Today I went on a rather nice long road cycle ride of 132 km or 82 miles. Whilst I had planned on writing about this, there was one really annoying thing that happened just over 6 km into the ride; I’d literally ten minutes earlier left the house. So, instead I would like to educate those readers amongst you who may not be cyclists, but are in fact, a motorist first and foremost. Now, please bear with me as I may come across a little self-righteous, but no more so than the majority of motorists who seem to think that it is their right alone, to own the roads and to hell with anybody else, mainly erm, cyclists. This is a subject I am incredibly passionate about, having had so many near misses over the years. Yet I’m one of the lucky ones, as there have been and still continue to be, many pointless deaths of cyclists on the roads of the UK. If you’re the sort of person that prefers to think of cyclists as inferior and you’re also a bit of a Jeremy Clarkson, and if you’re a friend on Facebook, then please delete yourself as I’ve no time for people like you.
I was riding along, enjoying the steady climb up a hill in the early morning warmth; it was going to be a hot ride. I rode the same distance I always do from the verge, kerb or white line; around two feet out – in other words, not in the ditch. A large truck was heading towards me down the hill and behind me, well, there was a BMW driver. He decided it would be wise to overtake me just as the truck goes past, clearly expecting me to move over. I did not and will not. He gave me very little room and as he passed he honked his horn aggressively at me. I looked over, and he was the typical business-like, salad-dodging sweaty fat knacker in an ill-fitting shirt with his neck fat bulging over his collar. He was driving a high-end, automatic BMW estate (I guess changing gear would be too much exercise for him) and as he sped past, gesticulated at me and drove away.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not tarring all BMW drivers with the same brush (or businessmen!) or in fact motorists, as I am one too.
As you can imagine, this riled me to the point of where I hoped his fat carcass ended up in a ditch due to his impatient and dangerous driving attitude. Sound horrible? Of course it is. But so is what we cyclists have to put up with on a daily basis on the roads of the UK.
I consider myself a very nice person and expect to be treated how I treat others; nicely. If you’re horrible to me, I’ll give you a chance to rectify it politely, if you don’t then I will retaliate likewise. Even arse holes deserve a second chance.
Time for a little education.
Cars have not always been here. Neither have bicycles. But then again, neither have humans. But I digress a little. The bicycle was invented in 1817 by a German civil servant Baron Karl von Drais, followed later by the motor car that funnily enough was also invented by a German; Karl Benz in 1885. Funny though how the bicycle has remained the most simple and efficient form of two-wheeled transport, with virtually no change since it was invented and is still powered by human effort, and is the kind of exercise that provides high levels of health benefits.
The bicycle is making a rapid come back, much to the displeasure of many, many motorists. But we will not be forced off the roads, due to the car-centric culture in the UK and the lack of spending by the Government to build a safer network. Let’s spend all our money on Trident instead. Boris might be a bit of a cock-womble, but at least he did some good for the cycling infrastructure of London when he was mayor.
So is there a point to my witterings? Eventually, but we’ll cycle around the block first.
As cyclists, we tend to ride defensively and hell, sometimes offensively. Because we need to. A few reasons:
- I ride away from the kerb/verge.
- I am more visible to YOU if I am further into the road.
- I can avoid road detritus, gravel and drain covers so that I can ride in a straight line.
- But most of all, I should not feel forced into the side of the road just to let YOU past.
There are other things that we also need to do when cycling along. Sometimes we need to change direction at the last second, this could be due to (another) pot hole in the road, a man-hole cover, ice, glass, gravel and yes, even other cyclists! Also tourists, as these can be very unpredictable. Pot calling kettle black you say? Why do you think I’m telling you this? So we can be PREDICTABLE. Ya know, the same way that I have learnt over 20+ years of cycling how a motorist can behave. A lot of you guys can be so unpredictable it is actually PREDICTABLE. As a driver you have learnt over the years how other motorists ‘work’ so why the hell can’t you do the same for cyclists? I’m sorry, but I have to take the stance when cycling (and driving!) that every other road user is an IDIOT and/or OPTICALLY CHALLENGED (blind) so that I am prepared.
I’m going to take your side for a minute though, to prove that I am looking at this fairly. I know that a lot of cyclists do not help our case. Because they too are IDIOTS. They jump red lights, they don’t make you aware of their intentions by not signaling when changing direction, they ride on pavements mowing down any hapless folk in the way, they don’t use lights in the dark, they wear lycra. Oh, er actually that’s allowed if you can pull it off. The list of highly dangerous, potentially life-ending things they do is endless.
And yes, this pisses you off totally. It pisses me off. This behaviour absolutely keeps drivers firmly in the camp of ‘all cyclists are the same’. I can assure you, we are not. The same way not ALL drivers are inconsiderate and dangerous around cyclists.
I personally do my very best to disprove the above camp of motorists when ever I am out on my bike. I’m not going to bullet the list this time as WordPress is being a pain in the arse:
I never jump red lights, that’s just stupid.
ALWAYS signal my intentions when turning or changing lanes.
If I am causing a queue on a narrow, windy road (lots of them here) I will pull in to let you all past, but please, I appreciate a gentle beep of thanks. Like a smile it costs nothing.
If YOU pass me considerately with plenty of space, I will give you a thumbs up or a wave to say thank you. I do this EVERY TIME without fail. Unless it’s on a very steep hill where removing a hand off the bars will put me under your wheels!
If I am riding two abreast (and yes, we are allowed: RULE 66 of the Highway Code is ADVISORY it is NOT legal) myself or the other will pull in IF THE ROAD DICTATES. But it is SAFER for you to pass us when we are side by side as it forces you to give us more room (in theory). Don’t shout at us if we’re two abreast please, if it’s a safe, wide road we are well within our rights. We are not “putting our lives at risk” ; it’s motorists that do that by taking risks to get past us. Remember, YOU don’t own the road. Nobody does. Check out this recent cam recording in Essex where the Policeman tries his best to disprove the riders, yet doesn’t even KNOW the Highway Code himself:
I’d also like to draw your attention to this:
Again, if you are behind me and wanting to get past but you can’t see up the road, if I can see that it’s clear for you to over take, I will beckon you past, but only once I’m absolutely sure there is no oncoming traffic. Conversely, I will push my palm back towards you if you’re about to over-take on a blind bend or brow in an attempt to warn you of oncoming traffic. A lot of you will give me a friendly toot for this.
Things YOU should try not to do.
First and foremost: GIVE US ROOM! You must pass at a minimum of 1.5 metres. So on most ‘A’ roads, you should be crossing the central white lines when you over take, if you’re not, then you are too close. Would you pass your son or daughter this closely?
Don’t drive right up to our back wheels when waiting to get past, you should be at least a car’s distance behind us. This will also give you a better field of view for the road ahead.
When I’m riding down a hill at high-speed (often well in excess of 30 or 40 mph), please keep your distance and DO NOT try to over take, unless it’s a long, straight (wide) road and you can see past me. Be aware, we are going faster than you think and again, we may need to take evasive action past anything that could cause us to crash. Once I have slowed down/finished descending and you go to pass, I will again thank you for your patience and consideration.
Please don’t try to squeeze past us through traffic islands or road furniture. I will ride very defensively through these by moving into the middle of the road in plenty of time to stop you doing so and once through will pull in again. If you hit the island, there’s a good chance your tyre will blow or you could even break your suspension; this happened a few years ago on a commute as a motorist tried to squeeze past me and I heard an almighty bang as she hit the island’s kerb. There’s a good chance you could hit me as you try to avoid the island. It’s your insurance and it’d be YOUR fault.
Don’t cut us off by thinking you can get past us quickly and then turning left. Have you any idea how dangerous this is? Cyclists have been KILLED due to this. Just wait; your journey is not so important to risk somebodies life. If you do it to me, I will follow you and have stern words with you if I catch you. And YOU will be at fault.
Stop shouting “….use the bloody cycle track!” at us. We have absolutely ZERO obligation to use them and frankly some of them are more dangerous than using the roads. Again, YOU do not own the road. We have as much right as anybody to be on them, (see next section). I will use a cycle track if it is fit for purpose: clean, not covered in gravel and glass thrown from the roads or covered in bloody lamp posts! They are also a magnet for dog walkers. Again, not to tar all of them with the same poop scoop, they can be a pain in the arse. They let their dogs roam free and do nothing to restrain the animal/s when they see us coming; if it’s a dedicated cycle track, we have right of way.
There are some lovely cycle tracks here in North Wales, but not enough unfortunately however, these ones I will use, as I did today. As long as a road is not a dual carriageway and has ‘A’ road status we can use it.
And no, cyclists don’t pay ‘road tax’. Neither do you. WE (every UK motorist) pays Vehicle Excise Duty to exercise the right to use a MOTORISED vehicle on the roads. ‘Car tax’ was abolished in 1937. Roads are paid for via general and local taxation, thus EVERY UK TAXPAYER. So stop spouting that bollocks at us too, because we’ll just correct you, very smugly on the spot as you drive away in a huff. Please watch this video as a typical example of why this passenger seems to think the cyclist should ‘give way’ to a car. I will tell you exactly the same:
You know those boxes at traffic lights with a solid white line around them and a bicycle painted inside? That’s called an ASL or Advanced Stop Lane and is for CYCLISTS ONLY. Not cars, not motorbikes or mopeds. Cyclists. It’s there for us to be somewhere in full view of motorists and yes, we are legally allowed to sit right in front of you. When the lights turn green we will cycle away and move to a defensive position towards the side of the road/lane (but again, not in the gutter) or whichever direction we are heading in. If you sound your horn aggressively at me I will deliberately stay in your way, as on some roads, there may not be room for you to pass immediately or there may be a large group of cyclists, all moving at different speeds and requiring patience from cyclist and motorist. We’re all trying to get somewhere, the world does not revolve around you.
Do not open your door on us when you are parked up. Check your mirrors AND your blind spot. I’ve been car doored and it really hurts, yet the idiot tried to blame me and sunk so low as to try to ‘recruit’ pedestrians as witnesses. It takes a second to turn and look.
SMIDSY – or Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You. This is the oldest and poorest excuse in the book. If you admit this to me or anybody else out on the roads, you are admitting that you were not paying attention and are thus CULPABLE. Motorists often complain that we don’t wear high-vis clothing when cycling. That’s because we don’t need to; high-vis is only useful/more visible during the twilight hours of dawn or dusk, at all other times of day, our black shorts and black jerseys are just as visible. A lot of cycling kit has very contrasting colours e.g: black & white, red & white and so on, so is actually very visible. Please don’t use our choice of clothing as an excuse for your poor eyesight, if you have poor eyesight you SHOULD NOT BE DRIVING full stop.
Do not overtake us on blind bends and brows. If there is oncoming traffic you will have to pull in dangerously and potentially hit us. Again, just wait; I couldn’t care less how late you are to your prior engagement or if you’re the King of England, you should have allowed more time.
Don’t fly past us at 60mph. If the road surface is loose, you will throw all sorts of crap towards us. But if you’re passing us at that speed, it’s likely you only care about yourself anyway. Slow down when you see us and pass safely with that 1.5 metre (or more) gap.
Do not over take from the opposite direction as you are heading directly for us on OUR SIDE OF THE ROAD. I will gesticulate wildly at you for being a total wanker. If you show this little disregard for human life, you deserve to crash and burn.
If you carry out dangerous manoeuvres to get past me or you risk my life I will photograph you and/or remember your reg plate and report you. As will most cyclists, as more and more of us, especially in inner cities, are wearing helmet mounted cameras to catch you in the act.
Eighty percent of cyclists are motorists too, including myself. So I know exactly what it’s like being on two or four wheels and how to behave when using either mode of transport. We are not out to get you and we are not lycra-clad crusaders. Like you we are either commuting or out enjoying our favourite pastime and do not want it to be spoilt by motorists that don’t give a damn about anybody but themselves. More and more cyclists are taking up the sport with even more events held on open roads, so you will just have to be patient and suck it up.
Even if you do cause an accident however, the punishment is ridiculously tame yet this desperately needs to change. In the Netherlands and parts of Europe, if you hit a cyclist the motorist is at fault unless proven otherwise. So for all you impatient, tin-coffin-wielding Jeremy Clarkson types, just be very glad you do not live in Holland or Denmark as cyclists have right of way over vehicles and they probably outnumber you too.
What is very sadly missing on the roads of the UK is a MUTUAL RESPECT for all road users, whether pedestrians, runners, horse riders, cyclists or motor cyclists. The vast majority of motorists think that the roads were built for their use only. We all pay for them so we all have a right to be on them.
I’m sure those drivers potentially reading this still couldn’t give a crap and you are just like the fat-knacker in the BMW that started this in the fist place. Continue to drive the way you do, and you WILL get your comeuppance. Not threat, truth.
In the mean time I will continue to ride the way I do on the roads; in plain view, away from the kerb or verge and defensively, but in the process I will do my best to be polite and thankful to considerate and careful drivers in the hope that one day, you may not think of us as a scourge of the roads.
Unfortunately, it is the motor vehicle that is the scourge and cyclists will have the last laugh when the roads become so clogged, it is the only way to get around efficiently.
Ride and drive safe out there.