Thursday, 10 July 2008

British cycling

I watched Cavendish win yesterday's stage of the Tour de France. He is currently the best sprinter in the world and the first British stage winner for 5 years. It was great to watch and he really deserved it after last year when he was well placed to win the second stage in Canterbury until a female spectator walked in front of him and knocked him off his bike. I don't know whether he would have won or not but the dream of a British stage win on home ground was ended there and then by a stupid and selfish act.

Cycling was also in the news yesterday after a cyclist on a mountain bike was fined £2000 for knocking over and killing a young girl who either stepped in front of him or refused to get out of his way. The story is quite complicated and it is hard to work out exactly what happened. It does sound like the man didn't make any attempt to stop when the teenagers were in the road and that can never be condoned; and I can also fully understand why the girls parents feel that the punishment was grossly inadequate. However, this story led the papers and press to publish a whole collection of anti-cyclist articles. There was quite a nice balance in the Times presenting what I thought was many sides of the argument. As a driver, cyclist and one time regular commuter on the bike I feel I have the right to add my bit!

1. Not all cyclists break the rules in the same way that not all motorists are mad psychopaths whose one aim is to knock off every bike rider they see.

2. In order to survive as a cycling commuter you have to believe the latter so that you can protect yourself against the one that is!

3. Sometimes it is safer for everyone if as a cyclist you bend a few rules. For example, it is safer to position yourself just ahead of cars at a junction so that they can see you and it is safer to be a little out from the side of the road for the same reason. It does make some car drivers annoyed but at least they see you.

4. Most cyclists are insured; either through their household insurance, car insurance or through membership of a cycling organisation.

5. It is quite possible to accidentally kill someone when you are riding a bike. Downhill the bike will go as fast as a car (something that often seems to infuriate some car drivers who feel like they should overtake no matter what).

6. The consequence of any scrape between me on a bike and a car will always be worse for me (so it is in my best interest not to get into one).

7. Cyclists do pay tax that adequately covers their use of the roads, either through income tax or through motor vehicle tax (most cyclists own cars as well).

8. Sometimes pedestrians just don't look out for bikes. When they see me (and I do not cycle on pavements unless it is legal for me to do so) they jump and say 'get a bell'. Well, I have tried a bell and it is not heard above the traffic! If it is, it also causes people to jump out of their skins and in their shock and then they usually walk in front of me! I have tried coughing loudly, squealing my breaks, saying politely 'excuse me please' or 'just behind you' and all of it produces a startled response.

9. Pedestrians sometimes think that if I cycle more slowly it will be safer. This is not necessarily true as at very slow speeds it is more difficult to control the direction of the bike.

10. It is very difficult to hand signal as you are going down hill and braking!

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