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Pedal to the metal

Grace Barnett-Cox dives into the transformative and freeing experience afforded by cycling in Oxford.

Oxford is a city ruled by cyclists. In this cycling paradise, pedestrians often find themselves swept up in the whirlwind of cyclists and tourists, particularly in the nightmarish semi-pedestrianised section of Broad Street. This raises a fascinating question: what fuels this love of cycling in Oxford? And what happens when you switch from being a pedestrian to a cyclist? 

I believe that transitioning from walking to cycling is a transformative experience; it alters the way we think, offering a sense of freedom and independence. One of the most compelling aspects of cycling is the liberating sense of time management it gives. Walking through Oxford can often be a slow and time-consuming endeavour, characterised by navigating yourself around selfie-snapping tourists. Cycling has the magical power to shift your focus from time lost to time gained. Getting on your bike, in my opinion, literally changes your perception of time and distance, as a 20-minute slog becomes a 5-minute breeze. In a place where people often grapple with their schedules and heavy workloads, gaining an extra 15 minutes here and there feels like a small victory. Those extra minutes can be used for more sleep, tik-tok scrolling, or library time. While I relish a leisurely stroll to Christ Church Meadows or South Parks, there’s a distinct shift in my mindset when I need to be somewhere quickly.

As my friend Alice said, “there’s something about cycling past tourists in the little streets that is very empowering.” There’s nothing nicer than cycling past gridlocked traffic or mass crowds and tour guides, revelling in the fact you’re on your trusty bike.

A bike offers a sense of being untethered, the potential for more fun, and a chance to escape from the Oxford bubble. If your friends are gathered in a café or pub across town, and you’re in Jericho, the choice to join them isn’t burdened by a 40-minute walk. Cycling opens new pathways of possibilities and serves as an escape from awkward encounters. Encounter an ex on foot, and there’s no avoiding the situation. On a bike? Just pedal away, leaving your past behind for the day.

Cycling around Oxford also invites you into a new relationship with the city, one that enables a deeper connection through participating in the city’s rich cycling culture. You become part of the larger narrative that surrounds the city, the university, and all those that share a love of cycling. You shift from being a mere walker to an integral part of the city’s foundations and society, adding to the long lineage of cyclists inspired by the whispering spires and cobbled streets- from the literary greats, scientific pioneers, and political visionaries (or Hugh Grant and Nigella Lawson). In this way, you bridge the gap between past and present, whilst leaving your unique mark on the city’s history and preserving the cycling culture for generations to come.

There are, of course, downfalls to cycling. Bike theft in Oxford is on the rise. I had my bike stolen last year. For a long time, I had such anxiety around losing my new bike that I became nervous every time I went to go and pick it up. Over time, my anxiety started to dissipate, as I learned to trust in the shared responsibility of the cycling community to watch out for one another’s bikes. Plus, I invested in a (very) large lock. It’s funny how adversity can actually lead to personal growth and a sturdier D-lock. Importantly, this experience taught me the resilience and determination that cycling enthusiasts in Oxford share. We continue to embrace the joy and community of cycling, even in the face of such challenges.

Cycling in Oxford isn’t just a mode of transport, it’s a means of freedom, excitement, and adventure. It transforms the mundane into something fun and connects you more deeply with the city’s culture. There’s a love story between Oxford and its cycling, and when you make the leap from walker to cyclist, your life takes on new meaning and new possibilities.

Image credit: Elina Sazonova via Pexels.

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