Life Divided: Cycling

Charlie Cheesman and Bessie Yuill consider the pleasures and perils of cycling

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Tourists in Oxford. Tejvan Pettinger/Flickr.

For: Charlie Cheesman

Picture this. It’s 8:59am, you have a 9am tutorial and, as you lie tucked up in your thermal pyjamas, you’re quite clearly late. There are many reasons why you might have ended up in this mess: an extra hour in Bridge chasing that special someone, a case of the infamous freshers’ flu forcing you to have an extra ten minutes in bed, or an alarm which you ‘forgot’ to set (we’ve all been there, pal).

Such inevitable moments are why you come to love the revolutionary invention that is the bicycle. Yes, you might arrive with a slight sheen on your forehead and yes, you might look a bit silly when you eventually join the cycling club and start wearing lycra on a daily basis. But as you storm through the crowds of tourists like a hero from Greek mythology, greater than Hercules, Artemis and Zeus combined, with the wind in your face and your heart pumping away all remnants of last night’s Jäger, these are worries soon forgotten – mostly because you’ve just seen your tutorial partner still a ten-minute walk away, and that means you can choose to talk about the only article on the reading list you actually read.

Cycling has its flaws, yet it is one of life’s simplest pleasures. Oxford’s traffic can be intimidating at rst, but cycling is one of the city’s defining features and, most importantly for students, it’s fantastically cheap. It’s easy when you first arrive at university not to exercise as you rush sporadically from soon-to-be- regretted nights out to whoops-I-forgot-that-was-today lectures, but the bicycle is there to help you through all of this.

Not only will it keep your cardiac muscle in some semblance of working order, and your hips from bursting your jeans, you can sleep soundly knowing that you’re doing something for the planet, that good ol’ Boris Johnson would probably love you, and that Oxford just wouldn’t be Oxford without its bicycles.

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Against: Bessie Yuill

On our way back from a dinner out last term, my friends and I came across a quintessentially Oxford sight. An inebriated lad in black tie was weaving his way through Magdalen Street on a bike, with a girl, half-asleep, balanced side-saddle on the back wheel.

Seeing them roll down the street with such reckless abandon made me realise something: it’s the confidence of cyclists, not the bicycles themselves, which is the main scourge of Oxford’s streets.

I haven’t used a bike since the cycling proficiency test, so I’m far from an expert. But surely helmets are still a thing, right? We didn’t figure out sometime in the past decade that we never needed them, and people had looked like round-headed twats for no reason. Or do Oxford students just have more solid skulls? You’d think the Complete University Guide would factor that in, if so.

I haven’t asked any of these questions out loud, in case I’m shunned by the cycling elite who control this university and constantly talk about ‘locking up’ (elitist cycling slang?). It’s the same intimidating confidence behind this terminology that leads to wheeling about while wasted.

Basically, my number one complaint with cycling in Oxford is that seeing drunk people cycle makes me nervous. I have a delicate constitution and can only handle so much second-hand stress. So next time you ‘saddle up’ (elitist cycling slang again), please think of a passer-by’s blood pressure and walk the extra 20 minutes instead.