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.
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:
- The notion that no matter what you do, you cannot be wrong.
- 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.
- 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