I’m at work, but not for work. Last week I bought a second-hand mountain bike from a guy in the same building, who was selling it on behalf of someone who left last month, so it was a real bargain. I’ll ride it home after this, my first experience of riding in Dublin. I waited till Saturday because I didn’t want to ride it in rush hour traffic if possible, and because I wanted to buy a helmet first. I am that kind of rider in general, but the need for bike safety has been drilled in even further since I moved to Dublin.I have only ever had one major cycling accident, and that was in 1991 and not even on a road, but in a shopping centre car park. I was taking my usual shortcut, but someone had cordoned off one section with a chain, the bike stopped and my face hit the bike. It had gear levers that stuck straight up, so I ended up with a large cut on my chin and two front teeth that were missing chunks and eventually had to be bridged.
The Dublin authorities seem to make some nominal attempts to cater for cyclists, following much the same pattern as I saw in London: where the roads are nice and wide, there may be cycle paths, but these tend to start and end abruptly, sometimes leaving a cyclist surrounded by trucks at dangerous intersections. The Dublin Cycling Campaign (DCC) has a Cycle Tracks page that covers this – also, BBC News has an article on cycling in London, which also discusses the problems with cycle lanes I see here too. According to DCC figures, 75% of cycling accidents in the Dublin region have involved heavy goods vehicles (trucks), many on the heavily-used routes along the Quays to and from the ferry terminal to the UK. I think this is why Dublin City has very few cycle couriers compared to London or New York.
I never saw any actual accidents, but on at least three occasions I saw the aftermath, with paramedics crouching on the road around some kid who’d been knocked flying or dragged under the wheels. Type “Dublin cyclist accident” into Google to see what I mean – there are a few Dublins in the USA, but nearly all the search results refer to Dublin, Ireland.
Since I moved house last November, I no longer walk home, but in the two years I did so, I saw some pretty shocking scenes involving “The Cyclists of Dublin”. By “The Cyclists of Dublin” I don’t mean just anybody who rides a bike in Dublin, but a particular breed of (mostly) young males who seem determined to live fast, die young, and make ugly corpses. I’m justified in calling them “The Cyclists of Dublin” because a) there’s something about their behaviour that is peculiar to Dublin, and b) there are so many of them around.
My “favourite” incident occurred about 22:00 one night in autumn, a moonless night. On my former route home from work, I used a pedestrian crossing on a fairly large street, 100 yards from the main N11 route south of Dublin. I crossed with an apparently clear road and a green pedestrian signal, but when I was halfway across, I heard someone shouting “Watch Out!” I stopped dead, and a cyclist narrowly missed me, shouted “I got no brakes!” and kept on going, down the hill towards the main road. From what I could see of him, the cyclist was a young male, in black clothes and hat (but white face), riding a black bike with no lights or reflectors, with no brakes (he said). I’m sure he stopped at the main road, but I didn’t wait around to see whether it was a controlled stop, or whether another vehicle stopped him the hard way.
Then there was the old guy riding a rickety bike, struggling up the hill near my offices, with a 5-foot (1.5m) step ladder strapped horizontally to the back carrier of his bike. There was quite a queue behind him, including buses with passengers yelling at him, heads stuck out the windows. Lights and Helmets are a rarity, as is any additional reflective clothing. I won’t talk about the drunken cyclists, young and old, I’m sure you can imagine what it’s like in the home of Guinness.
At one point, I considered nominating The Cyclists of Dublin for a Darwin Award, but I don’t know if they give out collective awards. (I saw plenty of nominations for groups of people, but no awards. I can no longer access the site, since our firewall guardians have it pegged as “tasteless”, although I disagree. I even think that reading about the innumerable ways in which human stupidity results in self-selective evolution should be mandatory for kids in their last few years of school, especially in the USA.)
The routes I could take to work have far too much traffic for safety during rush hour, so I intend to use the bike for recreational purposes only, never for getting to and from work. My plan is to get up 1/2 hour (or more) earlier and have a mad dash along the seafront every weekday morning, while the traffic is thin. Let’s see if I stick to it.