting and poorly executed) glimpse of what being given permanent dedicated space for cycling might feel like; and seen us return to business as usual while covid was still far from over. I started riding at night instead, but I couldn’t keep that up very long. I retreated from society even further and stopped leaving the house entirely.
Covid got worse and worse. All restrictions ended. The government became more and more openly absurd and anti-science. Scandal after scandal and yet they remained untouchable. No one in the mainstream challenged the anti-science stance that had seeped into the public psyche. Scientists who were doing that (such as Dr Deepti Gurdasani and others) were increasingly ignored and no longer able to get on major TV or radio. And that pretty much leads us to today. I still don’t want to go anywhere. I still don’t feel safe anywhere in public covid wise. I still have no intention of taking public transport anywhere.
Every day I just have this ridiculous hope that maybe soon we will come to our senses as a society and force the end of car ownership, so we can have empty streets to ride again. In my mind, getting rid of cars has become the symbol of when our insanity stops as a species. But it doesn’t feel like anything is going to change any time soon. Only the climate crisis or another deadly Delta-like covid variant have the potential to interrupt business as usual and maybe lead to lasting change to the benefit of cycling (and everything / everyone else sane left in this world). It doesn’t seem as if the current cost of living crisis is going to be enough to force any real change. People will just put up with it quietly, like the obedient little pawns in the economic game they are.
So I guess if I have to sum up why I’m not cycling, it comes down to lack of quiet bike routes, cars, psycho drivers, endless covid mishandling / corruption / stupidity, lack of infrastructure and my depression at the endless stupidity of our broken economic system. I think that covers it.
The cases are going down gradually at the moment according to the ONS / Zoe Covid Study, but they’re still remaining stubbornly very high compared to previous waves of the pandemic. Universal masking is a distant memory at this point, and the booster must be wearing off significantly by now.
I’m hoping that by the summer, things will have shifted significantly in a positive direction, and I’ll hopefully head back out on the bike again. I’m curious to know if I’m the only one who feels this way. There must be others out there who just feel so beaten down by all this shit.