Cyclists of the world, unite in your hatred of cyclists

Dick-Head Central

It’s been a while since I last checked in. Partially due to the fact that my workplace now has a very restrictive internet policy (not that I ever wrote my blogs on their time, in case you happen to be my boss reading this) and partly due to being busy with another extra-curricular activity, namely making a documentary about Darts.

Someone who appears to be watching darts in a hotel room

See, I really have been making a darts documentary, as this photo of a buffoon with a 180 sign clearly demonstrates.

What finally galvanised me into writing a new post was much the same sort of things that started me writing the blog in the first place. The idiots on two wheels that make this idiot on two wheels fantasize about committing acts of bloody violence with my shackle lock.

Summer is always a harder time to ride in London. Though the weather makes it more pleasant in some ways, this also means that the fair weather cyclist puts on his iPod, leaps on the bike that has been neglected through winter and spring (or hires a Boris-Bike) and sets about riding aimlessly around the city with a scant regard for other road users, pedestrians and The Highway Code in a way that seems designed specifically to annoy me. Add to that the extra traffic which already seems to be resulting from the looming corporate farce that calls itself The Olympics, and you have the perfect recipe for some breathtakingly ludicrous crimes against common sense from our peddling brethren.

Ha Ha, suckers!

Are there any lengths cyclists will not go to in an attempt to quell their impatience?

A case in point and something that seems to be happening more and more is this: You are waiting for a space in oncoming traffic to turn right and find that, just as you begin your manoeuvre, another cyclist cuts inside of you and gets ahead. I suppose this a variation on a complaint I’ve made here before, that of people who come and sit right in front of you at the lights when it is clear you will be going faster than them when you take off. The difference is that it is not quite so clear cut. With the traffic lights situation then I give you a pass if you are clearly going to be going faster than I will. I would rather you took off and were well out of my way. But with the turning right situation, someone cutting in like this is just plain rude at best and dangerous at worst. It inevitably means that I am going to have check my turn to make sure I don’t catch your back tire as you cut across me, no matter how Bradley-fucking-Wiggins you think you are being. Unfortunately, the majority of people who do this are not even those who are going to be particularly quick. Fixies will probably take off quick I grant you, but generally I notice that their average cruising speed is slower than mine, so I will only have to go past them again in a short while. Mountain bikes, particularly the ones with big-assed tires on them better have a pretty fit cyclist if they think they are going to be going faster than me. Don’t even get me started on Bromptons and Boris-bikes.

However, whether or not the other cyclist will be faster than you isn’t really the main issue here. If someone, in any vehicle, is in motion approaching a manoeuvre at a junction then you should not be passing them on either side if you are in the same lane, especially if you are performing the same manoeuvre, be they a cyclist or a fucking articulated lorry. It’s basic common sense, basic road rules, and basic common courtesy. Three qualities which we all know are not much in evidence among London cyclists.

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Thoughts On a Murder

This is a cycling blog. That’s what I set it up as and I have no business discussing anything else unless, at least in some small way, it is related to cycling. So it needs to be something I feel pretty strongly about to break my own rules. I suppose I could argue that this is a subject I have ruminated upon more than once while cycling but that would be a stretch. Anyway, I’m not about to apologise for it but just so you know, we are interrupting the scheduled programming.

Troy Davis

On Wednesday 21st September, at 11.08pm EST (3.08am GMT) Troy Anthony Davis was pronounced dead, following his murder by the State of Georgia. He went to his death still proclaiming his innocence in the shooting of an off-duty policeman over 20 years before, yet he went to it also with grace and dignity, urging his supporters to carry on the fight against such injustices after he was gone. Perhaps we should take comfort at least that his suffering, after two decades of psychological torture at the hands of a barbaric judicial system, is over. Cold comfort it is however. The man should not have been killed, possibly shouldn’t even have been found guilty, given the grave doubts surrounding the case. Seven of nine key witnesses have recanted their original testimony, some citing police coercion (of the other two, one has remained silent since the original trial and the other is the most likely alternative suspect), new witnesses have come forward, no murder weapon has ever been found and no DNA evidence links Davis to the murder.

Any rational person faced with this information would consider all of this reasonable doubt, reasonable enough at least to question the wisdom of actions as irreversible as state sanctioned murder. Not the Supreme Court of the United States of America, who granted an eleventh hour reprieve at the very last-minute while they considered the defence team’s appeal for a stay of execution, only to decide that they would not block the execution and so allowed this gruesome farce to go ahead. Not the Supreme Court of The State of Georgia, who dismissed any such appeals earlier in the evening. Not the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, who denied an appeal for clemency earlier in the week. Not Judge William Moore, who dismissed most of the witness recantations as “unreliable” during 2010’s federal hearing, on the utterly illogical basis that witnesses who change their testimony are unreliable witnesses, while still being prepared to accept their original testimony. Not any one the people who have had it in their power to see justice properly served during any of the numerous appeals and legal hoop jumping that has taken place around this case since it began in 1989.

Lighting candles outside the US Embassy

Last night was one of the strangest of my life. We stood outside the US Embassy in London, perhaps four hundred or more of us, talking, hoping, waiting and sending out messages to the authorities in Georgia, which were not only ignored but actively blocked. Lined along the floor hundreds of candles flickered in the breeze as a losing battle was fought to keep them all alight. As the time of the execution approached we became silent and turned to face the embassy. If I can take my own experience to represent that of those around me, the feeling was not one of tension precisely, nor even of anger. I can only describe it as uncertainty. Uncertain how to feel, uncertain what such a miscarriage of justice means and uncertain what we would do if it went ahead. The time came and we remained in silence, waiting for news. Gradually some new information began to tentatively ripple through the crowd and quickly took on the excited note that could only mean good news. The first information to come through was that a stay of execution had been granted and amidst the cheering and hugging many of us found the tears streaming down our cheeks out of sheer relief. Soon this was found to be inaccurate however. We discovered after a period of confusion that the Supreme Court had granted a temporary reprieve while they considered granting a stay. We soon also learned that the reprieve could last anywhere from one to seven days. Reluctantly we packed up and headed home, realising there was nothing else to do.

When I awoke this morning I went to where my phone was charging and checked the latest news, to discover that our fears had been realised, Troy was dead. I climbed back into bed and held my fiancé and told her I loved her while tears silently gathered in my eyes. She knew what this meant even before I told her and we held each other in silent mourning. I don’t know what I cried for in truth. The death of a man I’d never met who was denied his basic human rights? The injustice? Our failure? I honestly don’t know. I only know that what happened was wrong, that the death penalty is wrong and that I am left feeling an emptiness that I cannot account for. Soon I will regain my anger, my motivation to join thousands of others in the fight for a worldwide ban on capital punishment, a fight that we must surely carry anew to the ‘Land of the Free’. For now I am only sad.

“Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated can be compared. For there to be an equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life.” – Albert Camus

And so are you. Rest In Peace Troy

False Economy

Coming soon to a Halfords near you

I’m not sure what I based the eventual choice of my first bike on but I’m pretty sure it was mostly on price. On very low price. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight I realise how naive that was. With bikes, though price is not in itself a measure of quality, I would say anything under about £300 might be false economy and should be treated with suspicion. There are no doubt exceptions to this, but it’s a good rule of thumb. I think my bike was perhaps the second or third cheapest hybrid that Halfords had to offer, coming in at a wallet friendly £125. The trick that I fell for hook line and sinker was the “down from £325” claim that made me think I was getting a bargain. This is a standard trick of Halfords and perhaps other big retailers, so watch out for it. Possibly Halfords did roll out this piece of shit bike with a £325 price tag on it initially, knowing full well that hardly anyone with any sense would pay that much for it. How long they actually keep that price tag on it is another matter. Go to their website now (i.e. anytime) and I guarantee that you will find a large selection of bikes in the £100 – £200 range that claim you are saving anywhere between £80 – £200. These are poor quality bikes and best avoided. I picked up my bike from Halfords and rode it home. The gear changes were awkward and uncertain even on that first ride I realise now, but I was too out of touch with modern bikes to know that then. Here are just a few of the major things that went wrong with my bike in the first month:

  • The gears continually slipped, particularly going up hills and especially when I was in the lowest gears which should be the ones to cope best with hills. I took the bike back to Halfords on 3 different occasions to have this looked at and got a variety of excuses including – “It just needs lubricating” (helped for about five minutes before slipping returned), “Well, what happens with these bikes is they don’t really have a suitable chain and gear set for the weight of the bike” (“SO WHY FUCKING SELL IT THEN?”) and “Yeah, you’ve lost several teeth from your gears and your chain is stretched. Two months is a normal lifespan for that kind of thing if you’re doing heavy riding, you’ll have to replace the lot”. HEAVY RIDING? MUSWELL HILL TO CENTRAL LONDON AND BACK THREE TIMES A WEEK?!
  • The chain would leap off at awkward times such as taking off from lights ahead of traffic
  • The handlebars would suddenly come loose, slipping forward and almost pitching me off the bike on more than one occasion
  • I had to fix several punctures to the back tyre, the first within weeks of buying the bike. Having said that, you may often find that inferior tyres and innertubes are supplied even on good bikes at a lot of retailers. This helps them appear to sell the same bike for a bit less than their competitors, so you should always make sure you know what getting in terms of tyres and wheels etc. Go online and find out what people say about the performance they have had from certain tyres, then ask the shop why they have put cheap ones on a good bike. They will sometimes be willing to throw in a better quality set instead if it makes the sale. Don’t be afraid to haggle a bit, if not for this then for some light accessories such as water bottles or mini tool kits. You are spending a tidy sum after all.

If you are buying your bike on a budget then go and talk to your local bike shop, whether they be one of the more reputable chains or an independent and see if they have a finance scheme to allow you to pay in instalments. Even better, if you are in full time employment, speak to your employer about the Cycle to Work scheme. This is a scheme subsidised by the government which operates similarly to a hire purchase scheme administered by your employer. Your purchase will be tax free and you can save up to 40% on the overall cost of your bike, allowing you to go up the scale a little bit in terms of quality without breaking the bank. You will be paying in instalments from your wages, so pretty much as soon as you get your vouchers to cover the cost of the bike and any essential accessories you can order it, pick it all up and start riding.

Worth every penny

I got my bike this way (though not through Halfords, you may depend upon that) and after my first monstrosity it was, and still is, a breath of fresh air. I was able to afford a £630 bike, the Fuji Absolute 2.0 (the 2010 model, which can now be picked up for around £370 which I highly recommend doing) which has taken me up hills, over many long rides and carried me the six and half miles to and from work (over some of the most abominable roads of North and South London, which is more like mountain biking sometimes) most days of the week for over a year now and shows very few signs of wear and tear. Next year I will probably take her over the Coast to Coast again (I promised the paramedic in the helicopter that air-lifted me out last time that I would do it for the Air Ambulance) as I need closure after my previous attempt, and I have no doubt that she will still be in good enough shape to handle the Pennines and Lake District in all their glory. I should probably replace the brake pads soon, I have replaced the tyres (though that was because I wanted to go for the thinner road tyres, rather than any problems with the ones I had) and the middle setting on my front derailleur can be a touch uncooperative for a moment when changing up occasionally. The brakes are natural wear and tear and the derailleur is an easy fix that I just haven’t gotten around to yet. And that’s it, the sum total of the problems I have had with this wonderful contraption. All for the sake of a few hundred pounds difference, roughly what I probably would have had to spend to get the first one anything like roadworthy. I may buy another bike in the next couple of years, perhaps a proper road bike for variety, but I bet my Fuji will still be going strong for years to come. God I love that bike.

You watch, the hipsters in Shoreditch will be riding these in no time

Riding into work a couple of days ago I saw a guy tackling a very slight incline on a hybrid bike that was clearly struggling to stay in the selected gear. Along he stuttered, chain slipping constantly to the steady crunch of a poorly made gear wheel. I felt his pain, as the brand of bike was the very same that I settled upon when I returned to cycling almost two years ago. I don’t want to slander anyone unduly, so let’s just say that this brand was the in-house line of bicycles sold by a large chain of shops better known for their car and motorcycle accessories. Their name rhymes with…  actually, I don’t think anything really rhymes with it. Sal cords. Mal fjords. It just doesn’t work. The actual bike brand is the name of an Ancient Greek god.

Oh I can’t be bothered with this, it was from Halfords and the brand is Apollo. My first bike and almost all the experiences that I had with them after purchasing it were a nightmare. Somehow, through all the shit that I had to put with on that bike and with Halfords themselves, I still managed to get the cycling bug and realised that, despite hating most other cyclists and drivers, I actually love cycling as a pastime. I don’t quite know how this came about because I spent about five months battling against constant punctures, really poor gears that started slipping very severely after only two weeks and customer service reminiscent of a Steven Wright standup set in both delivery and surrealism, though far less entertaining.

Apollo - God of missing gear teeth and faulty brakes

When I first returned to cycling I knew nothing and, despite myriad buying guides and information resources on the internet, still found the world of bicycle purchasing very overwhelming. I was 33 and the world of cycling was very different to when I had last owned a bike over 15 years before. Back then, living in Wirral, the only person I had ever seen wearing skin-tight synthetic fabrics and sweating was a girl dancing in The Ritzy nightclub on The Croft Retail Park in Bromborough, and she was best avoided at all costs as my friend Neil discovered to his shame. So when I came to consider a bike that would be suitable for completing the Amnesty International Coast to Coast ride, I was amazed at the range of bikes on offer and felt understandably lost in choosing. I had to buy a bad bike, get some miles under my belt and have some bad experiences to learn what to look for and what I wanted from a bike. Over the next couple of days I am going to post some of the things that I have learned, though it should be pointed out that I am far from being a technical expert. In fact, that is sort of the point. All the buying guides that I checked out when I was first looking into bikes seemed to assume some technical knowledge beforehand and didn’t really warn against the more fundamental mistakes that are very easy to make when buying a bike. If you disagree with me or can elaborate on my advice then chip in with some comments too.

Tune in tomorrow for the first exciting instalment.

See, cyclists are such bastards they randomly punch doctors on the street.

I fucking hate cyclists. It was my default position before I started cycling and it hasn’t changed in the least since I became one myself. Self righteous, nauseatingly arrogant and completely selfish wankers to a man. I feel the same about the anti-smoking Nazis. I’ve been given up for almost 6 months now but I refuse to jump on the ‘persecute smokers’ bandwagon merely because I’m now on the other side of the fence. If you are smoking outside, or alone in your own home, that is your business and I genuinely do not give a good goddamn. Holy good God smoking a rollie in Heaven, I want one now.

Some days everyone looks like this to me

However, I digress. The point is that all cyclists seem to have their own individual, entirely biased system of road rules, which they will then arrogantly expect to apply to every other road user. This is true of all road users to a lesser extent, we are always the main player in our own story after all. The difference is that, while drivers have an extensive program of training on both the practical side of driving and the details of The Highway Code, followed by compulsory testing, cyclists need only buy a bike. Any other cycle training or even a brief skim reading of the cyclist relevant parts of The Highway Code (by the way, that is pretty much every section of The Highway Code except the motorway stuff, not just the bits with pictures of bikes) is purely optional on the part of the cyclist. To me this is like being told you need a license to fly a plane but all you need to do to fly a helicopter is buy one.

Cycle training and testing should be compulsory and that is that. You can argue that it would be too difficult to implement or that it would put people off cycling if you like, but the fact remains that if we want to improve road education (something which the anti-helmet crowd I mentioned yesterday are very keen on, though they never seem to make any suggestions for how to go about it) then the only way to achieve that is by educating road users. We don’t get better road users by saying, “We need better road users”. We might get them if we say “Oi, you on the fixie with the stupid haircut. Yes you. Take out the headphones please sir. Thank you. Now, can I see your cycling licence please sir? You don’t have one? I’m arresting you for operating a vehicle without the proper license sir. You have the right to remain silent.” Actually, thinking about it, we should probably get a policeman to say this instead, it will be more effective. Admittedly, there are millions of bad drivers out there who have passed through all the necessary training and testing and are still bad drivers. The faults and inadequacies of Driver testing are perhaps a conversation for another time however. At least motorists have that common point, that consistent element to their training that always draws them back to the rules of the road, even if they choose to ignore them and become black-cab drivers.

At the moment, most cyclists I encounter seem to operate on a combination of intuition, observations of roadcraft gleaned from late night pirate taxi-journeys and London’s infamous bad attitude. An average London cyclist’s philosophy appears to be:

  1. The notion that no matter what you do, you cannot be wrong.
  2. The best method is to ride as if there is not a single other vehicle on the road and London is your own personal velodrome.
  3. If anyone challenges you or gets in your way shout a mouthful of insults and ride away before they can respond.

I should point out that I do not imagine myself to always be entirely above making mistakes or the occasional case of bad road judgement, but I can honestly say that I try to maintain adherence to the rules of the road while also trying to be courteous to other road users. I never knowingly cut people off or obstruct them if I can help it, unless your name is Boris – Two Wheeled Scarecrow – Johnson. A forgivable exception I think you will agree.

In case you are wondering what prompted this tirade, I did have an incident this morning on my way to work. Fortunately it happened quite near work, as I was seething with anger afterward and don’t like to ride angry. Turning right off Waterloo Bridge on the North side when the lights go green is an awkward and difficult manoeuvre at the best of times, with closely packed lorries, buses, motorcycle couriers and black taxis bottle-necking there at most hours of the day and night. Add to that a large group of London rush hour cyclists and you will accept that it is a situation which a wise rider will handle carefully. I got into a position near the front of the group, ahead of a few Boris bikes and traditionals, but trying not to get in the way of any of the serious, super lightweight road bike riders, in the usual sponsorship plastered cycle clothing that they hope makes them look like they got lost while competing in Le Tour. Sure enough, the serious riders took off a little bit quicker than me and I got quickly clear of the slower bikes without getting in anyone’s way. As I turned right toward Aldwych a large refrigerator lorry came past me on my offside, so I slowed slightly to let him go ahead of me. Then, as we got onto Aldwych he slowed right down again. Now here I made a slight error of judgement, which I hold my hands up to. I couldn’t really pull out and overtake him as the traffic on his offside was too busy, but there was plenty of space on his near-side and he was now almost at a complete stop. In my experience, when someone (especially in something as lethal and blind-spot ridden as a large lorry) is quibbling about directions, or driving in any way unusually, your best bet is to hang back and let them do whatever they are going to do. It usually indicates that the driver’s full attention is not on other road users and their actions may be unpredictable. So I should have hung back, but I didn’t. Under the mistaken impression that he had seen me in his mirror I kicked down and made for the large space between the front of the lorry and the parked van just ahead. Of course, as I should have anticipated he chose that moment to make up his mind and take off, though it wasn’t too much of problem because I saw what was going to happen in time and was able to brake, albeit a little suddenly. I’ve no sooner done this than I have another cyclist alongside me shouting some unintelligible criticism at me, before cycling off in self-righteous anger. I shouted after him that he should come back and tell me what it was that bothered him (fuel to the fire I admit) and to my surprise and his credit he did slow down to let me catch up, stating, “I said ‘Jesus Christ!’ because you stopped so suddenly. Why don’t you look behind you?”

I responded, without undue anger I feel, that I hadn’t had any choice as my path was cut off by the lorry, at which point he rode away again shouting, “Just fucking look behind you!”. I admit I may have shouted something similarly childish and ten times more abusive before he was out of earshot, but he didn’t return and I soon turned into Drury Lane.

The flaw in his logic is that, if I brake suddenly and it causes him a problem behind me, that can only mean that he must have been far too close to my back wheel in the first place. Not only that, but the mistake that I had made in dangerously trying to undertake the lorry, he must by extension have made too. I had a choice between brake or be run down, so looking behind me was neither a possibility nor a necessity. By the time I had looked behind me I would have been injured or dead. Apparently this is the course of action that I should have followed however, rather than slightly inconveniencing a Lance Armstrong wannabe by forcing him to try to remember where his brakes are.

If you are in a car and you do not keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead, you cannot blame the car in front for braking in reaction to something that has taken place ahead of them, such as a child running out or a cyclist attempting a silly manoeuvre intended to cut off Boris Johnson’s progress. Well, you can but no one will take you seriously and it will be you, not them who gets penalised if driving too close to the car in front results in an accident. The point being, there is a certain amount of common ground between drivers, at least in theory. I’ve never known anyone who, having been through the process of learning to drive, could claim complete ignorance on the subject of stopping distances, even if they don’t really know them by heart or observe them in practice. I don’t think such a notion even occurs to the majority of cyclists. I think the police need to crack down on cycling law breakers, both cyclists and those who put cyclists in danger, and if not compulsory testing then we need to bring in compulsory cycle training at the very least. It will be difficult to find a workable way of doing it (and debating that may need to be a topic for a later blog) and I realise that it may put people off cycling, but cyclists put themselves and others in danger every day due to ignorance and ambivalence toward the rules of the road. I want to see the idiots penalised as surely as they would be behind the wheel of a car or on a motorcycle. I’m dreaming, but hey, I’m not the only one.

I fucking hate cyclists.

p.s. If you are interested in cycle training, there are free and subsidised courses offered all over London. TFL’s website has details of how to find your nearest course which you can find here

Wednesday 14/09/11

MORNING

He was worried about pollution, then he got hit by a bus

Seemed like there was a lot of bare heads out there this morning, which reminded me about something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while: Helmets.

To me there seems to be a lot of stupidity about this entire issue. I don’t expect hipsters to wear them, (they are brain damaged already or they wouldn’t be wearing their hair like that) but I’m surprised just how many average looking cyclists, and in particular retro and foldy riders don’t wear their helmets.

There are two arguments against wearing helmets that I have heard bandied about quite often and they go something like this:

  • There is no evidence whatsoever that helmets protect you when you are riding a bike. Well, this is only half true at best, but as you might expect it is a very difficult thing to gauge. The statistics for cycle accidents, head injuries and helmet usage rates over time (known as time trend analyses) show no significant decrease in head injury rates as helmet usage increases. Unfortunately, these kind of studies can never take into account every factor and there is no general consensus among study authors as to which data sets are most significant. The other major type of study, which compares head injury rates between those involved in accidents wearing a helmet and those not, known ‘Case Control Studies’ often indicate that helmets drastically reduce the seriousness of injuries sustained during a collision, one famously stating that they may:

Source – ” …reduce the risk of head injury in a collision by 63-88% and injury to the upper and mid face by 65%” Thompson, Diane C; Rivara, Fred; Thompson, Robert (1999). “Helmets for preventing head and facial injuries in bicyclists”

However, amongst other criticisms of this particular study it has been suggested that this is an incorrect figure due to a misunderstanding of the mathematical principles applied to the ratio of helmet wearers to non-helmet wearers. So even if you believe it, I wouldn’t go quoting this figure in the pub if I were you. Particularly if you go to the pub with a lot of mathematicians. On the other hand, there is no tangible evidence that wearing a helmet puts you in increased danger (despite what some people would have you think, of which more in the next point) so if there is even a slight chance that it will protect you, why would you not wear one? The only reason I can think of is vanity, and that is no reason to get your head smashed in by a black cab. Though it may be a reason to get your head smashed in by me if you are the hipster on the fixie that skidded in front of me with his earphones in before almost taking out a pedestrian crossing at the lights this morning.

  • Studies show that wearing a cycle helmet actually increases your chance of serious injury. Okay, now I will quote some facts with regard to why people think this, but first let me just say this; At least in relation to cycling in London, this is the one of the most ludicrous fucking arguments I have ever heard about anything. Here is how it breaks down. Studies have shown a marked increase in the danger of rotational injuries. That is, injuries caused by torsional forces acting on the wider circumference of the rim of the helmet than that of the wearer’s head. This can cause two problems, the first being that your head may be subjected to torsional forces it may otherwise have avoided and the second being that the wider circumference will increase those forces in the same way that a longer lever will have greater force than a short one. Don’t misunderstand me, this is a very real danger with some helmets and can lead to fatal injury and serious brain damage. However, most helmets now have a design with allows the main shell of the helmet to disengage under high torsional forces and more are being designed with slip plains now, another innovation that reduces this risk severely. So we could pretty much discard this as an argument about most helmets and could discard it altogether if regulations on helmet design forced manufacturers to include these elements in every helmet. Now, here is where it gets really silly. Many people claim that cyclists ride more dangerously when wearing a helmet than when they are not and that motorists give helmet wearing cyclists less room than their bare-headed counterparts. While this may be true, this is surely only an issue that exists when you have both variations. If the only type of cyclist on the road is the type that wears a helmet, then everyone will acclimatise to that reality and if they don’t then they require educating in correct road usage. This isn’t an argument against wearing helmets in my view, this is an argument for mandatory cycle training before road use is permitted and for increased education during driver training as to what is a safe distance from cyclists. How is this an argument against wearing a helmet? Surely this is an argument for stopping idiots who don’t know how to ride a bike or drive a car, from riding a bike or driving a car.

In addition to the points above, many opponents of cycle helmets quote the rejection of compulsory helmet legislation by various organisations (such as the European Cyclists’ Federation) as a reason not to wear a helmet. What they fail to understand is that in almost all such cases the legislation has been rejected, not because they believe helmets fail to prevent injury but rather because studies have shown that overall numbers of cyclists on the road dip dramatically upon the introduction of mandatory helmet laws. So they make their decision by comparing the number of fatalities under non mandatory helmet laws (often while accepting that it is slightly higher) with the overall, long-term health benefits to the population in question as a whole and come to the conclusion that it is better to have a generally healthy populace with a few bike related fatalities than an unhealthy populace, populacing their clogs from heart disease every five minutes. This no doubt makes good statistical sense and I won’t argue with it, but it should not influence in any way your personal choice of whether or not to wear a helmet. It especially shouldn’t influence you if you are riding in a busy city environment like London, or the central area of any other major UK city.

I have personally been involved in two accidents on my bike, one in London that wasn’t my fault, one in Cumbria that possibly was. I won’t go into the details (though perhaps I might some other time) but suffice to say that they both could have been a great deal worse than they were and I was lucky both times. In neither incident did I sustain even the slightest head or facial injury, though I can’t be certain if that is due to my helmet protecting me or simply that my head and face weren’t in danger. After one of the accidents there was light scoring on the helmet, which, erring on the side of caution I replaced the next day. This would indicate that it did provide some protection.

So, in the final calculation, balancing all the arguments against one another I have to say that none of them are conclusive in terms of statistics, so the only approach which makes any sense is to discard them (at least until some sort of consensus is reached) and follow whichever course of action seems most sensible to you. Personally I feel that the most compelling arguments come from the pro helmet camp, and can only see the arguments against helmets as based on misguided and often unrelated statistics, or superficial concerns for the state of the riders hair-do. The fact that I still have my faculties (some may debate this point) after two accidents is bound to bias me though, so don’t say I didn’t take this into account too. My one piece of advice would be to ask yourself these two questions, in this order: Do you feel safer with or without a helmet? Can you honestly and truthfully be certain that your decision is not based on concern for how you or your hair looks? Trust me, it will look a lot worse spread in matted clumps across the tarmac.

Tuesday 13/09/11

13/09/11

MORNING

This morning’s ride was refreshingly free of idiots of the two-wheeled variety. I mean, there were plenty of them about but I managed to stay out of their way and they stayed out of mine. I still had the usual one or two fuckers on foldies who decide to pull in front of you at the lights. Granted, some of these bikes can be pretty nippy from a standing start, but the fact remains I am clearly going to go faster at top speed, so why pull in front of me and hold me up?

Perfect, now it will take up less space in the skip

This reminds me of a couple of guys on Bromptons that did this to me last week on New Oxford St at the lights just before Centre Point. A more atypical pair of foldy riders you could not hope to find. Late forties, dressed in suits, with their right trouser legs folded neatly into their thigh length socks. I don’t know what their hurry was precisely, they were only ever going to get as far as the next set of lights turning into Tottenham Court Road. Which is precisely where I repaid them in kind, sitting directly in front of them while I waited for the green light. Okay, I realise that sounds a tad childish, but the truth is, they had unnecessarily displaced me and I’m buggered if I’m going to be stuck behind these dicks for the next 500 metres while buses and lorries overtake on my offside. Of course, when I sit in front of them I can hear them sniping about me behind my back, perhaps under the mistaken impression that I can’t hear them. Now, believe it or not, I carefully cultivate a calm and considered attitude while cycling as I believe riding angry is very dangerous. So instead of turning and giving these two a piece of my mind, I instead turned around and commented on what a lovely morning for cycling it was. The main moaner responded with a strangled looking smile. So many Londoners think you won’t respond at all, but respond with politeness and congeniality and you really confuse them. Then the lights changed and off we went. Now, at that particular set of lights, though you will nearly always have traffic (as I say, often consisting of lorries and buses) following behind you, but you have about a ten metre head start due to how far forward bikes can stop. Often you will find that idiots on bikes of all descriptions will try to overtake you in the very small window between the lights changing and the traffic catching up. So it was on that day, except this foldy fool was doing it because he felt he had a point to prove. One of my mantras when I ride is this – it’s not a race, know your pace and stick to it. What this means is, I left those lights at the pace I would normally, regardless of the middle-aged fool trying to race me on his old lady bike. If he wants to put himself at risk that is his own stupid lookout. As we took off I changed rapidly up the gears and kicked down to quickly get myself in the safer part of the road past the construction site and noticed the daft bugger coming out wide, pedalling like a maniac to overtake, his stupid sweaty face bulging out bright red below his helmet. He was never going to make it. I’m younger (not by much admittedly, but still), fitter, on a faster bike and I had the advantage of about a metre and a half to start with, so inevitably he was forced to pull in behind me. Otherwise the last thing that would have gone through his mind would have been the front tyre of the 134 to North Finchley. I did risk a quick glance behind me and it was all I could do to suppress a smile, or resist blowing him a sarcastic kiss. Suffice to say he combined two of my pet hates among cycling sins, the middle-aged man who wants to prove he can out-cycle younger men and of course, foldy riders, who should either get proper bikes or use public transport, instead of this having their cake and eating it nonsense that results in some of the worst and most dangerously clueless riders on London’s roads, with the possible exception of people on Boris bikes.

Yes, they actually let this man operate a bike. And a city.

Speaking of which, I saw Boris again today on New Oxford St. Where is he going? His building is on the river, in the direction I have just come from. Unless he lives somewhere nearby and heads through Soho. Or perhaps he makes daily attempts at escape before The Met are despatched to bring him back, like a toddler running to the garden and jumping in a pedal car to escape giving the great-aunt a kiss. I cut him up as usual, veering across his path at the last second and leaving him stuck behind the departing bus, barely suppressing the urge to shout “HA! TAKE THAT TORY SCUM!”, which would risk making me look like a fanatic. I’m waiting for the day that he snaps and bellows something about the lower classes in my direction. My smartphone’s video setting awaits you Boris.

EVENING

I’d like to know what precisely I have done to earn the contempt of every single Clarkes Coaches driver in the city. Perhaps it isn’t just me, as I have seen them almost kill one or two other cyclists too. Whatever the reason, it seems that I always encounter one of the bastards somewhere between the river and Brixton and if I don’t give them an exceptionally wide berth they will generally end up trying to scrape my leg with their front wheel arch.

Tonight was no exception. No other coach company seems so singularly intent upon reducing London’s cycling population, though they aren’t always the most considerate drivers on the road as a group. A bit like bus drivers, some are good, more are bad, but I wouldn’t want to tar them all with the same brush, (unlike black cabs who I have decided are all homicidal maniacs). So why have I yet to encounter a Clarkes driver that isn’t bent upon my destruction? Whenever I travel through that part of London I feel like a wild, grazing animal on the open plain, never quite sure where or when the large, dangerous predator is going to strike. Stay with the herd, if you lose them he’ll pick you off!