Thursday 21 March 2013

Are Quiet Rides Uneventful?

I would just like to say that nothing happened on my ride in this morning.


Well, obviously thats a lie - one moment of riding a bike on the road followed another, I got to work, and  of course its simply impossible that 'nothing' would happen, that implying a strange state which would seem impossible given the laws of physics as we understand them.

I'm saying that for a ride in Cambridge it was uneventful.

An articulated lorry overtook me in Arbury Road and pulled back in close enough to make me brake a bit before stopping at the red light clearly visible only seconds ahead of us. I suppose having my wits about me meant that nothing came of that. Then there was the taxi bombed straight through a red light at the end of Arbury Road as I was slowing down to stop at it - but I heard him coming, saw he was giving me space and had an escape route. A BMW driver later got agitated because he wanted to turn left through the space I was using to also turn left in - I mean really agitated and clearly mouthing obscenities at me when I turned to look at him from in front of him while we were both stopped at the red light around that corner. A driver on a mobile phone was edging into an advance cycle box I stopped in, nudging forward moment by moment until I shouted "OI!" at her.

But I also have some good stuff to relate - I made eye contact with a driver approaching the roundabout on Milton Road, signalled to turn right, claimed main lane from absurdly hazardous cycle lane where the motorists nearly all turn left through the space you need to go straight on from the end of the lane, gave him thumbs up and he waved. Later a motorist with forethought slowed down for three cyclists including me to vacate the cycle lane that currently comes to an abrupt end for road works down on Chesterton Lane (I was indicating - but still, most motorists wouldn't do that). And while the taxi driver in town had priority at the mini-roundabout I stopped at, he waved to thank me anyway.

Now what strikes me about recounting the story of such 'uneventful' journeys is that they're not really  uneventful. Take that tale apart and re-tell it and you've got a potentially lethal overtake from an HGV, road rage from a BMW driver who needs to calm down before doing himself or someone else harm, a red light jumping motorist who were I not aware of could have killed me, and cycle facilities completely disregarded by motorists on mobile phones and road workers who put us at great risk without providing any alternative safe facility. As cyclists we must become more or less immune to the background level of rage, murderous contempt for our safety and plain idiocy of motorists. And we do so to such a staggering extent that  serious hazards to our welfare fade into the background - without doing so we couldn't get back on our bikes and ride home. Indeed the standard of driver behaviour we so commonly experience on our roads is so poor that when someone does something right or acknowledges our thanks for simply not killing us (why is it that cyclists seem expected to routinely thank motorists who simply fail to break the law?) we're surprised.

Looked at this way, I wonder whether what sets apart the 'cyclist' from other people is that we have the capacity to disregard such risks, or to get over them faster than others? Is this what sets us apart from those who get into a tin can every day to drive the same distance we ride? Am I a cyclist rather than a bus rider because I have the capacity to let go of all 'mundane' near death experiences?

Talking to folk who don't ride bikes its pretty clear that its the aggression, the close overtakes, the constant stream of crap that like this that puts them off. I think we simply have to face the reality that until we make our road system 'cyclesafe' as The Times puts it, we'll continue to be seen as the oddities that, perhaps, we have to be.


  1. I had a "quiet" day's commuting, barring the Hughes delivery van that tried to kill me

  2. I believe that there is a huge genuine lack of knowledge on many drivers parts (not all of course). When overtaking closely on a clearly windy day, I expect many, especially younger drivers, have no concept that a gust could have us wobble into 'their path' - they have no idea. I think mandatory cycle training before allowing anyone to get a full driving license and back up from driving instructors is clearly needed. When I learned to drive, my instructor never discussed how to overtake cyclists... probably because I dont ever recall coming across any during my lessons.
    I think anyone who drives for a living needs to be aware of us. I was honked by a taxi driver on a straight main road yesterday, for no reason - I was doing nothing other than riding in a straight line, so quite what his issue was, clearly was the fact I was there and he didn't have the knowledge to really know what to do.
    I think road rage is getting worse, I know on a bike & in a car over the last two years particularly I have got more & more pissed off because I feel other motorists are taking greater risks and the volume of traffic has gone up a lot despite fuel & insurance costs rocketing.
    Education would go a long way - the DfT should be held accountable for every road 'incident'- people who are incapable of being in charge of a few tons of metal travelling at dozens of miles an hour, should be proven to be responsible enough and they should have to re-prove this on a regular basis. I find younger drivers on the whole are 'riskier' and they are often the ones who seem not to understand how to overtake or use ASLs, but a massive chunk of all drivers of all ages are just plain terrible and this lack of understanding must lead to the frustration & moron-icy in their brains.
    There's a sense that road signs are 'guidance' and drivers use their common sense, but seriously, how many people dont adapt their driving to the weather conditions or the fact a National speed limit road is narrow and twisty - road signs should treat drivers as morons who cant use any better judgement, because common sense seems to have been bred our of the populous.

    1. I'm not entirely convinced that said young drivers don't know that a close pass is distressing. They're people - people know that a fast car passing close by is at least unnerving. I can't stretch credulity so far as to accept that any more than a vanishingly small minority are so lacking in empathy as to fail to get that.

      Really, I think most of them know but either don't give a shit or they're getting off on doing it.

  3. Cab: I recognise your description of the trials and tribulations involved in a "good" journey by bike in Cambridge and I agree with your conclusion. This is simply too much for the general population, and it's what holds Cambridge back from being truly a great cycling city.

    These are precisely the types of incident which are absent from cycling in the Netherlands. Without the "thrills", cycling becomes a lot more accessible. It is only then that everyone cycles.

    Georgie: I'm not sure if road rage is getting worse or if individual cyclists simply remember more of it and become more wary over time. Perceptions are everything. You find that people generally have a relatively rosy view of places which they have not lived in and have only passed through by bike on holiday, but know where all the bad points are in places where they live.

    Having lived in both countries, I don't believe there is any real difference between, for example, British and Dutch drivers. Ask the Dutch and they'll tell you that British drivers are more polite and law abiding. However, ask British people who have been here on cycling holidays and they'll almost certainly try to convince you that Dutch drivers are better.

    What I can tell you is that bad behaviour by Dutch drivers almost never is noticed by Dutch cyclists because cycle-routes are almost 100% separate from driving routes. This is what leads to journeys which are consistently more enjoyable and stress free than that described by Cab.