I’ve been a cyclist for about six weeks now. Never thought I’d be one, it feels a bit too grown-up for me and I’ve always had a bit of a disdain for cyclists after the number of times I’d nearly been run over while crossing the road, but a number of factors all came together and I ended up getting a bike. That first, unsteady ride from the bike shop to my office just around the corner was full of sheer terror. It had been years, many years, since I’d last been on a bicycle and while the old adage is true – you never forget how to ride it – nothing quite could prepare me for unconfidently wobbling along a narrow side road with a car seemingly hurtling towards me.
I did, eventually get used to it. Those first few days were some of the scariest of my life, I felt as if I was putting my life into my own hands on every journey. I hadn’t quite figured out the best route, and riding through the busiest roads in the city was utterly terrifying. Very soon after, though, I’d gotten used to that, having gained confidence and planned a much better route through side-streets and lovely special cycle lanes, meaning the only other problem I faced during those first few weeks was coping with the physical demands of more than a 7 mile cycle twice a day. It was very tiring and at first I would have to stop several times along the way to catch my breath. Every time I’d get near some traffic lights I’d pray they turn red so I’d be able to have a little rest.
Luckily I’ve now even managed to get over that, I do the journey in around 50 minutes without stopping and I’ve managed to improve my fitness (although, let’s not get too carried away, I’ve actually gained weight since I started) and gain confidence on the road. This has left me to ponder other things on my journey. Such as how terrible everyone is.
Just like the cars they drive, this is a mixed bunch but they are mostly OK. Some are really quite timid but there are of course the occasional ones who think they have more of a right to be on the road than anyone else.
One such car driver is celebrity chef and odious tosser, James Martin. He wrote in a recent Daily Mail article that he enjoyed driving up behind a group of cyclists on a country road and blasting his horn to startle them. “The look of sheer terror as they tottered into the hedge was the best thing I’ve ever seen in my rear-view mirror”, he scrawl. The day after I read this, I (and I think hundreds of others) was terrified of the motives of car drivers. Do they really want to injure us? Is the guy in that car over there going to see if I can be impaled on that fence, for a laugh? For him being among their number, car drivers have to all be labelled as bastards, in the kind of sweeping generalisation that I will continue with throughout this piece.
Growing up in London, I’ve always had an ingrained respect for the cabbie, and the black hackney carriage proudly carrying people through our busy city. So it was a bit of a shock to find that they’re without a doubt the most trouser-botheringly scary drivers on the road.
Sweet Jesus, they truly drive without fear, getting as close as possible to my bike without touching it. Obviously, when I say they have no fear, I’m the one more likely to come off worse if we do hit each other, but even then they often put their front passenger window at serious risk of getting a handlebar through it, sometimes they get so close it’d just take a little wobble. And I do still tend to wobble.
I particularly dislike the way they menacingly inch forward at traffic lights, threatening to topple me over at any moment.
They are also more likely than any other driver to bark instructions – sometimes they want people to hurry up, sometimes they want them to keep out of the way. Very indecisive, and far scarier than Stuntman Mike.
From what people told me before I started cycling, I was really quite scared of buses, as if they were stalking the streets of London hunting for bicycles to devour, but actually I’ve found them to be really good. Double deckers, single deckers, even bendy buses have all been fine. The drivers always indicate correctly, their vehicles are easy to ride behind or around and they never get too close if I’m in front.
However, previous experience as bus passenger for 28 years makes me realise that, no, actually bus drivers are loathsome sadists deserving as much, if not more, contempt than anyone else on the road. They will wait at the bus stop while you run as fast as you can only to close the doors as soon as you arrive. If you bang on the door they will tut and drive off. And if you are lucky enough to be on the bus itself, they’ll brake so hard it’s a wonder people aren’t regularly seen flying through bus windscreens.
I’ve been fortunate enough not to have any dangerous encounters with them, but I’ve seen enough others almost knocked off their bicycles by motorbikes weaving in and out of traffic to be really quite worried by them. I’m sure they’re just as worried about larger vehicles as we are about them, although that’s not always reflected in some of the things I’ve seen.
Actually seem to drive very carefully, not a problem there, but being caught behind one in traffic is like having to ride through Russell Brand’s laundry bin. Unpleasant.
It really pains me to say it as a lifelong pedestrian, but of all the menaces I have to face each day, pedestrians are by far the worst. Basically put, pedestrians are morons.
Some of it is ignorance, things that to be fair I also didn’t know about before I started cycling. For example, at one point on my morning route I have to follow a cycle path up to the pavement, stop beside a zebra crossing and then get back on the road when the green man and a green cycle appears – it’s a combined pedestrian and cycle crossing. However, people don’t seem to realise this and when I arrive at the side of the crossing they look at me as if I’ve just driven a tank through an orphanage. A similar situation happens at a couple of crossings on my journey where there’s separate lights for different road users. So, the cars get the green light first, then we get the green light in the shape of bicycle afterwards, then finally the pedestrians get the green man. Quite often, pedestrians assume that when the cars get a red light and stop it means it’s time for them to cross, and therefore are utterly appalled when a load of cyclists get in their way.
Actually, no, scrap that last one, that’s not ignorance. Because it wouldn’t happen if they WAIT FOR THE FRICKING GREEN MAN!
But a lot more is sheer stupidity – you honestly would not believe the amount of people who attempt to cross the road in front of me without looking in the direction of oncoming traffic. Literally tens of them every day. Even a tiny gnat knows that you’re supposed to look left and right before stepping off the kerb. Some of them cross looking only in the wrong direction, some cross while reading something, some just step out right in front of me without breaking stride, completely unaware that I’m heading for them. I’m not talking about them doing this on crossings, just randomly in the middle of the road. Utter jerk-offs.
And what the hell was it the other day with the woman I saw who seemed to think that the red man is a symbol which means “push your pram into the road”?
What a bunch of pricks.
I know I should stand up for my fellow kind, and there are lots of genuinely good, safe cyclists who follow all the rules. But there are too many that I encounter on a daily basis that give us all a bad name. You can usually tell the type – no helmet, no fluorescents, they weave past other bikes just as close as taxi drivers, even in tight cycle lanes, and then zoom past red lights.
Listen, guys, please stop going through red lights? It makes car drivers want to injure us and pedestrians terrified of us. We’re never going to progress while people are still doing this on a regular basis.
But I guess at least the ones going through red lights stick to the road. There’s a very special part of hell reserved for people who ride their bikes on the pavement.
Undoubtably the biggest idiot on the road is the person writing this blog. I’ve really not got a clue what I’m doing, especially when it comes to junctions. I just can’t get my head around the etiquette. Sometimes I’m supposed to hurry up and go across, sometimes I’m supposed to wait and let others go round, and I never have any idea what’s expected of me each time and invariably get it wrong.
At the very least I’m clearly a danger to myself. The only injuries I’ve sustained in the last 6 weeks have been self-inflicted. The worst was when I was nowhere near anybody else and somehow clipped the kerb with the pedal and fell into a heap on the floor. On another occasion, I certainly did not get distracted by a pretty Japanese girl, who did not cause me to momentarily lose control and almost crash, for that would be an absolutely terrible thing that I would never do. I am suitably ashamed. I am an idiot.
In summary, then: everyone’s an idiot.
But please don’t let that put you off taking up cycling. If anything i’d like to actively encourage you all to start riding a bike, we’ll have safety in numbers after all. It is a very cheap, environmentally friendly and incredibly healthy way to travel. The only cost is that it may turn you into a misanthrope.
In the meantime, if what I said about whatever particular group of maniacs you belong to sounded a bit harsh, I obviously didn’t mean you (specifically you, reading this right now) and actually I think you’re great. So please try not to run me over or walk in front of me or anything like that. To help you in that regard, here are a couple of magnificent awareness tests from TfL: