#SMIDSY – the trials of cycling

OK, so I am too old to ride a bike. I get it. I have no road sense, my joints creak, and what few brain cells I have are no longer functioning at anywhere near full performance.

But.

I think they are doing a little better than those hiding inside the crania of so many car, van and bus drivers that pass me whilst I pedal my old faithful Sun Chris Barber bike. ( for those interested, the frame is at least 50 years old …. and made of steel. )

You see, the problem is that there are so many drivers out there that have to as many risks as they can to save 287 nanoseconds during their journies.

Specifically, they have to get past anything that has two wheels, is propelled by human leg power, and is taking up more than 300mm of carriageway.

I used to be paranoid about the way that some vehicles want to cuddle up so close to me that I can touch them with my right hand without even stretching it out. ( yes, we do still drive on the left hand side of the road in Blighty. I know it’s quaint and very confusing for many of my friends in the USA, but we have got used to it over the years. After all, we did invent powered road vehicles ….. so we probably have some right to decide how to position them on the road. Yes, Cugnot did stick a ruddy great steam engine on wheels, but it wasn’t for passengers. OK, OK, so it was Verbiest if you believe that. And while we are at it, the Brits made the first powered flying machine but we didn’t have any Kodachrome on hand )

So, I ride on the left of the carriageway, and vehicles should be over-taking me sensibly, leaving me room to wobble to miss that pothole that the local council can’t afford to fill, wobble because my brain cells can’t cope with pedaling and  steering and thinking at the same time and wobble at being surprised at being taken from behind.

It’s their job to look what’s ahead of them, as they are one doing the manoeuvre. I’d also like them to miss the bandage my right elbow from the last time someone else was a little too friendly.

What is with so many drivers ? I’m not sure that they have realised that the stick with a knob on the end of it, thing coming out of the car just below their left hand, is there to help them go faster. I probably shouldn’t expect them to know what the power and torque curves of their cars’ engines looks like ( the ones that know this sort of thing tend to be much more careful when it comes to other road users. Well, those over 24 are, anyway ), but there are clues when you drive.

When you ( dropped into a direct discourse now – that should generate some flames ) press that pedal on the right to pass me, the car is talking to you. That rumbling, nasty, mechanical groaning noise is because you are in the wrong gear. The principle is that if you change down a gear, you will go faster, and get past me quicker. You see, that way, neither of us is exposed to any more danger than we need to be. If you drive an automatic, just push the accelerator harder : automatics are designed to take away some of those activities that you can’t cope with.

This is all fine and dandy so long as you leave me enough room. I know it must be really hard to think about changing gears, look ahead for obstacles or on-coming traffic, peer at the clock on the dashboard as your appointment time whooshes by, and looking at the beautiful green hues of our Surrey lanes, but really, just at that moment, I am the most important thing in your life.

At that time I have the power to make you have a very expensive insurance claim as you hit that on-coming car. I am the one who has the power to charge you with dangerous driving. I am the one that has the power to give you bad dreams.

Oh no. Wait. No I don’t. Silly me. Of course I don’t. I’m a bit muddled here. If I had that power, every driver would be much more circumspect and careful.

Now, there are many drivers out there who do give room, who do care, and who are considerate, and I always thank them as they pass me, as I have probably delayed them for a few seconds.

These are the ones who know that a blind bend may have another vehicle coming around it just as they may be overtaking me. They are the ones who know that a blind summit may have any manner of objects, moving and not, just over the crest. They are the ones who can do more than one thing at once.

Sadly, many BMW and Mercedes drivers, Private Taxis, and white vans don’t seem to have cottoned on to these really self evident possibilities.

SUV drivers generally seem to have an issue with spatial awareness. I do believe that they must have a switch on the instrument panel that makes their vehicles thinner so that they can squeeze through smaller gaps in traffic. ( well, maybe the Marauder doesn’t have one of these ) I have to assume this, because it is always SUVs that try to squeeze between me and the bollards for pedestrian crossings ( qv the sticky up bits at the bottom of this picture. I can now recognise the make of most popular SUVs by the noise that the anti-lock brakes make as their drivers realise that the  ‘make me thinner’ switch was disabled at the last service.

And whilst I’m here, I know you all think that I should be riding my bike in that grotty bit of the road that you never use unless you’re weaving when drunk. You know, the bit near the kerb with all the nails and pointy thing that go through tyres ( see the above link for kerb 🙂 ).

I, and most other cyclists, don’t really like that bit, and neither do my tyres. So I follow the guidance of the UK’s cycling organisation, The Cyclist’s Touring Club : not less than 1m from the kerb most of the time. Guidance is to make oneself visible and affect the behaviour of drivers so that they have to divert their attention to the cyclist.

Oh, and one more thing to help you drivers make sure they see me : when I think that I may be in more danger than necessary, I will take up lots more of the road. If I move towards the middle of the carriageway, it is a not so subtle hint that I can see potential danger to me, and I would really appreciate it if you could wait a second before overtaking.

I am not being bolshy or bloody minded : merely self protecting.

As I said, I used to be paranoid, and thought it must be something I was doing, but the more I read from other cyclists around the world, the more I conclude that this is a serious issue everywhere. Well maybe not in Denmark and the Netherlands where cyclists are not seen social pariahs.

How to help people get over their negative view of cycling and cyclists ?

Include 30 minutes on a bicycle as a part of the driving test ? Put their children on bikes and make them overtake ? Have chariot knives attached to bike wheels ? Who knows.

We often talk about this when out on our bikes, and I’m not sure if it is ignorance, arrogance or incompetence. It may be a combination of all of these, with a little selfishness thrown in.

Whatever causes it, I think we are stuck with it for a while.

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