A chance encounter between driver and cyclist brings long-held judgements to the surface

For reasons I suspect my inbox and the comments section below will soon make obvious, this column has steered carefully away from the subject of cycling. It should probably stick to something less divisive, like fox hunting or welfare cuts.

But the other evening, I was driving home from a photoshoot on a clear, wide, straight and well-sighted single-carriageway A-road, at around the 60mph limit in a sports car.

There was only one other person on the road: a cyclist coming towards me on a road bike. As we passed, each comfortably in our lane with a large gap between us, he shook his head. I think at me. For a moment I thought, perhaps, he had a fly behind his sunglasses, but I think not. I think it was a shake of disapproval. Like he had taken sides.

Now, this is a motoring column. So, you might be thinking, I’m going to suggest that this is because he was – let me reach for my big book of clichés – a tub-thumping Lycra-clad cycle lout who jumps red lights, mows down pedestrians and doesn’t even pay for the upkeep of the road. Well, no. I don’t really think like that.

There are no sides here. I have a bicycle too; it’s a mountain bike I’ve had for 23 years and it’s one of my most treasured possessions. I ride it. I also have a motorcycle, a quiet car, a noisy car and I keep horses. Sometimes I even walk. So at various times I am one of a motorist, a cyclist, a motorcyclist and a pedestrian, while those I love dearest are horse riders. So, no, there are no sides. Just individuals.

So matey on his bike here didn’t annoy me with his head shake because he was on a bike, but because he seemed a bit sanctimonious, when I thought I was bothering nobody. I suspect he’d have the same character whether he was cycling, driving a car or walking.

And there are people like him on both ‘sides’ of what ought to remain a non-debate.

There are people, for example, who don’t like cycling who’ll complain that “cyclists don’t pay road tax”, even though it’s vehicle tax and, given that it’s based on CO2 emissions, would make bicycles free anyway (one reader has pointed out to me that a cyclist might emit a bit more CO2 than a driver through excessive huffing and puffing, but probably never as much as a 6.0-litre V12). So that’s a non-argument.

Or they say that that cyclists don’t have insurance, which is probably a non-argument too because anybody who lives in a house that’s covered by contents insurance probably does have third party liability cover while cycling.

(As the Association of British Insurers says: “Your contents policy will also normally provide personal liability cover for you and members of your household when away from your home.” It doesn’t cover vehicles or horses [or mules or donkeys],  nor death or bodily injury to your domestic staff - so don’t run the butler down - but it does usually cover you while using bicycles, even electrically powered ones, and ride-on mowers or golf buggies.)

Or perhaps they say that “they don’t even have to have a licence!” Sort of true, and most cycling groups would like to see compulsory cycle training in schools, because they’d like more people to feel confident cycling. But, given you can pass a driving test at 17 and never have to look at the Highway Code again in your life, it seems ludicrous to me to try enforce some kind of compulsory test or licence and registration onto cyclists.

The fact that somebody’s justifiably cross about a cyclist jumping a red light and bothering pedestrians in London does not mean children should lose the ability to mess around on BMXs (yes, in my head it is still 1988) in quiet residential streets and parks.

So, no, I didn’t dislike matey because he’s a cyclist. I was just a bit bemused and would probably steer clear of him whether he was in Lycra or wearing jeans, and whether he was on a bike or in an MPV.

But the short of it is that, legislatively, absolutely nothing is going to change. And if you can’t change that situation, change your mindset: less angst, fewer headshakes, and more understanding, tolerance and love.

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Comments
12

bol

31 July 2015
As a cyclist and motorist I find the black and white tribalism really frustrating - and bloody dangerous. There are gits on bikes and gits in cars (often the same gits); the problem is that it's much easier for the ones in cars to kill the ones on bikes.

31 July 2015
The roads are there for everyone to use; no group is more entitled than another.

31 July 2015
Very true..I'm both. And bol's spot on - there are idiots on bikes, and there are idiots (actually, a lot of idiots) who drive cars too.
My only beef is that when you're on a bike you notice excessive car-speed far more viscerally. I live in a country 30-zone, where cars habitually speed, no cameras. It's actually pretty terrifying how close/fast some of them cut things past cyclists. On no account do they want to slow down and wait before going past a cyclist.
As you say Matt, a little more tolerance and love would make this country a nicer place to be..

31 July 2015
Most motoring enthusiasts I know also have a bike or two, and give plenty of room for cyclists, horse riders and other road users. I assume the ones that don't simply haven't experienced the danger of being 'buzzed'. For a motorist, it's akin to having the biggest juggernaut on the road able to do triple your speed, and then flashing by with inches to spare...

31 July 2015
Couldn't agree more, the best article on the subject I've read. The usual cyclists v motorists debate (and the comments posted in response to them) are completely irrational.

31 July 2015
Probably the same kind of sanctimonious halfwit that shakes his fist and flashes you, because you had the temerity to overtake him on a straight road with plenty of room.

 

I'm a disillusioned former Citroëniste.

31 July 2015
Hes right, not to take sides, there are both idiots in cars and on bikes and no doubt those idiots on bikes are also idiots when they are in cars. As a car driver and a pedestrian I get pretty wound up by the cyclists that nearly run me down when I m on the pavement - anyone over 14 should have to ride their cycle "vehicle" (a bike IS a vehicle, Mr Prior) on the road and leave pedestrians free NOT to have to dodge 75KG people on 25KG bikes coming at them at 20+mph. Cyclists SHOULD also have to take some sort of test and to make things equal, the driving test should be made tougher and motorists should be re-tested every 5 years, as so many drivers really havent a clue how to drive or any idea of basic highway code. It should include some sort of test of whether they can judge the width of their vehicle correctly, as so many drivers seem unable to - holding up traffic for no reason when 2 buses could easily fit through the gap.

31 July 2015
typos1 wrote:

Hes right, not to take sides, there are both idiots in cars and on bikes and no doubt those idiots on bikes are also idiots when they are in cars. As a car driver and a pedestrian I get pretty wound up by the cyclists that nearly run me down when I m on the pavement - anyone over 14 should have to ride their cycle "vehicle" (a bike IS a vehicle, Mr Prior) on the road and leave pedestrians free NOT to have to dodge 75KG people on 25KG bikes coming at them at 20+mph. Cyclists SHOULD also have to take some sort of test and to make things equal, the driving test should be made tougher and motorists should be re-tested every 5 years, as so many drivers really havent a clue how to drive or any idea of basic highway code. It should include some sort of test of whether they can judge the width of their vehicle correctly, as so many drivers seem unable to - holding up traffic for no reason when 2 buses could easily fit through the gap.

As a London-dwelling pedestrian, cyclist, motorcyclist and motorist, I had a hunch any injury I suffered would be at the hands of a pedestrian, and so it came to pass. Three of them stepped in to the road right in front of me as I pelted down Great Eastern Street, not far from two separate pedestrian crossings they'd elected not to use. I smacked in to them and flew over the bars, crunching my collarbone in three places, an injury that, four years down the line, still gives me bother. One of the idiots got his teeth through his face, so it wasn't all bad. Oh, and the two shots of morphine in the ambulance isn't the worst thing that ever happened to me. Anyway, testing for cyclist? I don't think so. Not unless we're going to have testing for pedestrians, too.

31 July 2015
Fair point, I d advocate testing for pedestrians as well, half of them are idiots too, they wonder all over the place without looking where theyre going, groups of them walk towards you blocking the entire pavement for those going in the opposite direction, they walk out of shops without looking, barging right into other pavements users, they change direction suddenly without looking, expecting others to jump out of the way, they walk so slowly it must take them hours to walk just 1 mile, they have zero spatial awareness and as you point out, some of them wander across the road without looking, or worse, they DO look and walk straight out in front of whatever vehicle is coming anyway and expect them to stop for them.

31 July 2015
More mutual respect between all road users would be of benefit to everyone. I do however have one big bugbear with cyclists, or to be precise, cycling clubs. I suspect that most members of these clubs are also drivers but when on two wheels they seem to forget this. We get groups down our lane and they force other people off the road and hurl abuse at other road users. At the weekend in particular I regularly encounter groups of 20-40 spread over a considerable length but without clear gaps, making it impossible to overtake safely. This may in part be deliberate to stop people overtaking and cutting in - but rather than increase safety it makes people more frustrated and more likely to make dangerous manoeuvres.

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