Cycling really has become mainstream when it makes it onto the Joe Duffy show. I admit that I very occasionally do listen when people ‘talk to Joe’. It’s like a big bag of chips. You know that you won’t feel any better after listening to it, will probably have indigestion and it leaves a niggling uncomfortable feeling for the rest of the day. However, there is always a small gossip craving part of you that likes to listen to people complaining and giving out and being nasty to each other. There are times when a voice is given to someone who has suffered a genuine injustice and this is good, but can be cancelled out by the chip on shoulder attitude of some callers.
This week, as usual, the calmest, most laid back people in the Country rang up to do their civic duty and let the Nation hear all about injustices carried out upon them by some n’er do well. One poor lady was ‘just driving along’, minding her own business, on her way to work to earn a living to support her family when she encountered a dreadful situation. A few people on bicycles were on the road in front of her without a care or ounce of concern for any other road user on the planet. Rather than keep in to the ditch there they were out cycling two abreast. Luckily she was a very calm person and didn’t let it get her hot and bothered or agitated and she just gave them a friendly beep of the horn to let them know that she was there, even though one of them kept looking back giving her dirty looks. Then when she went past they gave her awful abuse altogether with hands and fingers and shouting and roaring.
Another scenario: two cyclists were probably riding along two abreast. A calm relaxing morning spin which was interrupted by a few ‘close ones’ with cars passing them on bends or passing millimetres from them had put them on edge. When a car came right up behind them they felt threatened. A tonne of metal in full control of someone who is aggressive and confrontational can make you feel pretty vulnerable when you only have a little bit of lycra to protect you. A shrill shriek of a horn was a sure sign that this person was not ‘cyclist friendly’. With a continuos white line where was she going to go anyway. The car then probably revved up and passed the cyclists much closer than the recommended 1.5 meters and the cyclists believed, wrongly, that by gesticulating and shouting they would make the driver think twice before being aggressive with cyclists again.
The reality was probably somewhere in the middle. Someone rushing, late for work getting caught behind a few cyclists. Cyclists out on the public road where they are entitled to be being made to feel as if they should not be there and being angered by it. Tempers flare and both parties are left feeling wronged.
The danger of radio shows highlighting the plight of poor motorists against inconsiderate and wreckless cyclists is that it creates a mood amongst motorists where they see a cyclist and immediately think ‘There’s another one of those clowns who think they own the road’ and the motorists behaviour is affected by their attitude and dangerous situations are created. Drivers begin to see an issue where there is none. Cyclists can legally and rightly cycle two abreast. Looking at a group from behind, as many cyclists nowadays are not overly experienced two lines can look like three or even four abreast when it is actually only two abreast. They are just out there to keep fit and enjoy some fresh air in the company of a few friends. They do not have a goal of frustrating motorists.
However, Cyclists are not blameless either. Breaking red lights, being foul mouthed and ‘giving the finger’ to motorists and riding out in the middle of the road without consideration for other road users is just not acceptable. Nothing good for either party is going to be achieved by being aggressive and confrontational. Cyclists need to also remember that there is no point being ‘in the right’ and ending up in the graveyard.
Just as some motorists are constantly looking for a cyclist or group of cyclists doing something that they should not be doing whenever they are out on the roads, cyclists with video cameras are doing the same thing. As someone who has been cycling over 30 years I look at some of the videos showing bad driver behaviour and it looks as though the cyclist went out of their way to create a situation that could have been avoided.
There should be no ‘Them and Us’ attitude between drivers and cyclists. Most cyclists drive and most drivers cycle or have cycled or their kids cycle. WE are all human beings just trying to get by as best we can and enjoy a bit of life along the way.
Perspective is everything. Imaging a driver coming up behind some clown on a bike. They are slowing them down and they are going to be late for work. They were talking about this very thing on the radio the day before. Bloody cyclists. The driver has no option but to take a chance on a bend to pass, a truck comes around the bend and the driver hits and kills the cyclist. It turns out that the cyclist was a father of four young kids all under six. For months and years after the ‘accident’ these kids will cry themselves to sleep, on the nights when they do actually get to sleep. Their mother will suffer a nervous breakdown from the stress and two of the kids will have to go to live with and be raised by their grandparents. Will it have been worth the driver feeling aggressive towards the cyclist and taking the chance to pass, all because they did not get out of bed early enough to be on time for work and felt justified by something they heard on the radio ?
Every cyclist is a Father or Mother, a Son or a Daughter, a Husband or a Wife. Their lives matter !