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Drivel - How cycling increases social interaction.

One thing I love about cycling is the increase in social interaction that it creates.

At first, when I talk about increasing the social interaction, people think of clubs and groups of like-minded people getting together. In reality it goes much deeper than that. Yes clubs and groups do exist. Yes like minded people get together and talk about their hobby either in person or on internet chat forums. We can track social interaction down through the layers much further than that though, spiralling way past the normal groups.

Lets start at the basic level, a group of like minded people get together and go out together for a social ride, such as a weekly CTC club run. Because they are riding together at the same speed on quiet roads they are able to communicate and chat about anything they fancy. These conversations can go on all day since they are the secondary part of getting together. Normally groups of people who get together to chat only chat for an hour or two, over a pint for example, they donít chat all day.

On long rides these riders get together at rest breaks and chat even more. Riders who ride faster and harder and so cannot communicate as easily when riding still get these opportunities. On a personal level I actually only tend to go out on CTC club runs when I have many things I need to go through with the people who attend! Itís a great opportunity to get together and also enjoy the scenery as we go along.

But now we can track the path of social interaction outside of the initial group. At rest breaks outsiders to the groups start to ask ďCome far?Ē or say ďI used to have a bike like thatĒ. Conversations start to spring up between strangers. On solo rides or on other rides other conversations spring up at the slightest opportunity, typical examples are when riders get lost and ask for directions, or when touring cyclists stop to ask for accommodation for the night. Suddenly the cyclist takes the role of the travelling minstrel of the past, they become weavers of tales and passers on of news.

Cyclists meet the public even more if they move into the realms of ďslightly more unusual than travelling by bikeĒ. I used to think I got into conversations about cycling and other general issues when out riding, then I got some other bikes and found that Iíd only previously seen the tip of the iceberg! If Iím riding the Brompton or tandem then every time I stop I get into a conversation with somebody who is nearby. It isnít me initiating these chats, Iím shy and would actually prefer not to talk to anybody! Instead I find people coming up to me and starting to talk about almost any subject under the sun. As I ride past pedestrians on these unusual bikes I hear the comments they make amongst themselves. On the unicycle itís even more prevalent; I get actually get cars stopping just so the drivers can talk to me about the bike!

Moving outside of the group ride, I find that solo riders meet people quite a bit. On a lonely road the cyclist often acknowledges the homeowner as he passes, sometimes stopping to talk and pass the time of day. If you read books written by dedicated cycle tourers such as Josie Dew in her book Slow Coast Home: 5,000 Miles Around the Shores of England and Wales they give off an impression of the early 1900ís England where everybody talks to everybody and is polite, despite them being modern books! I really enjoy reading these books as they show me that the image of Britain as portrayed in the media isnít actually the case in real life.

Staying outside of group rides, even ďridesĒ as in cycling specific activities such as touring or racing, thereís another side of social interaction and cycling. Last time I got a puncture I stopped and fixed it. In that short time 2 people came up to me to both make sure I was ok and to warn me of other glass in the road. Another cyclist also stopped. As a car driver I am completely unaware of any time I have been offered help or assistance whenever Iíve broken down. Whenever I pass a dead car on a motorway hard shoulder or other location I see nobody offering help, nor do I feel any solidarity with the person stopped (although I always do look and if the person is in obvious distress then I would, and have, stopped.)

As I sit here and try to understand why cycling is so good for social interaction I have to try to think of bicycles in context with other modes of transport. I have lost count of the number of times a friend has driven past and I have waved, only to be ignored; as a pedestrian I wasnít in their driverís field of view so was not noticed. Car drivers are sealed in their boxes and cannot see outside them. Car drivers wonít get out of their vehicles to talk, at best they wind the window down and shout out, as though they are taking refuge inside their areas. They are in their own environment, and it is a closed environment.

Whilst I am writing this the television is showing the lost films of Mitchell and Kenyon which are very interesting and might also hold the answer. The films are from the Edwardian period, and although on film so potentially biased (because they are directed by a single person) I do believe that they are similar enough to other media from that period to portray a real life scenario.

In these films the roads are clear and only populated by pedestrians and cyclists (and the occasional horse and cart). In that scenario conversation and interaction is easy, nobody is sealed inside a metal cage on wheels. In many scenes the groups are congregating because it is the end of the factory shift and so many people are gathered together for the trip home. Today that doesnít happen since at the end of the day there is a personal rush to the car park so that the individual can get their car to the exit first, then drive home in solitude with no company other than the radio.

Our environments are reduced from a wide open space in which we all meet and communicate to a small metal box on wheels in which we sit in solitude, having to resort to technology such as mobile phones in order to communicate with others.

Our environment is moved from a slow pace of life where we can have the time to interact with each other, to a high speed pace of life where we donít get the opportunities to interact with others.

Thatís why I enjoy cycling as I do, it slows life back down to a pace where I can enjoy my surroundings and widen the environment in which I live in order to interact kindly with all that I meet on my travels.


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