When I started to regularly cycle commute in London I was scared. Every time I got on my bike I would have an underlying fear that would get better and worse at various points of the trip.
When I’m scared I get angry. It’s an easy reaction. I get angry at the people and situations making me scared. Each commute I would get mad at cars that were passing me too close, or pedestrians who would step out without looking. I am good at looking ahead and seeing potentially bad situations (thank you decades of snowboarding and avoiding trees and cliffs) so most often I’d see the dangerous situation, avoid it but still get mad at the person who caused it.
I was scared because it felt like every time I got on my bike people were trying to kill me. It’s a bit sad when day after day cars speed past you too close on the right only to stop and do a quick left turn right in front of you. It’s hard not to take it personally that the person driving the big metal box doesn’t care about you. I also wanted to hold my ground. Yes! I am cycling. Yes! I am a woman, this is my space and I should get to cycle safely so I am not going to let you get away with this! Getting angry just fed the fear more, confirming that there were situations to be scared of. It wasn’t a nice feedback loop.
The fear and anger translated off the bike too. I spent a good amount of time feeling a bit off, a bit sad even though everything else was great in my life. It was even hard to pinpoint the cause to cycling because I enjoyed cycling to and from work, the freedom, the extra time, the money I was saving, and the lack of time on a stinky bus.
Last night I was cycling home and realised the fear and anger are gone. Somewhere along the way of regularly commuting things became fun and not scary. Cruising up, down and around the streets of London felt effortless and fun. Like my own private amusement park ride. Turning right at the intersection at Grey’s Inn Road and Theobalds road between lorries, buses and speeding cars isn’t suddenly safe, but gone is the fear and in its place is a quiet confidence and happiness.
I read somewhere that a positive, happy reaction to anger is more effective than an angry one. So when that driver flips you off, saying “OK well, our opinions differ but have a nice day.” Will not only stay with them the rest of the day but also it’s harder for the other person to escalate their anger and usually ends the situation. I still have the same amount of drivers cutting me off and save for a few cutting eye looks (can’t take all the reaction out of me) I don’t get angry. I don’t feel like I’m giving up or letting them get away without punishment, it’s just not my immediate reaction to get mad any more.
I’m reading What Goes Around: A London Cycle Couriers Story and that might be influencing my feelings of commuting. Having a bit of the flow of a cycle courier and seeing the city in a new way is exciting. I guess I’m just trying to say that if you are a new cyclist and scared don’t get mad at yourself for being angry. Being aware of the fear and the anger is what helped me get over it and build some confidence and happiness on my bike.