Oxford is synonymous with bikes almost as much as books. In fact, you’re probably more likely to get hit by a bike than a car while trying to cross the road.
The souvenir shops along Cornmarket Street are teeming with bike-related ‘Oxford’ items, the majority of the city centre streets are wholly or partly closed to motor vehicles, and the parking situation is tight enough to make even the most confident of parallel parkers sweat. Overall, Oxford is a pretty unfriendly place for cars.
So of course, I, a naïve fresher, came to Oxford with the romantic view that I would be idyllically cycling between lectures in the glorious sunshine, books in my basket, pedalling past the dreaming spires of Oxford.
I can assure you this was not the case.
To begin with, I was confronted by the harsh reality that the last time I had actually ridden a bike was when I was twelve on a family holiday in Ireland and I was fairly certain my balance had deteriorated since then. Therefore, I waited. I created a bike-sized hole in my bank account in the form of VKs while I watched those more experienced than myself navigate the bike lanes of Oxford, manoeuvring themselves through the crowds of tourists without falling off. I was genuinely gripped by fear at the thought of hand-signalling requiring me to loosen my grip on my handlebars.
However, the walk to and from hockey training on Iffley Road multiple times a week quickly led to a reassessment of my transport situation. Come Hillary, a bike purchase was on the cards.
Unfortunately, a satisfactory level of cycling proficiency was not included in my bike purchase. The first few weeks of Hilary were spent mastering cycling so slowly that I made Oxford professors seem like Olympians. Therefore, with hindsight from my experienced position as a cyclist who has smashed a phone on the Plain roundabout, suffered mild self-inflicted whiplash from riding into the back of a taxi, and had a few near-death experiences trying to turn right, I would like to impart some of my newfound wisdom in the hope of preventing any further cycling catastrophes:
1. Lock up your bike. There is nothing comparable to the sinking feeling following the realisation that your bike is no longer in the spot you left it. Oxford is rated the second-worst city for bike theft, with 9.1 thefts per 1000, so invest in a good lock to prevent yourself having to sacrifice that ball ticket for a replacement.
2. WD-40 is your friend. Purchase some at the start of term and thank yourself later when you aren’t stuck outside in the pouring rain, telling yourself if you jam your key in one more time at a better angle that the lock will un-stick. Spoiler: it won’t.
3. Get cosy with the curb. Every time a bus drives past, the cycle lane reduces by a significant chunk, which proves particularly stressful for the wobblier of us.
4. Get flashing. Bike lights are only useful if you remember to turn them on…
5. You’re not too cool to wear a helmet. If it came to a bust-up between your head and the pavement, I’m sure there would be a clear winner. #Protectionmatters.
In sum, cycling in Oxford, at least for the first while, mainly revolves around trying to avoid a collision while maintaining an element of dignity on the two-wheeled contraption you have very limited control over. But stick with it, fellow non-cyclist cyclers, because it really does make your life a whole lot easier.