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Thea Sokolowski

Degree:

MBA

Location:

United States

Industry:

Social Impact

Year:

2014-15

By Thea Sokolowski

(Bi)cycle Wars

One element of Oxford living that doesn’t get enough attention is cycling, or as my American self would call it, biking. This is a biker city, and if you live anywhere that’s more than a 5-minute walk from class, you’re going to want to get a cycle.

This is one element I didn’t quite factor in when I decided to move into a house that couldn’t possibly be farther from school (I take the cake for farthest commute). I personally hadn’t ridden a bike in years, and even then it was likely a casual stroll on vacation or riding a mountain bike through some hiking trails. Living in a major city, I’ve never had to depend on one for transportation, so I realized I had a thing or two to learn. I feel these lessons can be easily applied to any global business setting.

1. Negotiation

When you go to purchase a cycle, you never want to go for the first thing you see, especially as a newbie. The fight for cheaper used bikes from exiting business students is real. Posts about bikes for sale on Facebook would last seconds before they were snatched up by eager newcomers. Bike shops boasted student sales, and Gumtree had offers by the page. The real winners, however, wait for the undergrads to return from summer break, when the used market goes wild with options, and use the art of negotiation to talk one away from an unsuspecting young fresher. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll buy a used one that’s too small for you and end up purchasing a new one anyway.

2. Strategy

There’s likely a book somewhere filled with rules of the biking game. Signal with a hand out, merge with the traffic when approaching the Cowley roundabout, only pass a slow cyclist when there isn’t a bus behind you and know you always have the right of way over cars. Pedestrians, however, always find a way to approach the crosswalks at precisely the second that will make you come to a complete stop. It’s a game, really, to see if you can cycle slow enough to keep going while they pass without having to put your feet down. In this madness, timing is everything. Pass the bus before it leaves the stop else you’re trapped behind the beast of a vehicle that tends to ride just close enough to the curb so you can’t pass.

3. Diplomacy

Sometimes the slow biker in front of you is a grandma, and she’s trying really hard. You know it would just kill her ego if the whole line of bikers trailing behind her were to pass her out, one by one. So you stay, offering an extra minute or two on the ride for the pride of that sweet old woman.

 The supermarket game is another beast entirely. Available spots in those coveted racks outside Cowley’s Tesco are like leprechaun gold. In order to appear diplomatic, cyclists can often be seen standing casually in front of the racks, pretending to be on their phones while waiting to pounce on the spot of the first person that emerges from the store. If only they’d remove their locks faster.

4. Precision

To the unsuspecting eye, it might appear that I can’t possibly fit through the small space left between that car in front of me and the curb. But often it’s a matter of being late for class or running in just in time, so I take my chances, skating just barely through to beat the traffic before the light turns red. I’ve also begun to develop laser vision, able to spot an open bike rack, fence or sign on which I can lock my bike from considerable distance.

5. Risk

For some reason, the idea of wearing a helmet never occurred to me (helmet hair?), not to mention the thought of where I’d store it during the day. I don’t recommend it, but somehow the freedom of two-wheeled transportation has given me a false sense of invincibility.

 I do, however, consider risk aversion. Never leave your lights on your bike, and never ever leave your bike out unlocked. There are sticky hands around every corner.

 The cycling world is much like that of organized crime. It has its own set of rules, unwritten yet understood. Just don’t ever forget to put your lights on at night while crossing Magdalen bridge. The Oxford police are onto our game.

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