I am a cyclist. I cycle. Quite a lot. Yesterday night I did 8 miles. On Saturday morning I did 46. Today I did 1.6 to work and later I’ll do 1.6 home (in fact I might go the long way home, and do more). This year I’ve done 1,600+ miles, even though up until June I only did 250, for various reasons. I own two bicycles – a summer road bike, and a winter / commuter bike. The year before last, when I cycled the whole year round, I rode more than 3,000 miles. Since June 2010, when I got a bike again for the first time since university, I’ve ridden more than 7,000 miles. I ride for leisure, for exercise, for convenience, and for pure fun. Riding is great. Bicycle people are great. But I still wouldn’t class myself as an expert, or even a very good cyclist. I’m just, I hope, not a bad cyclist. I also walk and drive a lot, and I don’t want to die, or cause a death, whilst travelling by any of those means.
Which is why I’m getting more and more militant about bad cyclists. Bad cyclists piss me off. Every time a bad cyclist does something stupid, a good cyclist bears the brunt of it. I get shouted at probably 30% of the time when I’m out, generally by dickheads leaning out of car windows. I don’t think I’ve ever been doing anything wrong when I’ve been shouted at; some motorists just hate cyclists, and bad cyclists doing stupid things that piss off motorists, just makes motorists hate cyclists more.
(A note to people who shout at cyclists from cars; we have no idea what you’re saying to us, and you come across as enormous wankers. Just so you know.)
I’m aware that this post could be seen as victim-blaming, and, yes, ideally the cities, towns, roads, and rural areas of this country would simply be a lot more accessible and friendly towards cyclists, with better infrastructure and policies, and we’d all ride bikes more and be healthier and the economy (people who cycle to city centres spend more than those who drive, strangely) and environment (cyclists don’t pollute) would benefit. I hope the popularity of Borgen, where the prime minister and TV journalists and everyone else is shown cycling around Denmark to work and the shops, will make us and our government realise that bikes make cities (and towns, and villages) better places to live in, and that policy and infrastructure will be altered accordingly. But the simple fact is this country is not Denmark or the Netherlands or Germany or any number of other countries where cycling isn’t something done by lunatics, and so you have to ride accordingly, and that means not doing insanely dangerous, stupid, or illegal things while on a bike, like…
Ride without lights in the dark.
By ‘the dark’ I just mean any sub-optimal light; it might be midday and foggy, or dawn, or dusk, or cloudy and under tree cover. If you’ve not got lights on, people cannot see you very well, if at all. You’re also practically silent. This is not a good combination. Most modern cars seem to have slightly tinted windows to minimise glare, which means you’re practically invisible to motorists in anything less than good daylight. I know this because I cycle and I drive. Because I drive, I would never cycle in sub-optimal light without lights for fear that I wouldn’t be seen. Riding without lights is stupid and insanely dangerous. It’s also, you know, illegal.
Jump red lights.
On Saturday I rode up a busy main street in Exeter, which has several sets of traffic lights, both for junctions and crossings. I stopped at all of them, as did another guy on a bike. A girl on a bike rode through on red each time. We’d then overtake her, stop at the next lights, and she’d catch us while we were stopped and jump through on red again. I was exasperated, and I may have shouted. It was busy. Cars and pedestrians were crossing the flow of traffic from all directions, and she could very easily have hit or been hit by something. I include, in this example, people who just nip up onto the pavement for a second to circumvent the lights, and cross with pedestrians. Jumping red lights is stupid and insanely dangerous. It’s also, you know, illegal.
(Slight caveat – sometimes this is unavoidable, for instance very early in the morning when no cars are about, at lights which change on a sensor; most sensors simply don’t recognise cyclists, so you have to ignore them sometimes. But I only do this if there’s absolutely no traffic. Would I do it in a car? I wouldn’t need to.)
Ride on the pavement.
Riding on the pavement is for little kids. Tiny little kids. With stabilisers. It is not for wannabe hipster teenage boys on vintage racing bikes; my wife will shout at you if you do this, and you are an idiot for doing it. Racing bikes, especially older ones, are not stable at slow speeds unless you’re pretty accomplished; riding them very slowly along the pavement, weaving precariously past pedestrians and looking like you’re going to fall off / crash into somebody, is stupid and insanely dangerous. It’s also, you know, illegal.
You know those t-shirts cyclists wear which say “You’re not stuck in traffic; you ARE traffic”, taunting motorists who are… stuck in traffic? Well, if you’re cycling on a road, you are traffic too. The problem is that neither cyclists nor motorists seem to quite understand what that means when it comes to passing other vehicles when you’re on a bike. And the law doesn’t help, either; it’s not illegal to undertake static or slow-moving traffic if you’re on a bicycle, nor to overtake, but which is best? This is a tricky one because it’s not necessarily insane or stupid, and it certainly isn’t illegal, but it can be dangerous.
As both a driver and a cyclist, motorists, in my experience, are generally not expecting people to undertake them, even bikes. And high-sided vehicles (buses, lorries, vans, even big people-carriers and 4x4s) simply don’t have adequate visibility of small things passing on their left. Even people in cars don’t always indicate their intentions, and can easily cut across cyclists. Unless I’m in a dedicated cycling lane I almost never undertake, and even then I’m loathe, and certainly never anything high-sided.
Ignoring one-way systems.
Again, you are traffic. You are obliged to obey the rules of the road, and that includes one-way systems. Cars will NOT be expecting you coming the other way, because you shouldn’t be coming the other way. Drivers pulling out of junctions into one-way systems probably won’t look the way that traffic shouldn’t be coming from, and even if they do I doubt it will be as thoroughly. Going the wrong way down a one-way street is stupid and insanely dangerous. It’s also, you know, illegal.
Ride too fast where it’s not appropriate.
I like to go fast. I have a decent road bike and I can cap 40mph on it downhill in good conditions. It’s exciting, and going down hills fast is one of the reasons why I cycle up hills in the first place (and I live and ride in Devon, so there are a lot of hills). I will admit to feeling a little shiver of delight when I set off a speed camera, even though I shouldn’t. Let’s blame Strava. Sometimes, speed is just not appropriate or safe. I have seen more than one riding buddy stack it into a hedge or a ditch because they were riding too fast. They’re lucky they didn’t stack it into an oncoming car. Riding too fast where it’s not appropriate is stupid and insanely dangerous. It’s also, if you’re going above the speed limit, you know, illegal.
Pedestrians and motorists are stupid, too.
Pushing baby buggies down cycle paths. Not controlling their dogs around cycle paths. Not looking for cyclists properly at roundabouts. Shouting at cyclists for no reason. For every bad cyclist there are more bad pedestrians and motorists, which is why you need to be a good cyclist, so you can avoid getting hurt or killed by them.
This list is in no way comprehensive; it’s just stuff I’ve noticed a lot – probably because I cycle and walk and drive in and around a university campus a lot of the time, and students, as we know, can be a little lackadaisical about their own personal safety and wellbeing. I want more people to ride bikes, but I want them to ride bikes well, so that it becomes a far more normal and accepted mode of transport. And so that idiot motorists don’t shout at me for not hugging the kerb when I’m doing 30mph on a downhill section of a main road in a 40mph limit.