I’ve almost given up hope that it would ever get warm enough to go cycling. It snowed in early May. And for the last few days, the skies have been mopey. It got warm enough yesterday and it’s good to be spinning wheels again. Below is a shortie I wrote for the Warsaw Insider last spring to champion the cycling cause in Warsaw.
Coming Out on Wheels (Warsaw Insider, May 2010)
I swing both ways. That is – I cycle a bike and I drive a car, too. I treat means of transport in the same way as I do a picnic. When the weather sucks, I don’t roll out a blanket in the park and cart out the picnic basket. I am not one of those gung-ho all-weather cyclists. To those who badmouth me as a wimp for not cycling in snow, sleet, hail or hurricanes, I would say, darling, there’s a season for everything. And now is the season for discovering the city on two-wheels.
Before you pedal off, here’s what you need to know. As cyclists in Warsaw, we are a blighted lot. The pedestrians, they hate us because we crisscross hither and thither and everywhere and get in way on the sidewalks. The motorists curse us. From behind the windscreen, you can see them spewing psychotic venom in our direction. Never mind them. For we cyclists, we can be smug and holier than thou. We are green. Greener than the pedestrians who take buses and trams which public though they may be, they also gobble up non-renewable stuffs. Greener that the driver who is going ballistic at you because you are not pushing your bike across the zebra crossing.
Yes, at zebra crossings, you must dismount and skip along with your bike to the other side. Otherwise, you could be as bewildered as a Frenchman I know who got a hefty fine for walking across the street when the little red man kept his legs together. It is not very clear though whether it’s legal to cycle on sidewalks. According to some sources, in places where there are no designated cycling paths, you can invade the pavement. While others say, “Keep off the sidewalk, period.”
It’s clear however that motorists here suck at sharing. Especially sharing lanes with unmotorized wheels. Bikes are consigned to the recreational zone. You are supposed to load them on a SUV, drive to somewhere foresty to unleash your inner-cyclist. Warszawska Masa Krytyczna (Warsaw Critical Mass) strives to improve the lot of us bikers. On the last Friday of every month, come rain or shine, at 6pm at Pl. Zamkowy, the bikers unite to muscle the cars off the streets. During the mass excursion through the city, you meet all sorts – from diplomats to tourists. The headcount when the turnout is good could exceed 2000.
On a day-to-day basis, you need protection. Locks. Not those light-bodied ones that can be snipped with a cutter. I lost my Scott Purgatory that way. In broad daylight, too. As I walked out of a mall, I saw a guy pedalling off on a blue bike just like mine. It looked like mine because it was mine. So get kitted with those U-shaped metal locks, like those sported by courier cyclists. And before you moan about petty crime in this city, go check out the heavy-duty chains the Dutch use to secure their bikes in Amsterdam.
One more thing. Or two. Slow down. Just like on the ski slopes, when the crowd thickens, crank down to slow-mo. The senior citizens especially don’t appreciate wheels zooming pass them at close proximity. I may sound prissy and Mary Poppins, but come on, say thank you when pedestrians step aside for us to zip pass. We got to do our PR bit, too.
Off you go. Put on your sunblock and helmet, and cycle safely. And be vigilant at crossings, any crossings (This should end with a dramatic jingle but the printed medium can’t do that).