Saturday, February 04, 2023 | Rajab 12, 1444 H
clear sky
20°C / 20°C

Horse-drawn, petrol-powered, cycling chats

How safe do you think cyclists feel when they are on the road? Apart from finding them an inconvenience now and again, do you ever genuinely consider them as much road users as you are? They are intriguing questions, aren’t they?

I must admit that, as a frequent road-user, I had rarely thought much about it. I mean, in Oman we have some people who have no clear concept of where they should, or should not cycle, road or footpath, facing the traffic or joining it, left side or right side. I think we can all agree that there is no set rule, so we simply beware, and be aware, of every eventuality. Let’s just say they are a perpetual hazard.

Then too, we see the everyday active cyclists, usually early in the morning or early evening, when the population is breakfasting or dining, the lycra-clad, brightly attired groups cycle their daily routes of ‘penance’ as they sweat out their lifestyle excesses to maintain their physiques. My good friends Andrew, Bernie, and Dave just a few of the ‘wheelers’ I both envy, for their health and fitness, and chastise for their intense commitment to their exercise routines.


I would say I’m jealous... but I’m not. In fact, I don’t know whether I admire their bravery for taking on the challenge of Oman’s roads, sans armor, or whether I simply shake my head and think “mad dogs and Englishmen (Irishmen, Scotsmen, Americans et al), go out...’ well, you know the rest...

Why have I thought of this today... well first, I read a wonderful piece of literature from an old exam paper today, written in 1896, when Susan, Countess of Malmesbury, wrote a humorous magazine article describing the perils of cycling among the horse-drawn Hansom Cabs of the times. She writes of being the “prey” in a new sport of “chasing the lady who rides her bicycle,” commenting that cycling “would be so much nicer... if they weren’t trying to kill me.” Being, as she said, “as nervous as a hare that feels the greyhound’s breath,” she nevertheless ventures on, later admitting to such exhaustion that she, “went straight to bed,” emerging only to pen her thoughts.

She turns a wonderfully sarcastic phrase or two when advising to “avoid being made into a sandwich, composed of a pedestrian who will not, and an omnibus that cannot, stop.” She so deliciously understates too her intent to ride in the shelter, or slipstream, of that very omnibus much akin to “a dolphin playing around an ocean liner.” I enjoyed the gaiety, the forced goodwill, and appreciated the satire of her writing, drawing all the fun and just enough hesitancy to reassure the reader of the validity of her experience.

Then a perfect counterpoint emerged by way of Peter Walker, who is a cyclist, and who is quick to point out the perils of his daily commute to work, at the hands of motorists, but making the distinction that it is not a battle between cyclists and motorists, but rather a competitive edge, a mindset, that one falls into when they get behind the wheel, correctly pointing out that most cyclists also drive, thus “waging war upon themselves.” It is more or less the individual fitting into a role like when pushing their way onto a train, scrambling up an escalator, or hogging the overhead luggage compartment on an airplane.

He is incredibly conciliatory too, but begs we motorists consider just one thing, that it is simple physics to recognise that even the smallest vehicles become, at 30kmph, 100,000 joules of kinetic energy, steel-jacketed killing machines, ‘competing against “human beings, unprotected flesh and bone seeking to get to work, to see their friends, to return to their loved ones.” It’s not fair is it... bringing a gun to a knife fight?

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