Back when I lived in East Oxford and could ride my bike to work I developed a special game to play on my commute. It was called Totality.

Bikes in Oxford

It actually began in about 1986 back in Boston, Lincolnshire when one of my brothers came home once from his girlfriend’s house and told me that he had come down the Sluice Bridge and onto Norfolk Street had decided to see how long his bike would freewheel for. Apparently he got as far as the park before he totally stopped.

This triggered off a huge set of playing about on my bike routines which I continue to perfect to this day (for I still ride, but I don’t commute any more).

Totality is very simple and relies on the constant repetition of commuting to be interesting. All it consists of is never stopping or putting one’s foot down on an entire journey from door to door.

The rules are…

  1. Red lights, junctions, safety and other road users are THE LAW. Those rules must be obeyed and other road users must not be inconvenienced in any way. Observe SAFETY FIRST and CONSIDERATION at all times. It is, after all, just a game.
  2. As soon as you stop or put down your foot, the game is over; you cannot achieve full totality. However, %’s are possible if you feel like keeping score.

The way to “achieve totality” is by careful observation of one’s journey and meticulous planning once it has started. For example, you can usually see a red light from miles away on a straight road, so it’s easy to modify one’s speed on approach so that it has turned green by the time you get there. Of course if you roll up to the line at 1 m.p.h. and it’s still red you have to stop and then…no totality for you. Start again on the next ride.Bikes in Oxford

The junctions near the house where I lived when I developed Totality were sufficiently quiet that when I set out I could use my ears to tell whether I need to slow down for traffic. It was always a roll of the dice when I got out onto the main road what the traffic would be like before I got to the towpath, but…that’s Totality.

I worked out via careful observation (and several failed totalities) that once I was on it, the Toucan crossing at the end of the towpath took 20 seconds from button-push-to-green-light, so if a cyclist passed me on the way as long as I stayed 20 seconds behind them, I could get onto Abingdon Road without stopping (and which always felt very satisfying).

After that I had a series of red lights on pedestrian crossings to deal with, one of which was easily visible and one of which was around a corner and could only be seen after you’d built up a fair bit of speed. Both threw in chaos because you never knew when a pedestrian was going to activate the crossings, and their arrival at the crossings could not always be ascertained, meant that timing the button-to-green times was not advantageous.

Traffic lightsBut once they were out of the way the approach to the final lights was great – you could see them from a distance and though there were a lot of them and they controlled traffic from different streets, it was possible over time to work out how they were all phased so that opportunities for Totality could be plotted in advance.

When it happened, it was a glorious feeling…that made no difference to anything else in the world. It was just a bit of frippery that dissiapated swiftly and was lost throughout the rest of the day.

What was interesting though was how it became a metaphor for an approach to life.

  • Make the most of routines and turn them to your advantage
  • Let others clear a path for you
  • Be prepared for what is over the horizon and either seize the moment if it arrives, or get ready to pace yourself
  • Think-on-your-feet (or indeed, on your wheels) if something isn’t quite ready
  • Success is fleeting
  • If you fail, just try again
  • It’s only a game anyway

Bikes in Oxford

My journey home was quite different due to one-way systems and other peculiarities of the road system in an ancient town like Oxford, and I don’t believe I ever managed Totality on it. But it had its own charms which I might write about one day. I commuted by bike in Oxford for about 15 years in total and ended up moving house to another part of town where the route was more complicated traffic-wise, and so keeping alive was a better feeling at the end of each journey!

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