Uneasy Riders started towards the end of Volume 1 of Citycycling.
And now it's back... Each new chapter will appear in the Citycycling magazine,
and the whole story will then make its way into these pages.
But it couldn't really happen... Could it???
Geoffrey always felt nervous going to see the Minister. It wasn't that he ever actually did anything overt to cause the unease, but Callidon Murcar was not a man to call in help unless it was something big. And Geoffrey, who generally dealt with complaints about the lack of grit in winter, or broken streetlights, wasn't really a man for anything 'big'. But dutifully he had jumped in the ministerial car from Block 3 to Block 5 and was now walking in the corridors of the Department for Transportation Promotion.
Jackie, Callidon's personal assistant, and other things besides if the rumours were to be believed, let him in and there he was. Murcar, 6 feet of overweight chain smoker. The man who had brought in the law making smoking legal again. The man who had almost singlehandedly outlawed deviancy (the definition for which was effectively 'anything the state deems to be sufficiently separate from the norm to be decided on a case by case basis'). The man who had rid the streets of cyclists.
Pockets of resistance. Acting as if they were outside the law, which in effect they virtually were, Geoffrey considered, who would indulge in guerilla filtering and spray-paint bike lanes onto the roads. As if they had a right to be there.
It was at this moment that Geoffrey noticed him. Standing in the corner, slightly behind Callidon as he poured himself a brandy that Geoffrey could smell across the room. He was... It was...
"BROOKS, Geoffrey, B.R.O.O.K.S. Bicycling Robot On Orders to Kill Cyclists. We had to change the 'C' to an 'S', the name didn't work otherwise..."
"It's a.. robot?"
"Yes Geoffrey, the clue is in the name, do keep up. It's designed to look like any ordinary cyclist. A bit shifty, dressed in funny clothes that no self-respecting human adult should ever consider. It even has a 'smug' mode."
"If you don't mind me saying sir, that's brilliant, it should flush out the rest of those reprobates quite successfully. This could be your best moment yet sir."
"I wish I could take the credit Geoffrey, I really do. But this came from the top, I'm merely the man in charge of the project from here on in."
"The top sir?"
"Yes Geoffrey. The Top. President Clarkson himself..."
How on earth do the car keys find their way down the back of the sofa every time? Ah well, at least I'd found them and could head off to work. It was already 6am, and I had to get in for 9. I hated running late, I'd just have to hope that the three miles to work were clear.
The multi-storey carpark beside the flat might have blocked all light to the building, but with approximately three cars to every household it was a necessary evil, and parking within 30 seconds walk of everyone's home had been an election pledge of President Clarkson that he had had no intention of backing out of.
People had been worried when he also banned speed limits, and removed all speed cameras, but they were ignoring the genius of the man. With no restrictions placed on driving, with fuel subsidised by a tax on organic food, and car tax abolished, everyone in the country could have a car. And with more cars on the road making them more dangerous everyone felt the need to get bigger cars. And so by degrees the roads became so clogged that nothing could move faster than the old speed limits anyway, and was moving so slowly that any accidents had naturally lesser impact.
At a stroke deaths caused by cars dropped to virtually zero, although this was also in part due to the banning of cycling, and the depedestrianisation of city centres. Then outskirts. Then suburbs.
By 7am I was out of the car park. I might just make that 9am meeting. Like every morning I slid past Terence in his campervan on the slip road to the right. Three years he'd been there now. The tomatoes in the greenhouse out the back of the van were coming along nicely this year, only slightly greying with the fumes.
Business flourished, another example of the intelligent forethought of our benevolent leader. With pavements removed shop fronts could be opened directly out onto the road and serve people as they drove past. Coffee was bought and cars came with an array of additional optional extras for this brave new world. Curtains could turn your car into a changing room to try on that new shirt; boots opened from the side of the car rather than the rear to take larger items; and gas masks dropped from behind the sunshade whenever the levels of pollution coming through the air filters got too high.
8am and I've managed the first two miles in an hour. That's close to my record, but this last mile is always the one that's busy. Last year I got stuck here for two days, so I'm not going to get my hopes up just yet. Two cars to my right a woman is giving birth - a regular occurence, leading to a spate of children called Ford or Chrysler or Holden. There's even the occasional Aston, which must have been uncomfortable.
And then it happened. He came from nowhere, a flash of movement in a sea of tranquility. Two wheels, unmistakeable despite not having seen one in a few years. A cyclist. The motion was unexpected and you could feel the tension in the jam. And then came the shout, "Oi! You can't be doing that. You don't pay to be on this road." A little voice in my head rolled back through the changes in the law and tax regime that meant that neither did we. I tried to beat it down, but at the same time there was something nagging me. A memory from being a kid, a freedom that was only matched by that day I earned my driving licence. That voice in my head kept going, trying to work out if I still had that freedom when in the car. It didn't take long for the answer.
But just as quickly the cyclist was gone, though you could feel his wave down the traffic. Confused, upset, jealous?
A feeling welled up inside me that took me back to that memory. Looking between the cars I could see a pathway between them. A passageway lined in metal. Tentatively I opened the door, something I hadn't done outside a car park in so long now. The guy in the car alongside me had a look on his face that made it clear he was wondering why he always ended up sitting beside the crazy one in the jam.
I stepped out of the car. Liberation washed over. This was the opposite of that day I got my driving licence. I was a mile from work. I had no idea how long it would take to walk. 2 hours maybe? If a car can do it in half an an hour, or 20 minutes on a good day, then walking must surely take... What? Four of five times as long? Minimum. But hell, I was going to be late for the meeting anyway. The car would be in the same place.
I strode out. Strode. Not hesitant. Not worried. And I left my standard issue non-driving yellow tabard in the boot. After all, the police were stuck as well.
"Callum? CALLUM! Where are you boy! Oh... You're there. What are you doing in so early? And you're... Smiling?"
"Sorry sir, I meant to be in later, but, well, I walked." The look of incredulity on Callidon's face was matched by an unusual speechlessness that stretched to at least half a minute.
"What on earth is wrong with your car? Why didn't you call to work from home?"
"My car is on the upper 6th, look like it was going to be a repeat of that day last month where I worked form the car for three days. I just. I saw a cyclist..."
"A cyclist???!? Hmmmm. You might be the man for the job."
"Job sir?" It was the type of word from Callidon that usually didn't bode well.
"Yes, job. We've got this 'thing' called BROOKS and it needs put in place..."
* * *
Malcolm had had a blast. The new handlebars had given the ride a slick, controlled, relaxed feel. The three mile route had been a zig-zag through cars and horns, and he could feel the perplexed looks staring at his back after he'd passed each stationary vehicle. Occasionally there would be a shout, and as usual one person had tried to grab him to execute a citizen's arrest, but fortunately these days the average waistline size made capture something of an impossibility.
He wasn't in a hurry, had taken the long route to prolong the fun. He'd even left the apartment early to give himself that extra time on the bike. He was sure he'd seen a guy walking, but that... Well that was impossible.
* * *
"This, Callum, is BROOKS."
I was being briefed. Geoffrey was there, Callidon's little snivelling gopher, with a strange half-smile on his face. The technology was astounding. As far as I could tell it looked like a real cyclist. They had based him on pictures from 2011, a time which had apparently become known as the Heyday of Cycling. It was a retrospective name, nobody at the time realised that it would take only another 12 years before cycling was banned.
I remember them coming to take my tricycle away.
And now here I was with the Minister, being briefed to carry out work ordered by Prime Minister Clarkson himself. It was a simple task really. I would help the BROOKS infiltrate a band of cyclists, and then to aid his cover I would be exposed as a government agent by BROOKS. The robot would then wait for the opportune moment before taking out the group armed with an SUV. It was foolproof.
Apart from one small problem. In order to pass as a cyclist initially, even one to be exposed in that way, I'd have to be able to ride a bike. I'd never even had the chance to try.
"We have a crack team," interjected Geoffrey, "who have been studying cycling for the last 18 months, and they think they've cracked just how it is done."
"They better had done!" Callidon boomed, "It can't be THAT difficult!"
"Well last week one of the scientists broke his right arm, left ankle, collarbone and dislocated his shoulder. As far as I understand it they've been struggling to work out just how the 'balance' thing works. But I got a call yesterday afternoon that said they had managed a short ride of 53 yards. The scientist who managed the feat apparently went on to ride for 87 yards, then 134 yards, and refused to get off the bike at the end of the experiment!"
"See, THIS is why we need to stamp this out now. Cycling becomes evangelical. It's a dangerous move gentlemen. First it's cycling, then the environment, then they stop wars that must be fought. Cycling is the start to a slippery slope. We must do all in our power to stop this. And that, Callum," here Callidon stared me straight in the eye, "also means no more bloody walking."
Geoffrey's turn to stare. "You walked?!?"
"It was quite... refreshing... actually..."
"Callum, that's enough. Mind on the job. Mind on the job."
* * *
Malcolm rolled into the dark warehouse, bunny-hopping over a couple of planks, clipping them as he came down, the 'snap' reverberating around the empty space. Or seemingly empty. "Jeez Malc! You want to give us all away???"
"Sorry Lyn, got carried away."
"Yeah, I saw you on the Upper 6th, beaming away to yourself. You'll get caught one of these days."
"Hang on, you saw me? Where were you? How did you beat me here? I know I took the slightly longer route, but I was shifting and... Wait... You finished restoring it didn't you? You've built the Raptobike?"
"Mind on the job Malcolm, mind on the job..." She smiled. That smile. I knew none of this, but my time would come.
"I can't believe you've built it..."
"Why not? It's faster than that backward thing you ride."
"Yeah, but come on, it was that bike. That very bike, that started everything. Don't you remember? Summer 2018, Clarkson test driving some 23 litre V8 or something, and he got overtaken by someone on a Raptobike. THAT Raptobike. He never forgot that y'know. Never. Remember him easing in the anti-bike laws into place, he started with recumbents, the experience had scarred him, then folding bikes, then he realised the loophole of the Moultons. It was the beginning of the end for us."
"Which makes this a symbol. A totem. It's a pity actually that cars don't travel that fast anymore, there isn't the same fun in passing them when they're going 2 miles an hour."
A sound made them turn suddenly. When you lived the life of an underground cyclist you had to be ready to ride at a moment's notice. You had to be good for a sprint of, say, 100 metres. There was no way they could catch you if you got that far ahead, not through that congestion. Clarkson would come to realise in the years ahead that turning the police into a Carborg force was perhaps a mistake as they found themselves unable to break free from the traffic jams clogging the streets.
But the feet were eased off the pedals as Clem, Jem and Em rolled into view. Three siblings who were once set to take the cycling world by storm. 'Siblings' being perhaps a stretch of the word, but clones, with Macaskill blood in their veins. So naturally they rolled into view backwards, on one wheel, with no feet on the pedals. Somehow, and the scientists could never explain accurately why, though it's probably because they were cycling-scientists for whom fettling was just part of their nature, some Wiggins DNA had found its way into Clem's make-up.
"Hey Clem. Em. Jem. You didn't see Brian on your way here did you?"
"Oh come on, he's always late. Probably got a speck of dirt on that hip ride of his."
Brian was new to the subversive world of illegal cycling. An architect, 42 years old, who practically lived in style magazines. He'd bought a stack of back issues of Rouleur, attracted by the shiny, pretty pictures. There soon followed a black market deal on a carbon Cervelo; but that was never going to be enough, and soon he started drifting into the hardcore world of Sunday newspaper magazine supplements and soon had traded in the Cervelo and his girlfriend for a Condor. His pride and joy. He only made the meetings when it wasn't raining.
"Hey folks!" They jumped. He loved that, the jump his announced arrival always got. Sneaky silent fixed wheel. "I've brought someone along."
The others looked up and down the newcomer, Lyn had a look of thunder on her face. Newcomers were not to be encouraged, and were supposed to be discussed before brought along to the group. And this was supposed to be her day, the unveiling of the Raptobike. But now there was this... This... Actually. He was quite hot...
"Ladies and gentleman, this is Brooks. Say hi Brooks."
"Hi," said Brooks, "Do you like my bike?"
"Oh... Erm... Hello?" I had no idea where I was. Brian and BROOKS had been with me as we were getting ready, then by the time I'd put on my helmet, elbow guards, knee pads, and bright yellow jacket they were already off in the distance. I set off as fast as possible, but this thing was an antique. It was called a 'Boardman', whatever that was, and I found myself weaving all over the place trying to go in a straight line with my legs spinning around like crazy because I couldn't work out how the gears changed. It was actually only by chance, as I fell against a wall and saw the brake thing move as it hit the wall that I got the idea.
Well. For changing the gears one way at least.
I saw Brian and BROOKS make a left turn, and a few minutes later when I got to the point I made the same turn, into a dark, dank warehouse. It was right out of one of those movies where you're screaming at the lead character not to go in, as the camera trails him from a distance with occasional shadows flitting in front of the lens. "Hello? I think I've broken the handbrake thingy. Hello?"
She was on me in a flash, a multi-tool open at my throat. "Who. Are. You?"
Then I heard Brian, "Oh, he's with me as well. Brooks insisted he came along. He's Craig."
"Yeah, that's it. Hey, I pulled such a sweet trackstand on the way here..." Brian's voice tailed off as Lyn pulled me behind a pillar. Her eyes were green; her hair a dark, rich red; there was something about that little cog tattoo I could just make out on her bare calf. For a moment I was glad I was wearing lycra.
"Right, who are you? And who is that Brooks character? Brian will just ramble off like the fool he is talking all 2000s about things being 'sweet' and 'sick'. So you. Talk."
"Well. Erm. I'm Callum... Hi?"
"And how on earth did you meet Callum?"
"Oh, that's easy, let me remember... Oh yes, I'd given him a call to design a new garage for me and we got talking about my car," I swear she growled at this point, "And things just kind of grew from there really. He mentioned a bit about bicycles, one thing lead to another, and I found this bike in an antique dealer's store. It has been made safe of course. Chain removed; no brakes; no tyres. But Brian helped with that. And. Um. That's it really."
"And the big hunk.. I mean, hulk, in there?" The always like the monosyllabic unintelligent lumps don't they? I tried to hide the disappointment in my voice.
"He's my... Er... nephew. He was staying with me when Brian put the chain on."
"He doesn't look much like you."
I could feel the sweat clinging inside my Team SKY Geraint Thomas commemorative Tour de France winner cycling jersey. "No, he's my nephew on my mother's side..." I was going to get found out, that much was clear. And then there was shouting from the other side of the pillar. Lyn let go, anger still flashing in those lovely green eyes, and stormed round to see BROOKS engaged in a trackstanding competition with Clem, Em and Jem. I needed to get myself involved with the group if this was going to work. "Not taking part Brian? You were telling me and Brooks about that pedal-balancing thingy on the way to meeting us weren't you? Said there was no-one could do it like you." Em laughed so much she slipped off her pedal.
"Oh. Erm. Sorry."
Em came over to me, "Brian couldn't trackstand in a tramline Callum. Hi, I'm Em."
"Hi, I'm Callu... Oh, you already said that. Sorry."
"Stop apologising," said Lyn, watching Jem and BROOKS intently, "You'll never get anywhere as a cyclist if you apologise every time you think someone else might think you're in the wrong." The servos in BROOKS's knees and arms whined imperceptibly as he maintained a perfect trackstand. At least, imperceptible unless you knew just what he was...
this site is © citycycling and anthony robson