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How I became a cyclist, and why I hate myself

Yes, I am a cyclist. Yes, I hate myself.

Alborz Fallah
Alborz Fallah

Of the many terrible things that I thought could happen when living through a global pandemic, becoming a cyclist wasn’t what I had in mind.

As an avid car and driving enthusiast, cyclists had always been viewed as the locust.

The fun police that will take up an enormous amount of space on the road and report you for overtaking them. In my life, so many amazing driving experiences through some of the best roads have been ruined by cyclists.

They have contributed and endlessly lobbied councils and governments at all levels to reduce speed limits, can even be blamed for to the demise of events such as the Mt Cootha Classic tarmac rally in Brisbane.

To put it bluntly, until recently I would have supported banning cyclists from the road. Not just supported, in fact, but spearheaded the campaign.

Fast forward to today and I am horrified that I find myself getting annoyed at cars that don’t give me the courtesy I feel I deserve on the road, as a cyclist.

Yes, I am a cyclist. Yes, I hate myself.

Earlier this year the idea of going for a voluntary bike ride early in the morning had as much appeal as watching a season of Married at First Sight on repeat.

But as someone who’d go to the gym every day of the week – and having that taken away thanks to lockdowns – the lack of cardiovascular exercise started to really affect how I felt during the day. I had to do something.

Running was out of the question because my knees aren’t up to it and I am just not a natural runner. That left the idea of exercising at home and, although I have home exercise equipment,  there’s something about working out in the place you live (and now work) that really saps your motivation. I need to be out and about.

That left the unpalatable idea of becoming a cyclist on the table.

For a start, cycling is (and was) allowed during even the strictest lockdown conditions in Australia. Despite not being able to drive your own car for fun, passing no-one and carrying an incredibly low chance of catching COVID-19, going for a bike ride past countless heavy-breathing, sweaty people was given the okay.

That didn’t seem right – but I’m no health expert, so what would I know?

More importantly, cycling ticked two boxes for me. As an extrovert, I need to get out of the house to remain sane. Cycling allowed me to do that and get my exercise at the same time.

One early morning in lockdown I realised I’d been wearing the same outfit and pair of Crocs for 36 hours straight, and appeared more homeless than usual. I looked myself in the mirror and wondered what the repercussions would be if I started riding.

The list was endless: the ridicule in the car community, the self-loathing, the potential to get killed (yes in that order). But I did it… I put my bike in the back of our Jaguar F-Pace and drove it up to get serviced.

I stopped at the bike shop, looked at the queue of people waiting to get in. Then I sighed heavily, got out, and waited. It took a bit of time, but my relatively average bike was back to its near-new condition in no time.

I took that first pedal with enormous anxiety. Like a Catholic renouncing their religion, I pedalled on. Every pedal felt better than the next. Freedom, what a feeling.

It has now been about six weeks of daily riding and I can tell you two things. One: I have become an avid cyclist that looks forward to riding. Two: I hate myself for it.

I’ve never felt an identity crisis like it. For the first two weeks, I limited my riding to bike paths, treating the road like it was lava. But for the last few weeks, I have been riding on the road as well, almost with a sense of entitlement that I should be allowed to.

A few days in I had a near-death experience, thanks to idiotic drivers not paying attention.

I started going to bike shops and talking about bikes. I may have even searched cycling clubs on Google (but I quickly closed the search window and deleted my history).

I started realising that you can spend $30,000 on a bike and it doesn’t even have an engine. I even looked at buying lycra – but that, I felt, was a step too far. For now.

Discussing my near-death experiences with grown men wearing lycra, I got some tips from pro riders that I should not display ‘weaknesses on the road’. That weakness being the concept of sticking all the way to the left so that cars can pass me more conveniently because then they will do so at their choosing rather than when it’s actually safe.

Instead, I was told that a confident rider should be riding well off the kerb with a sense of authority so that cars only pass me when it’s definitely safe to do so.

This language, this way of thinking, it was blasphemy. Wasn’t it? A friend started to worry about me. ‘See, this is what happens when they don’t let him drive, he has gone mad’ I heard people say.

My wife, thinking it would be a good way to spend time together started riding with me, but quickly realised I am so competitive she could not keep up. So she bought an expensive electric bike to maintain pace, only to crash it and end up with multiple MRIs and CT Scans… but I kept riding.

(I mean, I stopped and rendered some sort of assistance, but this bike isn’t going to ride itself ).

I started looking up what my rights were as a cyclist. Boy do we have some rights! More than even some powered vehicles like scooters, which really doesn’t make any sense. But I am a cyclist and an entire generation of highly-connected professionals across all disciplines had fought, lobbied, and bribed for these rights. I wasn’t going to waste it.

As a friend who was concerned for my mental health pointed out, if the bicycle was invented today, it would absolutely not be allowed on the road. Think about the huge speed delta between cyclists and cars, with the 1.5m rule for overtaking (ironically well social distanced) is madness. It’s dangerous. It’s actually crazy. But I kept riding.

I felt like I was flirting with the devil. It was a little intoxicating. Actually, I imagine the devil drives a Diablo, but either way I felt empowered to ride on the road and after a few nervous sessions, I even felt confident in doing so.

You know what? I even once ran a red light on my bike when there were no cars around. Because that is what happens when you don’t have anyone to answer to. It’s stupid, I know, but I am a cyclist now.

Get aggressive on the road and I will send my GoPro footage to the cops and lobby my local council to reduce the speed limit to 50km/h.

Yes, I don’t pay registration for my bike (I do for the multiple cars I own) and no I can’t go the speed limit and yes, I will hold you up on the road until it’s safe to overtake because I am not a ‘weak’ rider.

Truly, I turned into what I have for years hated. A goddamn cyclist taking up the road without any consideration for others. But in one moment, it changed for me.

It took another near-death experience to realise one thing, cars crash into each other all the time, so no matter how confident I felt riding on the road and what the rule books say about my rights as a cyclist, there will be a driver out there that will one day hit me on my bike and it will be a genuine accident – but unlike two cars hitting each other with the benefit of a 100 years of safety systems, there won’t be much left of me.

When that little bulb lit up in my head and it became about my safety rather than my rights as a cyclist, my attitude changed immensely. I went back to riding on the absolute left-hand side of the road as much as possible when there was no bike path. I avoided roads when there was an alternative bike path.

I avoided busy roads in total. I changed my riding destination to include bike paths primarily.

Most importantly, I realised that the road is not made for me. It’s made for powered vehicles that weigh tonnes and go much faster. My use of the road was at my own risk and that risk, I realised, is extreme. But even then, I haven’t stopped riding. But I ride differently now.

After close to two months of daily riding, I am happy to say I am now a proud cyclist. I think that even once the gym reopens, I will likely continue riding at least a few times a week.

Also, as a driver, I am now extremely more courteous towards cyclists on the road than I have ever been. I give cyclists more room and I no longer swell up with undignified rage when I see one on a narrow road holding me up (ok, maybe a little bit of rage).

If I am in one of my loud cars, I tend to now avoid being at 9000RPM when I drive past. It’s the little things, right?

Riding a bicycle on the road is risky, but it’s part of life now and as motorists, we can do a lot more to be aware of our two-wheeled, underpowered friends. There are good riders and bad riders, much like drivers, except hitting a cyclist only ends up badly for one person, so that extra few minutes of courtesy on a long drive can go a long way in avoiding disaster.

I am strangely proud and sad to admit that overall, I have become a bit of a cycling advocate and I know that the old me, hates me for it.

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Alborz Fallah
Alborz Fallah

Alborz has been writing about cars since 2006 when he launched CarAdvice. He is an honourary adjunct professor at the Uni of QLD and is in denial about the impending death of the internal combustion engine. Despite having reviewed and driven thousands of different cars, he still can't work out how to replace a windscreen wiper.

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