Getting around the city could be so easy if it weren’t for everyone else on the road. Here is an A to Z of the most important drivers and riders you’re likely to encounter in the average urban environment.
By Max Scharnigg
The combat cyclist
Clad in a yellow reflective vest and red helmet, his trousers rolled up to mid-calf to keep them out of reach of the greasy chain, long-suffering trekking gears flying: everything about the combat cyclist transmits the message that he is not out here to have fun. A handlebar-mounted bell is his weapon of choice against fair-weather cyclists and other obstacles and is often employed at the merest hint of probable cause. If cycling paths had a passing lane, then that is where he’d be. Since they don’t though, he is forced to ride an annoyed slalom around everyone else, consequences be damned. Always in a hurry and always in the right – after all he and he alone embodies the ecological conscience of the city, a role he adopted somewhere around 1982. Slow cyclists, red lights and car drivers are all equally likely to be subjected to his wrath and he keeps a stable of tame lawyers to back him up. While others may take to two wheels to relax, he arrives in the office covered in sweat, blood pressure sky-high and cycling glasses plastered with bugs. But he got there first and that’s what counts.
The condescending car-sharer
His mantra: “Heeey guys? It’s 2019 and really, no one has to own a car in the city!” And while this comes as no surprise to anyone, apparently it bears repeating as if he were in sole possession of a completely new and exciting insight. The condescending car-sharer has registered under absurd names and selfies with twelve different apps and sends his credit card and driving license out through the net. Now he knows everything there is to know about the new mobility options in the city, all from the comfort of his smartphone. E-scooter, motor scooter, rental car – he’s got it all covered, easy peasy. Assuming, of course, that the service providers have not yet declared bankruptcy and someone has parked a vehicle somewhere in the vicinity. He blithely jumps from one means of conveyance to another while deliberately overlooking the fact that his experience with a large segment of his vehicle fleet is extremely limited. His understanding of the rules of the road is also somewhat rudimentary. No matter though, practice on the streets makes perfect. It’s not that important anyway, as the vehicles don’t belong to him. So it is with a clear conscience that he leaves his Drive Now car in someone’s private drive, takes out the odd wing mirror or two with his motor scooter, and accidently parks the E-scooter at the bottom of the canal. Oops, my bad! A sense of direction, thinking ahead at the wheel, consideration for others – he’s got no time for all that nonsense, not when there is so much fun to be had zigging and zagging through traffic. That car sharers are the new Sunday drivers is apparently another insight no one has thought to share with him yet.
The SUV mum
Entire circuses have unfolded around her, but the SUV mum remains blissfully unaware of all the ruckus. She has quite enough on her plate dealing with her chakras and child (diagnosed gifted), thank you very much. She isn’t really into cars either, but the size of her chariot is very practical. Once inside, the stressful world fades into the background and she enjoys the rare moment of being truly above it all. An automatic transmission and on-board cameras outfitted with warning systems help her navigate city traffic and even cyclists smile and wave respectfully when she cuts them off. Simply marvellous. And although experience has shown that her behemoth can roll right over small impediments with nary a bump, parking is still a bit of a headache. No matter though: it’s easy to double park in front of the childminder’s, school and the yoga studio. The secret to her success: flip on the hazard lights and act like you are just dashing in to pick something up...
The hunter-gatherer of the modern world, showing off his pride in little Emma-Sophie perched in her bike seat and in this amazing piece of engineering skill he powers through the hipper parts of the city powered by his own body. He zips by going a whopping seven kilometres per hour, so busy calculating how much carbon dioxide he is saving that he fails to see the traffic jam building up behind him on the cycling path. He also dismisses complaints that the two-and-a-half metres of his family cruise ship are blocking the courtyard as petty jealously. His t-shirt boldly proclaims “think globally, cycle locally.” To underscore this timely message, the apathetic child passengers share space with an XXL package of toilet paper, a case of craft beer and a bag of clinking bottles destined for the recycling centre. It takes a while to get moving again when the light turns green, just long enough that the cyclist behind him has to wait for the next green light.
The tradesmen lorry
Most mornings this vehicle can be seen racing down the passing lane on the motorway, living up to its “Sprinter” name by moving a four-man crew plus mini excavator in the back at 185 km/h. The more sedate pace of the city seems to lull the driver into forgetting about blinkers and the rules of civil obedience. Double parking is the only way to go, unless, of course, there is a space right in the front entryway. Anyone who dares complain is encouraged in a thick, regional dialect to move along and leave them to get their work done. Cyclists, pushchairs and other urban elements are regarded with the blatant disregard these unfamiliar creatures warrant. The tradesman then marks his newly conquered territory, the essential free parking space, with empty paint cans and 14 metres of sheeting. But no one is likely to notice in the city, right?
The road bike hipster
This urban dweller is easy to spot, as he slings his beast of burden over his shoulder and lugs it up and down three flights of stairs twice a day. To protect the vintage steel frame from would-be thieves, he claims. In reality though, it’s because he enjoys the chance to impress his next Tinder conquest with the bike hanging in pride of place above his bed in his flat share. When the weather is fair, he pedals the roughly 700 metres at a leisurely pace through the part of the city he has personally gentrified to the agency where he works. There he mesmerizes co-workers with tales of past glory as a rebellious bicycle courier, but only to distract them from the fact that he avoids long distances whenever possible. He is no longer in the first bloom of youth, after all, and the thin wheels, saddle and low-slung riding position are not at all comfortable. He’ll never admit it though, any more than he’ll share the fact that the bike has remained in its impressive perch above his bed more and more in recent days when he chooses to walk, which is sure to be the next hip thing. At least he hopes so.