I can feel the car pulling across in front of me before I can see it. The nice clear road that was ahead of me just seconds before is now filled with a large chunk of solid metal bearing down across my path and cutting me off entirely.
The bike fishtails as I brake so hard the pads are squealing and there’s a distinct aroma of burning rubber as I slew helplessly towards the metal flank of the large saloon vehicle blocking my path. In that moment of clarity I realise that there’s nothing more I can do.
It’s one of those slow-motion moments where a part of you sits back to wait for the inevitable. Randomly it reminds me of one of those questions beloved in science exams….. i.e.
‘If a bike is travelling at X mph and a car is travelling at Y mph – at what speed will they collide?’ (Strangely, I remember that the impact speed will be the sum of both).
By the grace of whatever universal gods were with me that day the bike skids to a stop a mere inch from the end of the rear bumper as the, still oblivious, car driver completes the corner and pulls into a driveway just yards away.
My heart is doing a techno dance in my chest and the hot rush of relief floods through my body. I’m shaking, but I’m ok, I’m unhurt and now…… I’m bloody angry.
I do something I rarely do and cycle up to the stationary car to confront the driver.
“Hello in there – did you not see me?”
Knocking on the car window the driver, lowers it further as I shakily repeat my question
“I said did you not see me, cycling along, wearing a luminous jacket?”
“Where?” he replies
“At any point – when you passed me on the road and then made a left turn directly across my path. It’s just that you nearly killed me – I thought I should mention it”
The driver has the grace to look a little rattled.
“Do me a favour – look next time, it’ll make a nasty dent in your paint work if you hit someone.”
I cycle away.
Disconcertingly there have been a couple of these close calls recently, it’s obviously silly season out there on the roads again. Possibly shorter daylight hours equal a shorter attention span on the road or maybe it’s just an unlucky run of poor drivers.
I don’t know about other cyclists out there but I tend to bear the wrath of my car driving friends for the misdemeanours of all riders out there. These folks cheerfully call me to account for the sins of all my fellow 2-wheelers.
I’ve lost count of the times when one of the petrol heads will seek me out to bemoan the fact that some cyclist had:
- a) run a red light
- b) was riding without lights
- c) generally delayed their journey in some way.
Of course there are bad cyclists out there, either deliberately ignoring common sense and the Highway Code or just making the mistakes we all make sometimes through lapses of judgement or care. Proportionally however there are far more car drivers doing the same thing.
The only difference, apart from numbers, is that in any incident involving a car and a bicycle, the cyclist is always going to come off worst.
I’ve cycled for a few years now and in various countries and I still really can’t fathom just how irate and irrational car drivers can become.
I have to say that the UK is one of the worst places for this.
Despite the reputation of the French as erratic drivers, their courtesy to cyclists was refreshing. Ditto in Canada and even in the US where the car is King (and also starts at the size of a small lorry).
But back home in good old England it seems that fighting for an inch of tarmac has indeed become an act of war and sometimes violence.
Of course it doesn’t help a similar sized population to our European neighbours is crammed into a tiny postage stamp of an island leaving the road networks clogged and in bad repair.
But the anger, aggression and hostility experienced still seems grossly disproportionate.
In the part of the country in which I live there is currently an ongoing battle between the SUV and 4×4 driving residents of a nearby National Park who vociferously oppose groups of cyclists clogging up their country roads. Opposed to the point where metal tacks are strewn in front of cyclists, abuse screamed and riders forced off the roads by cars.
How did we reach this position of so little tolerance turning to acts of violence? Does retaining our little patch of road justify the naked aggression and dangerous defensiveness we all now witness?
Sadly, the law and sentencing of drivers who kill or injure cyclists (and pedestrians) seems to support the assumption that the car and driver can act with impunity.
An analysis of cycling deaths in London between 2010-2012 evidenced that the drivers involved stood only a 10% chance of imprisonment, with many cases receiving only minor fines or motorists walking free.
Not an encouraging or egalitarian message to cyclists.
So what does all this mean?
It goes without saying we all have a duty to use the road responsibly, for cyclists, as well as motorists to follow the rules of the Highway Code.
In addition, as riders, to do what we can to ensure that we are visible to traffic, yes this includes high visibility clothing and lights but can also occasion riding out from the curb, mid-lane, when road and traffic conditions dictate this as necessary for safety.
But it also calls for less tangible measures, dare I say, a little bit of old fashioned respect and tolerance….
For motorists perhaps to regard the cyclist they’re tailgating not just an irritating obstacle and a delay to their journey but more simply as another human being, someone’s sister, daughter, mother, son, grandfather, someone who deserves, just as much as they do to return home safely to their family that day.