Peter R. H. Wood is currently writing his Ph.D. thesis “Creating City Cyclists: Understanding Why People Start, and Sometimes Stop, Cycling in South London.” This involved repeatedly meeting with twenty cyclists over a twelve month period, to understand how cycling co-creates their lives via multiple mobile methods, (ride-along with video-elicitation, diary-interview, video-assisted focus groups). Many of these participants regularly rode bikes but denied being cyclists, which radically alters the way in which their experiences should be understood. His findings investigate the causes of incivility on the road, how different reiterative patterns of mobility create alternative understandings of what it means to be urban, and how cyclists construct cycling as a key facilitator of authentic urban experiences.
“Look how close he got, just to get ahead”; can creative representations of cycling experiences address issues of incivility on the road?
The road is a complex situation for cyclists, but if academics cannot adequately convey riders’ experiences, can they ever address their problems? Always uncertain but somewhat predictable, an arena of navigable risks and opportunities, roads are about more than avoiding hazards whilst maintaining traffic flow. Streets compose a matrix of different uses and users, with differing degrees of access to the socio-technical resources of mobility. Being in the world means perpetually living through multiple considerations of the present, alongside evoked memories of the past and anticipated consequences of the future. Specifically, traffic allows people sufficient agency to both influence others and alter one’s own performance (inflected by socio-technical power-inequalities), but within pronounced communicative constraints, asymmetries and perceptual warpings. However, as certain avenues of spoken and bodily communication close down, others open up. Modes of physical and mental exertion meld with different embodied and mechanical abilities to constitute a being of the road. Drawing upon ride-along and video-elicitation methodologies, as part of a larger ethnographic study, this paper makes three contributions to the mobilities debate. Firstly, it re-analyses what video-elicitation actually is; how (or whether) the ‘extracted’ talk remains embedded in the road and video it is constituted through. It does this via investigating how cyclists take their embodied experiences of risk, agency and communication into the video-elicitation, and use them to construct narratives of on-road civility, incivility and their enjoyment (or not) of the urban milieux. Secondly, this process suggests that experimental approaches to collecting video-data have not been carried through to more stimulating forms of academic representation. In contrast, simple-yet-creative representational practices can yield rigorous analytic benefits without being pretentious. Finally, this better experiential understanding of incivility, risk thermostats and technologically-mediated cultural filters suggests how safer, more enjoyable and more empowering urbanities might be brought into being.