Ever heard of “risk compensation“? It’s “an effect whereby individual animals may tend to adjust their behaviour in response to perceived changes in risk”. Being an individual sort of animal with a reduced risk of smoking related illness, there has been an adjustment in my behaviour when it comes to cycling.
My old heap (it’s called Dying Fleath and was bought as a replacement for my previous bike, Flying Death) is a fairly sorry sort of piss-poor excuse for a bicycle. The gears change of their own accord so they’ll chunk into top gear as I go up hills (imagine trying to submerge a continent by pushing it down with your foot), before dropping down into bottom gear for the other side, making my legs spin round like windmills. They need copious swearing and brute force to pursuade them into any sort of remotely useful state. There is no bell, the entire frame and handlebar assembly is just a ball of rust, and the brakes are broke. Well, actually, they do sort of work in that they make a lot of noise to alert people to my presence. They just don’t slow me down much. An emergency stop for me means a noise like a howler monkey being cooked alive on a spit accompanied by a gentle glide to a halt over the equivalent length of two football pitches. In short, I make oil tankers look nimble.
So you would think that I ride it fairly slowly, wouldn’t you? Well, I did when I was smoking. My lung capacity prevented me reaching any speeds even remotely close to double figures (either KMPH or MPH – take your pick). Now that I can get to the end of the road without coughing up lung nuts the size of acorns, I can go a hell of a lot faster than is sane, safe, sensible or smushy. Sorry, I ran out of adjectives beginning with S there. My increased physique, coupled with my perceived reduced risk has made me a danger to other road users, path users and people who have just chucked themselves in a bush because they thought they were about to get attacked by a charred howler monkey. Not only do I have the capability to zip along at an un-snail-like pace, I can’t stop doing it. For some reason I feel that I now have to ride at 100% all the time. It’s very disturbing for someone as deeply and fundamentally lazy as me. If there isn’t already a psychological term for being unable to cycle a death trap at anything less than 100% effort, then I’d like it to be called “Ohfuckshit Syndrome” after the noises made by it’s sufferers as they hurtle towards oblivion.
It’s even worse in the rain. If there is one thing I don’t like (actually there are several; you might have noticed), it’s getting wet. If you see someone riding a bike-shaped lump of rust, dressed up in cheap, leaking waterproofs and enveloped by a blue haze of obscenities, that’ll be me. Of course, in order to reduce the amount of time I spend getting wet I have to go even faster. And the brakes are even worse in the wet. And they stop making that noise so you can’t even hear me coming. And it’s fucking lethal – far more dangerous than smoking ever was.
If you see me coming, get out of the way.