Cycling in Cambridge – The Stories of a Clumsy Student

Graciously ignoring the fact that I haven’t posted anything in more than two months, allow me to vent a bit about what cycling in Cambridge is like when you’ve been born with two left legs and the attention span of a goldfish.

As a fresher, one of the first things you want to do when you arrive in Cambridge is to buy a bike. This is especially true for people who don’t study at one of the central colleges, which are a walkable distance away from most shops and university departments. Since you are not allowed to bring your car over and even the U-Bus becomes a bit expensive when you have to use it at least twice a day, cycling is an ever-present activity among students.

Fortunately, there are about 35 (!) bike shops in Cambridge, where you can find both new and second hand bicycles. Unfortunately, just buying a new and shiny bike doesn’t mean you actually know how to use it, as proved by my experiences. Problems might arise if you’ve never tried to ride a bike in your pre-uni life or if you’ve never done it on a public road before (like me). Traffic rules are pretty straightforward, but busy intersections, careless pedestrians and the rush to get to lectures on time can do a number on you. It definitely happened to me more than once and, truth be told, might as well happen again.

This spawn of Satan looks so aesthetic, so I’m just gonna leave it here even though it’s not mine.

Picture number one: a tired Max who only wants to get in bed and curl up in a ball after 8 exhausting hours of lectures and labs. At the entrance of the Engineering Department there’s a traffic light. Tired Max completely forgets about it and runs the red light, which she admits is wrong even though there was almost no one on the street at that time. Cue a metal-blasting motorcyclist cussing at tired Max at the top of his lungs in an unrecognisable accent, as if she could just go back to the traffic light and wait until it goes green. She rides on. The light turns green eventually and the aforementioned motorcyclist passes by her and starts screaming again. Great stuff. A few minutes later, while on Grange Road, all the side streets start looking the same. Max chooses a wrong one, despite cycling on the same effin’ route daily, and keeps going for about 5 minutes before realising that she’s never seen that place before. Wonderful stuff. After managing to find the right street, she tries to actually stop at a traffic light and promptly lands into a fence. Ouchy. About a minute later, she tries to take a turn and – you can see where this is going – fails, comfortably settling into a thorny bush. Magnificent stuff. She removes all the thorns from her right palm and continues this magical, bloody journey, finally arriving at her destination… but not before bumping into the bike shed’s gate.

Honestly, I should have given up cycling that very day, because I’m obviously not made for it. But I didn’t, since I wasn’t seriously injured yet.

Picture number two: a hurried Max who wants to go to Sainsbury’s and also get to college in time for lunch bikes on a street adjacent to King’s Parade. As per usual, about a tsillion tourists roam the place and most of them prefer walking on the street rather than using the sidewalk. It’s pretty hard to slalom between them, so Max lowers her speed. As a group of ladies emerges right in front of her, she honks the bike’s bell and slows down even more, but one of the ladies chooses to brace for impact instead of just moving to the side. Unlucky Max gets her bike’s handlebar stuck in the lady’s purse’s handle. The bike promptly stops moving, but inertia is ruthless and Max is thrown on the pavement, right knee first. Teary-eyed and losing her faith in the world, she goes to Boots, buys a knee support, puts it on over the jeans and carries her bruised bike and dignity to the college, obviously missing lunch.

The second one doesn’t even end there, though. The knee refused to bend for a few days, so I decided to take the bus for a week to avoid further injury and unnecessary pain. The very first day on the bus, the driver suddenly hits the brake with the power of a million suns while making a tight turn. The reason for this nefarious decision was another cyclist, that appeared out of the blue right in front of the bus. Because of the awkward angle of the brake, I’m promptly thrown to the ground and manage to bruise my coccis hard enough to be unable to sit down for a few hours. At this point I started wondering what exactly was wrong with me and decided to pay extra attention to my arms at all times, just in case.

I am, for all intents and purposes, a special kind of stupid. However, almost every student ends up having some sort of bike accident at least once during their uni days, especially during winter months. Whether this is their own fault, because of the traffic or because some cycle lanes suddenly come to a stop in a street fence, no one can surely tell. All I can tell you, though, is to take great care when cycling in Cambridge, at least for the sake of my knee, which will never be as flexible as it once was.

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