Australians. Hospital food. Cyclists.
What do they all have in common? I wish the answer was a witty sandpaper joke, but it's not. The answer is that we love to have little digs at all of them - they cop it left, right and centre.
I've never actually said anything rude to a cyclist. I might have joined in the head shaking and tut-tutting conversations about nameless and faceless and possibly fictitious characters in the novel, who weaved through a red light, or came whipping around blind corners on hills at twice the speed limit, or were riding 26 abreast across both lanes of traffic and both the footpaths.
I haven't really seen much of it happen though. Maybe a handful of times.
Perhaps the mythical tale, passed down through generations, of the cyclist who flipped your Nana off at the lights is just a cover for other reasons people have got a bone to pick with them.
Maybe it's the visual pollution of spandex that tips people over the edge. Maybe it's because they travel in large packs and devour the entire cafe's seating on Saturday morning. Maybe it's that they keep passing you while you're stuck in traffic late for work, and you end up playing leapfrog, envy growing with each pass.
Sure, there are a number of cyclists who flaunt the rules and blatantly disobey the road code, I'm not saying otherwise. There's also drivers who do the same. Either way, all cyclists get tarred with the same brush, and it's a brush of not very nice-ness. People are more than happy for the few bad apples to spoil the cart. It doesn't seem very fair, but it doesn't keep me up at night.
But I hadn't seen the other side of it, until last week when I accidentally became a cyclist.
The last time I had found myself in the saddle was aged 12, when I used to bike to school in winter, wearing three pairs of gloves stacked upon each other. Then last week, I was decked out in skin-tight apparel and with the funny clippy shoes on, about to ride just shy of 300km over three days across the middle of nowhere on a mountain bike with only two training rides to my name.
It was one of the best experiences of my life, one of the accomplishments I'm most proud of, and some of the greatest fun I've ever had. That's a whole other story. But what it gave me, apart from serious reluctance to sit down for the next four days, was an opportunity to see things from the perspective of a cyclist. Here's what I learnt:
Firstly, there's a surprising number of people who dislike you as soon as they see the bike, without you having to give them any reason at all. Step off the bike and they'd probably give you a friendly nod of the head if you walked past each other on the street. But since you're sitting there turning pedals, they distrust you from the very start, with some innate resentment that must come from past bad experiences.
How do you know?
Because secondly, drivers like to make it very clear whether they like you or not. Some people act like you're riding a billboard bearing personal insults about their mother going down the street. They pull alongside and scowl before hooning away. On the other hand, some pulled alongside us, and cheered us on. You'd be happy to get anything in between, which averages out to something like giving you about a metre and a half of space and not coming past at 80km/h.
I've seen bad cyclists before. I've seen bad drivers before. The fault isn't with either group, it's with the fact that we're all human. A bit more tolerance and co-operation on both sides wouldn't go amiss.
There's a quote from the comedian George Carlin which sums it up nicely: "Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"
The solution (and there needs to be one, because neither group is going anywhere), is to shrink the divide between cyclist and motorist. This article is the most fence-sitting, tip-toeing thing I've ever written, because the last thing I want is to be part of the deepening divide. Both sides are guilty of a "Them vs Us" approach.
It wouldn't take more than common courtesy, and to not prejudge entire groups, and we'd get somewhere fast.
Keep in mind that the cyclist you're passing probably isn't the same one who ran the red light in front of you the other day. Keep in mind the car behind you probably isn't the same person who opened their door without checking last week.
Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Chances are they're probably quite nice, and if you give them respect they'll do the same to you.