I love cycling. I do it without question every day. I love how much money I save, how much time I save, the exercise I get and the sense of freedom that comes with it. But cycling also brings out a side in me that can only be described as ugly. Generally in life I am pretty positive, accepting, calm and steady person but put me on a bike, amongst cars, buses, motorbikes and most of all taxis and I become a very different person. It is this that I have been musing about these past 5 days over cycle to work week. What is it that gets me so annoyed when I’m on a bike? Why do I feel this way and why do I continue to cycle given how angry I can get?
On day 4 of cycle to work week, rather than paying attention to the dangers around me, I spent my journey playing the room 101 game. What 10 things would I put into room 101? Bus drivers who straddle the cycle lane, Motorbikers that come in my lane, Motorbikers that sit in the cyclist’s safe zone at traffic lights. Drivers who cut me up when turning left, pedestrians who jump into the road without looking for cyclists, drivers who talk on their phone putting themselves and others at risk, drivers who park where they shouldn’t, drivers who speed up at yellow lights, every taxi driver in London, the list goes on but with one clear theme. I will only put ‘other’ people into room 101. To be more specific, ‘other’ groups of people.
I’m sure if you live in London you will have witnessed the idiocy of cyclists and have probably had a grumble or two at their expense. But I haven’t, however idiotic they are, I really don’t mind. If a cyclist speeds up at a yellow light and makes it through unharmed I congratulate them and share in their success, if they cycle slowly in front of me in our slim cycle lane, no bother, I’ll use them as a wind shield. When they slam their brakes on to do a left turn without indicating, it’s okay, I’ll just swerve around them. If they use their phone while cycling, I find myself impressed at their ability to multitask. I can’t get angry at fellow cyclists, they’re my comrades, they’re in my group, we are one, united against the common enemy that is the ‘others’. We cyclists have an un-unwritten code to be considerate to each other, to tell a fellow cyclist when their back wheel looks wobbly, to leave enough room in the safe zone at lights to allow another bike in, to filter and weave around each other like happy little butterflies. I am programmed to respect my group and to assume that they respect me back.
With all this devotion going around, why I get so angry when I’m cycling? I am a sufferer of intergroup aggression; aggression towards another being who is a member of an out-group. If I feel that my in-group is being challenged or if I feel that my in-group is being threatened, as is often the case when on the roads, then it is perfectly natural for me to express aggression toward the out-group. Whether a car cuts me up or cuts up another cyclist or even if they don’t, simply the threat that they might is enough to turn a normally level-headed young professional into an impassioned demon child.
Now I can answer why I love cycling when I hate what it does to me mentally. As a human I have an inherent in-group bias and a need to improve my self-esteem. By convincing myself that my group, the cycling group is superior, I am telling myself that I make good decisions, that I am knowledgeable and downright distinguished. And I can’t begrudge the car, bus, taxi drivers and pedestrians because without them my group wouldn’t have a common enemy with which to unite against and so we wouldn’t be a group at all. Finally I love cycling because I get a lot of thinking done. On Thursday, by 9am I had condemned 10 people into room 101 and created a theory to explain my bipolar mentality as I loved, hated, cherished, shunned, congratulated and cursed my way to work.