Currently reading: Matt Prior's tester's notes - no sides when it comes to 'cyclists' and 'motorists'
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.)

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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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AHA1 31 July 2015

It's a huge problem that's getting worse.

The general level of nastiness, selfishness, agression and intolerance that pervades a rush hour commute in London seems to be spreading to many other parts of the country. I couldn't agree more with you Matt but I fear we are in a decreasing minority. The authorities seem intent on exacerbating tensions. Have you seen the amount of Central London roads closed to road works for 'cycling superhighways'? It wouldn't be a problem if they weren't dangerous deathtraps. No other country has the sharply raised kerbs that seemed designed to throw wavering cyclists under the wheels of adjacent vehicles. And why are we such terrible jay-walkers as a nation? I've been to California, Barcelona, Finland and Marrakech in the last 12 months and each time I've returned I've been struck by the suicidal nature of our random road crossing habits. Meanwhile for drivers, indicating appears to have gone the way of the tax disc and dashboard cigarette lighter. We need a 'live and let live' road campaign! A bit of tolerance and self-discipline would go a long way.
Adrian987 31 July 2015

An irrational blip perhaps

Poor chap, the head shaking cyclist, he could've just had a bad day. Or maybe his boss is someone he does not like and who drives a similar car.
Will86 31 July 2015

Refreshing article Matt.

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.