Carl Jung, one of the most famous psychoanalysts in history, talks about something called “shadows”. It’s a simple yet powerful concept. Jung sees the so-called shadows as the repressed, unconscious parts of yourself that you hide from both yourself and the world around you.
Ultimately, the shadow is those dark desires and frustrations that we all push into the shadows. “To become aware of this, the dark aspects of the personality must be recognized as present and real,” says Jung of the shadow. “This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.”
This is now the formal description. But if any gonzo journalist reading this wants to find out how this psychological function plays out in reality, with some field research and not just armchair theories, I urge you to hit the brakes, park and get out in London bike to get off. I predict that you will soon become familiar with London’s so-called ‘shadow’ sides.
Whether you hop on a Bojo Bike, opt for a Lime Bike, or get your own two wheels, I suppose you’re likely to see the downsides of city dwellers.
When I first started cycling in London I don’t think I really realized that. I was also happily ignorant of how vilified cyclists are among some Londoners. While I knew some of the well-trodden tropes and had seen snippets of media coverage on the subject, I was far from realizing the magnitude of the problem. Instead, it was a phenomenon that I became aware of through first-hand experience.
While biking in this inner-city jungle was mostly joyful, there were a few less-than-ideal encounters. For about the last year I’ve been trying to collect a record of some of my worst experiences.
Take the male pedestrian who looked outwardly mild-mannered but decided to bark at me unexpectedly aggressively, “Shit, move, bitch, get out of the way” while I was pedaling in a parking lot. I was trudging along at the speed of a snail and wasn’t in his immediate vicinity, so I was genuinely confused as to what had triggered the unprovoked outpouring.
Another uncomfortable incident that comes to mind involved a fellow cyclist yelling at me while I was on a bike lane with my own business. The sun was shining, my stomach was full of delicious food and I was in a good mood.
Unfortunately, this man clearly wasn’t. Looking back, I imagine it was the combination of my riding technique and the fact that I was wearing sandals that seemed to have profoundly rubbed him the wrong way. Despite the warm weather, he was dressed for a cold, damp December day; He wears a fluorescent yellow raincoat and pants, and is outfitted with other heavy-duty cycling gear. This guy was a classic case of the mantra: “All the gear and no idea.”
“You drive all over the place,” he yelled at my butt. That might sound like a fairly harmless, harmless statement, but the poison and anger in his voice were palpable. So much so that I remember wincing. In his defence, I think I spun around a little fleetingly after getting lost in my own thoughts.
Then later, a few minutes up the road, we met again. Then he really yelled at me. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but I remember hearing the F-word and seeing an angry, almost murderous look in his eyes. Make no mistake, this man was raging.
Or take the mother with a small child who yelled, “What the hell are you doing?” at me as I pedaled very slowly a few feet away from her; without danger or interest in approaching her. She left me really, really confused. Or the man who recently pretended to hit me inches from me for no apparent reason while I was riding my bike. For the record, he wasn’t smiling. Maybe he thought I was going to bump into him, but I can tell you I wasn’t.
And then there are the many quirky and sometimes condescending comments I’ve had, which while a bit annoying are at least not aggressive. This came in the form of several all-too-familiar male pedestrians frolicking around in the black light as Fisher Price comedians, super-loud “Boo” at me as I cycle past them. This happened while they were only inches away from me on the sidewalk, and it just feels a bit disconcertingly intrusive.
In fact, I can sometimes feel a bit like a fish on a bike or a monkey in a zoo cycling around London as a woman not wearing cycling gear. A spectacle where I am both admired and ridiculed. Other examples include a man grumpily saying “don’t run over me” when I was several feet away from him and another instance where a man said super loudly “oh beware a cyclist” or shrill comments like “Do you need help? up the hill?”
Interestingly, last November British Cycling warned London cyclists that “dehumanizing” language aimed at them online could lead to real-world aggression on the road. Nick Chamberlain, policy manager at cycling’s top national governing body, told the evening standard Fears centered on aggression being “manifested verbally or, tragically, physically when people have used a vehicle as a weapon.” Back in 2019 British Cycling ran a campaign to change attitudes towards cyclists in the wake of Channel 5 The scourge of the streets Documentary.
Mr Chamberlain, who spoke to me for this article, told me he speaks to British cyclists every week who say they have suffered abuse and violence on the roads. “I speak to many women within our membership and within the sport and their experiences echo yours,” he adds.
“What women in particular are reporting is an added layer of misogynistic abuse. This can be from other cyclists. Men don’t seem to be able to help themselves with derogatory comments or abuse about how a woman drives or where she’s going. Women have to put up with an extra layer of toxicity that makes the problem worse.”
Unfortunately, Anna Mulcahy, who has been cycling every day in London for over five years, has had these problems first-hand too. The 30-year-old, who works in the charity industry, tells me about an incident where a man in a car threw a milkshake at her five years ago. “The car decided to switch to the bike lane,” Mulcahy recalls. “I had to get out of the way because he pulled into me. It was scary. He said fuck off you whore. He threw his milkshake at me. His window was down. It didn’t hit me. He cried. He really wanted it. It was 9 o’clock.”
Ms Mulcahy estimates that once a week someone will yell at her or do something dangerous – adding male cyclists gives her more space and cuts her less on the roads as she bought a more expensive bike. She equates the abuse she suffers while cycling with normal street anger, but adds that because you’re a woman, you’re “treated differently.”
“The misogyny is tiring,” she chimes in. “Some friends don’t want to ride a bike in London because they think it’s scary and feel a bit intimidated by the cars and then other cyclists who are really assertive – cyclists in lycra who ride 20 miles cut you up and feel like you’re standing in their way and yelling at you.”
Despite the abuse I’ve experienced while cycling in London, the pros still radically outweigh the cons. After all, cycling feels like freedom. Let’s put it this way: I feel immeasurably safer zipping along on my two wheels late at night in London than I do walking down the street. In addition, cycling not only satisfies the thrill in me, but also saves a lot of money; something that never goes wrong in this crippling livelihood crisis.