21 November, 2012


I’m the master of playing Chicken.  It’s not quite farm boys and tractors, but more bicycles and pedestrians, with the odd truck thrown in for good measure.

When I first arrived here and started cycling every day I was the chicken.  I hadn’t been on a bike for years, and although I grew up riding push bikes and motorbikes, it was always on the farm or in the middle of nowhere, not in the big city with cars, trucks, buses, or pedestrians who refuse to look anywhere except straight ahead.

So, I wobbled back and forth to work, seemingly having a near-death experience at least once a day.  Did terrible things to my blood pressure.  Maarten kept insisting I toughen up and cycle like a Dutchman: “We don’t give way, we take way,” but I never had the balls to cycle like him.  This is a man who is afraid of nothing on the bike.  Conversations like this were perfectly normal:  

Maarten:  “Oh by the way, I was hit by a car today on the way to work.”

Me:  “You what?!”

Maarten:  “I had way, but he drove straight into me anyway.”

Me:  “Are you hurt?”

Maarten:  “Nah, I did end up with his side mirror in my lap though.  Called him a klootzak and kept going.  He didn’t even notice that he hit me.  I just threw the mirror in a canal and went on to work.”

Seriously.  That was an actual conversation.  No wonder I was shitscared.

But, I knew it was time to grow a pair.  So I would tentatively hold my line, wobbling a bit through intersections with eyes half closed bracing for impact and after a few encounters, my confidence started to grow.

By encounters, I mean a head on smash with another cyclist (she tried to cut a corner without looking and took me out - her bike was a write off, but I toddled off unscathed, but shaken), hitting a pedestrian who stepped out in front of me at the last moment without looking (I smashed my face on the edge of the curb and he disappeared into thin air) and more close encounters of the car kind than I can even remember.

As my confidence grew, so did my attitude.  I mean, I had been in a couple of big smashes so my fear left me.  I started cycling like it was the Champs Elysee on the last day of The Tour - fast, but not aggressive - and I adopted the policy of always holding my line.

So far it has served me well.  I don’t come home traumatised from my experiences on the road (and there are still many, many near death experiences) and I take no prisoners.

Here’s how to win a game of Chicken - Dutch Style:

Step one - Always look straight ahead.  Under no circumstances may you turn your head one way or another.  Do not make eye contact.  As soon as you make eye contact all is lost.

Step two - Assess the situation.  How big is the other cyclist/pedestrian? How close are you going to come to actually colliding with said person?

Step three - Hold your line.  Be confident!  No wobbles.  Do not waver.

Step four - Veer ever so slightly to the left (this is a dirty intimidation tactic that I use when I’m in a particularly bad mood).

Step five - Pretend that you are the only person on the planet and do not slow down.

Step six - You’re through!  Now cycle on with a little smile on your face, you’re a winner!

Slight variation:  If you’re coming up behind someone, ding your bell about 20 metres out, then again at 10 and 5 metres.  If collision is imminent, stick your elbow out and aim.

Note that I only ever employ these tactics when a cyclist is on my side of the path, a car is not giving way (I still waver a bit when it comes to cars though!) or a pedestrian steps out in front of me.  I don’t actively seek these situations out, I’m an idiot magnet!

If you want to play Chicken with me, you will lose.  I’m a hardened commuter cyclist.

Just for fun, here’s a clip of the best game of Chicken ever:

PS.  Remind me one day to tell you the story of how Maarten went berserk after a pedestrian stepped out in front of him on an icy day.  Pure comedy gold.

How do you cycle?  Do you take no prisoners or are you a bit timid?

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