Thursday, 28 January 2010

Cool winter cycling

For a long time cycling has been one of my passions, and I was determined to keep this up here in Budapest. It's always interesting to see how different cultures interact with this activity, so I've been trying to get some understanding about what it means here. One thing it means is being slightly lunatic - the thermometer I pass each morning said -10deg today, and there is ice forming on the river (visible in this early morning photograph).

Before I came I heard terrible things about cycling in Budapest; drivers don't pay attention to bikes, the roads are terrible, there are few dedicated cycling lanes. That's Budapest? More like Sheffield or any one of many other UK cities. In fact, so far it seems to me that cycling provision is actually not bad. There are cycle lanes around much of the city, including the wonderful one along the Danube that I use every morning (which gets its own bike-sized snow plough).

And, at this time of the year at least, there's not that much traffic compared to UK cities. But, the drivers are worse, and do drive at high speed where they can. More traffic would actually slow them down...

But actually here it seems as if cycling is something slightly subversive. Helen told me that according to the RyanAir in-flight magazine that the Budapest cycling scene is "hip and cool". Hey, that's me. And various other things I'd seen had already made me wonder that - like the coolest bars seem to have cycle racks, and that sort of thing.

And also the weird fact that cyclists here seem loathe to wear anything other than dark grungy clothing, even at night. Before coming I bought myself a new very yellow thickish cycling jacket, as some means of defence against the crazy traffic I was going to have to deal with. But in several weeks now I haven't seen another person looking like me. (OK, they're hip and cool, I'm not). This had come home to me last night when I went to an event organised by a local cycling association that was using this week to promote city cycling in the winter. Part of this was a 'fashion show' where people wandered up and down demonstrating good cycle gear for the winter. The commentary was in Hungarian so I might have missed the finer points, but the emphasis seemed to be on funkiness and being multicoloured rather than on visibility - with 50+ cyclists there, guess how many people had hi-viz jackets? You got it.

Then as I walked up from the cycle racks in the basement this morning someone who works here stopped me to ask where I had got my jacket. He said he couldn't find anything suitable in the shops here, so I recommended he try mail order from a country where cyclists are less cool (and possibly less suicidal).

Perhaps I'm starting a new fashion, perhaps I'm going to be the Coco Chanel of Budapest cycling, and hi-viz yellow will be the new black?

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