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.
11 November 2014 at 9:10 pm
Sounds like you were very restrained. Wish I had some of your zen!
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11 November 2014 at 11:05 pm
The dialogue in my head had more four letter words in it!
13 November 2014 at 7:16 pm
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21 November 2014 at 10:17 pm
Your are an excellent feature writer, send it to The Guardian!
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21 November 2014 at 11:16 pm
thank you Felix, you are very kind. I wish I had the ability to translate into other languages the way you do!
22 November 2014 at 10:08 am
To be honest, I need often the google translator, because the literally style exceeds my English a lot 😉 But I think I spear the sound of your thoughts.
30 December 2014 at 12:26 am
I very recently had a driver pull out of a side road one evening, on the wrong side of his road in front of a car turning off towards him and stopped with me just inches away from the bonnet. For some reason, probably because I was somewhat in shock, I didn’t react angrily. The passenger opened the window and apologised profusely. I just leaned in and said, please take the greatest care and look properly and carefully, next time you could kill someone. There was a stunned silence and I rode off with my lights still flashing, pleased I’d managed to keep my cool and hadn’t been injured.
30 December 2014 at 8:35 am
Good for you and very glad you were ok! I think the most effective way to get a message across is not in anger. That said, it’s hard to keep your cool sometimes out there on the roads. 🙂
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11 January 2015 at 12:17 pm
I was just checking out other blogs through VeloBrico when I came across this post. It’s really something that baffles me, not the post, the “road wars”.
I personally won’t ride without my GoPro’s on now. I don’t live in a huge bustling city, but a fairly busy town. My commute is short but I always extend it just to put in the extra miles. I like to think I’m quite a considerate rider, who is aware of what’s around. I don’t right out in the middle of the lane, but I won’t curb crawl. If I find someone is struggling to pass (nervous driver or large vehicle usually) I’ll look for somewhere to pull in briefly so I can wave them passed. The same can be said for country lanes with high hedges, I’ve waved people passed because I can see if the road is clear and they can’t. I’ll say thanks when people let me move across for a right turn but you’re right. More often than not there are those who are very aggressive (or just plain stupid) when it comes to passing me.
I can’t understand the aggression. I cycle a fair amount and absolutely love to drive. I’ve built track cars and done track days yet I know some people will see my on two wheels and instantly think they’re better than me. I would consider myself a petrol head. Not that they know that of course.
I’ll hold my hands up and say I have made a few errors. Loving a bit of adrenaline I like to filter as much as I can, preferring to ride straight up the middle of traffic, I’ll sometimes weave in and out (to the curb and back) and I have misjudged the gap a few times but avoided any damage or injury. That probably gave the driver behind something to laugh at though. Still, those incidents might have resulted in dented pride and, if there had been contact, a dented panel but that’s about the worst it could have got from my own mistake.
The two incidents that scared the life out of me (and ultimately made me start riding with cameras) could easily have resulted in my death. The first, after turning right at a set of traffic lights, a lady approaching from the left, with a give way line in front of her, completely ignored it and drove straight out at speed into my path. It was just after I’d got the Holdsworth and I braked so hard I instantly locked the front wheel, popping an endo, but her wing/ drivers door was mere inches from my front wheel. If I hadn’t have stopped so quick… well. Naturally I screamed “F*** you mannnn” as it was happening and saw her window was down slightly but she didn’t even bat an eye lid. Just carried on driving. I tried to give chase but she was gone.
The second was at an island with two lanes. The left, marked left turn (into a two lane road) and straight on and the right was marked right turn only. I was going straight on so positioned myself in the middle of the lane and waited for a clear gap. It was then I noticed a car pull up along side, on my right, just level with my rear wheel. I could have swore she had her left indicator on (in the right lane) but thought “she can’t be that stupid”. A gap appeared and I pulled away, as did the driver. Following my lane I was still aware she was next to me, just creeping level. Just as I’m about to pass the left turn road completely the driver decided to try and cut in front of me to go left. Literally just swung in front of me without warning. I braked as hard as I could and took avoiding action but again it was a case of the wing of her car was inches from my front wheel. As I carried on riding I turned around and pulled the universal “What the hell was that?!” gesture as she was sat there in the middle of the island looking confused. She decided to loop the island and “beep” me as she went passed. Whether that was a “Sorry” or an “F*** you” I don’t know.
Ever since those two incidents I’ve had at least a camera on my chest.
11 January 2015 at 4:43 pm
Thanks for the interesting thoughts Function88, glad to hear that you’re ok and still cycling out there despite what sound like some nasty close calls. It’s sadly seems an all to common story for the cycling community. Totally agree that as cyclists (and car drivers) we all make errors and have lapses in judgement, but that for cylsists, we usually come off worse out of any incident. What baffles me most is the number of car drivers who don’t appear to consider cyclists as legitimate road users and would never behave to another car in the same way as they do a bike. Patience, high-viz clothing and educating drivers seem to be the way forward. Possibly a loud air-horn on the handlebars too!