Monday 10 June 2013

Why do some cyclists get more close overtakes?

Pondering on riding my fun old BSA sport racer all last week, and also riding that and my chunky Giant hybrid over the weekend, and my recent experiences remind me of various things I've considered here before.

Its fairly obvious to me that on my racer I get way more close passes than I do on my hybrid. Whether its because I look more hunched down, more like some road-warrior cyclist, I don't know. I'm not dressed any different (I ride in civvies rather than lycra). Its not because I'm going faster - mostly the traffic governs my speed. But this kind of crap seems to be almost daily when I'm on my racer.

I don't get many close passes when I'm on the hybrid. It happens, but they're far less frequent. And they're rarely as brutal as the one above.

The idea that close passes are an accident or due to not paying attention is a brutal lie - its not even a misinterpretation of events, its an outright, barefaced, unbelievable lie. A motorist who passed you within inches didn't do so by accident, they accurately judged how closely they could pass you, and they don't give a shit that any wobble from you (which can happen - a gust of wind, a pothole, etc.) could have seen you go under their wheels. They'd then argue you were 'all over the road' because of an six inch deflection from your course, and the courts will probably believe them.

The evidence for this being a lie is that how a cyclist behaves, what he or she wears, even gender of the cyclist can have an impact on how closely we're overtaken. Don't take my word for it, read this. Thats backed up by my own experience of riding - the more competent I look the worse I'm treated. The idea that these bullying close passes are anything other than intentional is thus shown to be a complete lie - the motorist who passes you closely knows what they've done, they've done so on purpose.

So we have clear evidence that close passes are not careless - they're either massively insensitive to our feelings and welfare or they're malicious. They're certainly hazardous and they're the reason I most commonly hear for folk choosing not to cycle.

Now I know that some reading this might suggest that the obvious thing to do is always ride the hybrid bike. Ride the bike that gets me treated better on the road. Truth of the matter is that bike isn't the best one for lots of trips - the old racer is far more efficient for short commutes in good weather, and for longer rides the road bike wins every time. But more to the point I shouldn't have to second guess motorists by modifying my actions to nullify their law breaking - nor should any cyclist be compelled to ride less efficiently to merely avoid what is no better than hate crime. Always an emotive comparison I know (and one I usually shy away from), but you wouldn't tell a raped woman she'd been asking for it. This is one of those 'line in the sand' things; treating us badly because we're cyclists, or because we're a particular 'type' of cyclists, is bang out of line. We shouldn't ever have to accept that. Yet we do.

So I'm forced to ask; has anyone, anywhere in the UK had experience of the police taking action against a motorist solely for an intimidatingly close overtake of a cyclist? Or is it the case that, across the country, the police are through their inaction effectively colluding with the bullies? 


  1. Although I have more than one bike, only one of them – a Brompton – gets ridden in the sort of environment where close passes are commonplace, ie in central London. There I tend to find that variations in dress make a difference.

    On the whole I eschew specialist cycle clothing, wearing ordinary clothes, sometimes a business suit, and my one concession to weather is to wear waterproof trousers (Rohan, made for hiking rather than cycling). I don’t wear any high-vis. The one difference is a helmet. This I wear basically for the part of the year when I complete my journey home in darkness, which is basically from after the school half-term (and clocks going back) at the end of October, until about the middle of April. The main reason is that my headlight is clamped to the helmet, but also winter is when I am most likely to benefit from a helmet – slipping on ice or an oil-slick after rain, no other vehicle involved.

    However any fule kno that when you mix with fast-moving taxis and vans, and turning HGVs, a helmet is about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

    My experience is that as soon as I don the lid, motorists become more aggressive towards me and leave me less room. That much chimes with the Bath findings, although the other bit – wearing a blonde wig – is not something I have tried personally. Perhaps the answer is to cover the lid with a blonde wig!

    If I had the use of a proper segregated network on through routes, with traffic calming and filtered permeability on the last-kilometre local network, Dutch-style, a helmet might actually come into its own, ie to protect me from slow-speed pratfalls with no other vehicle involved. But as we know from that world-acknowledged expert Angela Lee of the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust (and like “democratic people’s republic” we know that using words like initiative and trust in this context is oxymoronic) you shouldn’t waste time and effort removing the true source of danger, rather just force everyone to wear a plastic hat to please our sponsors.

  2. I can recall just one video of a near miss that resulted in points and a fine. It was a left hook filmed by Croydon Cyclist. A lot of effort to give 3 points. You can see why the Police shy away when its this hard.

    1. I can. But its worse than that I think - the monumental fuss involved in getting plod to even take a report from you is enough to put most of us off. If I've got to go to the station, sit and wait an hour for a police officer who doesn't come, to eventually make a report that the police officer doesn't give a damn about then I'll do that ONCE.

      Fair play to Cambs police, of late they've been taken at least one report seriously. But before I make another report I'll need to know I've got a heck of a lot of free time that day :(

      And ultimately I don't know whether the three points on a license thing is what I'm after. Surely a good stern talking to from a police officer in someones place of work would work just as effectively?

  3. Obviously this isn't a wise way to cycle around London, but on the occasion that I've cycled a Boris Bike in casual clothes with brightly coloured headphones in (and sometimes no hands) I usually get almost a traffic lane's worth of space from anyone that risks overtaking...

    Helmet also makes a difference... no helmet = more space.

    (I'm a *not* condoning cycling with headphones or no hands, for the record!)

    1. I don't ride with headphones because I just don't enjoy music while I ride, but I don't think its THAT bad to do so. And actually, if it gives you wider passes, might almost be worth having them on as a ploy :)