Share via Email My favourite cycling jacket has a beautiful design feature. One of the back pockets has a buttonhole on the inside, and then there are two little loops on the hem around the armhole. The idea is that you could have an MP3 player stowed in your rear pocket with the headphone wires routed up inside your jacket.
It's a nicely executed, clever detail. But one I'll never use. On Monday, a coroner's court in London heard the beginning of an inquest into the death of Patricia McMillan. The year-old law student was cycling to work when she was hit by a lorry, dragged under its wheels and killed. She was wearing an iPod at the time, and a close friend speculated whether her failure to hear the lorry had contributed to the fatal incident.
Although this explanation remains, at this point, speculative pending the coroner's full findings , it hasn't prevented newspapers reporting the iPod factor as a cautionary tale. There are two annoying subtexts here - one implicitly blaming the victim of the tragedy, and the other reinforcing the idea that the Grim Reaper waits on every corner to scythe down cyclists - but I'm trying to get past that.
The heart of the matter, surely, is this: The idea is very appealing. But I don't do it because, instinctively, I feel I need all my senses to be safe. You're always listening for the car behind, even if you're barely conscious of doing so. And often it's precisely because you're listening out that you look behind, and then reassure yourself that the driver has seen you. There's no way of knowing whether being able to hear the lorry would have saved McMillan.
But what cyclists do know, because it happens every day, is that pedestrians step out in front of us because they haven't heard us coming. This problem is only made worse by people who are on the phone or have earphones in.
But perhaps there's a philosophical as well as a practical reason for cyclists to avoid turning ourselves into dangerously distracted solipsists on wheels. The iPod phenomenon belongs to a new existential mode in which we do all we can to insulate ourselves from our environment in a capsule of creature comforts.
Every individual becomes his or her own gated community: The car, with its sound system, climate control and cupholders, is the apotheosis of this antisocial protective shield. I like to think that the bicycle offers, among other things, a different way of being in the world, one that is potentially more human and social. And like music itself, the best way to enjoy cycling is live and unplugged.
All your cycling questions answered Dear Matt, How easy is it to travel with a bicycle on an airline? Are there any special requirements and what will it cost?
Steve D'Almeida, via email It's surprisingly easy - in many ways, easier than travelling by rail. But first, when buying your ticket, check the airline's requirements and whether a reservation for a bike is necessary.
Good packing is crucial: If your bike is valuable, then as much padding as possible ie pipe lagging and bubble-wrap is also a good idea - baggage handlers cannot be relied upon to have tender feelings for bicycles. You should also remove the pedals, turn the handlebars so that they are flat with the frame and let the air out of the tyres or they may explode cargo holds are not pressurised. A disposable solution for cycle tourers is to get a cardbox box from a bike shop. But you will have to find another for the return journey.