Ding Dong: Cycling in Safe Mode

My last car had a feature that became an annoying fault; a fault that remained unresolved to its end. At certain times of stress (going fast uphill, going fast or just generally going…) it would revert to “safe mode”. For this particular diesel vehicle, this involved disabling the turbo, which meant limping along until one could reset the ECU by turning off the ignition. As you can imagine, this would be a right pain, especially if you happened to be driving 500 miles through France and safe mode triggered every time there was a hill on the Péage.

I discovered safe mode on my bike this week, but it turned out to be a real pleasure instead of a pain. Having set off in the extreme heat of this abnormal British summer, keen to get up and down a few hills I found myself all hot and bothered at the top of Devil’s Dyke in Sussex. I entered my own cycling “safe mode” and trundled down towards Hove and hit the cycle path on the sea front without really having to turn a crank in anger. It isn’t possible in many cases to freewheel all the way home, so I still had to tackle the coast road to get back. I chose the cycle path for once, as I was still enjoying safe mode, and the sea breeze was wonderful in the searing heat. In fact it was a wonderfully pleasant change to roll along with the masses on the prom. As I headed behind the harbour, I was passed by a fisherman on his ancient mountain bike, off to dig some bait on the shoreline and I was passed by a blur of young commuter, gunning his bike (complete with aero bars) Froom style towards the dock gates. I would probably have been passed by anyone else who might have been cycling in the same direction, such was my perambulatory pace, but it was lovely.

I decided to go out again today and instead of racing off I set off again in safe mode and chose the cycle path on the sea front between Shoreham and Worthing. This time I came across all sorts of obstacles: families with dogs and stray children taking up the whole path; couples cycling two abreast going even slower than I was; folk coming off the beach perpendicular to my path completely oblivious to any cyclists on the path. My usual course of action might have been to curse quietly to myself and make a note not to go that way again, but not today. I was enjoying safe mode. Instead, I called at the first bike shop I came across and asked if they had a bell! I’ve not had one of those on my bike for years. The mechanic went out to the workshop and rummaged around in a drawer that seemed to be full of the things and came back with a choice of two. “You can have any of these for a couple of quid,” he said, “folk usually take them off before they even leave the shop.” I only had about 95p in silver coins but that was “plenty”, he said. “Thank you very much!” said I.

The cycle path back was a dream. I saw folk about to be in my way and I gave a quick “ding” from about 100m. They turned, looked and stood by as I breezed past gently, still enjoying safe mode, and noting to myself that this was definitely something I should do again at least twice a week. The bell comes off easily enough, but I might just leave it on to remind me that I don’t always have to ride at threshold pace. It will be my aide memoire that I always have safe mode if I just want to enjoy the experience of being on the bike in the fresh air.

(Of course, the “Ding Dong” in the title is hardly alliteration in this case, but “Ting Ting” didn’t sound quite right.)

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