Confessions of a rebellious, rule-breaking cyclist

Every so often I see an article or a letter to the editor complaining about a cyclist doing this and that (cycling on the footpath, running a red light, cycling without a helmet, cycling the wrong way down a one-way street, cycling while on the phone, blindfolded etc).

I realise that this could be my "Rob Ford moment", but at some point or another I've done all those things (OK, except for the last one - at least, not yet).

Most of this is in the past now; I don't run red lights these days, but I do admit to occasionally cycling on the footpath (when it's safe to do so). In fact, I did this earlier today, which got me thinking about "why".

Firstly, let me explain this particular transgression. When leaving the entrance to the building where I have my office, I hopped on my bike and cycled on the footpath the short distance the wrong way down the one-way street before crossing to the side road (the right way) and cycling home. No harm done, right? And, shock horror, I've done this many times!

I can hear the flurry of pens scribbling and fingers jabbing at keyboards, but before you press "send" or lick that stamp on your letter to the editor, please hear me out for a bit.

I'm not condoning my behaviour or that of any other cyclist who doesn't obey the rules, but I'm hoping to try to explain it a little bit from my perceptive.

When I was a student in London, cycling was the way to travel. You could get pretty much anywhere in central London faster than you could by any other form of transport. For that reason, cycle courier companies were very common, and it was with one such company that I got a part-time job over the holidays. You got paid per package, so the faster you could get from A to B, the more money you made.

I could say that the job corrupted me. While it did encourage me to take some big risks, the truth is more along the lines of "the job suited me".

My knowledge of London streets would rival that of any black cab driver, but where the cycle courier excels is in the short cuts; those one-way streets (the wrong way), those steps that cut through from one road to the other, the courtyard linking this street with that, that alleyway etc.

When I took the job, I knew the shortcuts because I was already taking them. I still remember some of the crazy routes I used to take.

To be a cyclist, you had to be a bit of a rebel. The roads were built for cars, trucks and buses; if you cycled, you were considered to have a "death wish".

From the cyclist's point of view, though, cycling meant freedom and very cheap, efficient transport, and it kept you fit. It was also an opportunity to "stick it to the man" (as I cycled past his gridlocked Porsche on the way to college).

With infrastructure that is built for the car, and because cyclists are considered outcasts by all other road users, is it any wonder that the cyclist behaves like a rebel?

Fast forward 20-plus years and I am less of a rebel, but I do have more of a cause.

I and a great many other people would like to see cycling as a real transport option, not just something that has to be tolerated or made "a bit safer".

When the cyclist is not viewed as an outcast, when our roads and infrastructure really support cycling, when we don't need to wear helmets to protect us, when we don't need to wear high-vis gear just to be noticed, when we feel that we belong, then perhaps some of us will feel, and behave, less like rebels.

  • John-Paul Pochin is a photographer, digital artist, a passionate cycling advocate and a coordinator for Bicycle Nelson Bays. He has two children that he hopes will grow up in a cycle friendly city.