An evening encounter when what keeps me sane drives Mr Self-important mad
I love this time of the year for cycling. The English countryside is emerald green, daylight stretches long into the night, and you can enjoy the twilight and birdsong from the seat of your bike. Last Wednesday evening, however, I felt a little bit exposed – no, not the sort of Geraint Thomas at Giro d’Italia with his bum cheek peeping out of his torn bibs, more like looking down at my handlebars and realising, “Look, Mum, no gloves on those hands!” sort of exposed. Not wishing to take on the next 20-odd-miles bare-handed I took a detour which is now affectionately called Tour de Broughton to head back home and grab my gloves.
Us cyclists hate these detours having to go back home to pick up a bottle (true story), gloves, or extra layers when we realise it’s just a tad bit colder than we’d expected. It takes the wind out of our sails, means having to restart our ride on the computer and possibly disclosing our home on Strava.
However, occasionally, if I am in a philosophical mood, I wonder what calamity on the road was averted thanks to those five seconds of delay. A morbid thought maybe, but the truth is as cyclists we are exposed – to the elements, to the tarmac and metal and most importantly, to the goodwill of fellow road users who are not always so good-willed.
Little did I know that this evening’s five-minute delay would leave me exposed to the rage of an entitled a**wipe in a overpriced 4×4 who attempted to take a limb off, rev his engine as he sped past, and once stuck at the traffic lights, went on to hurl abuse at me as I pulled up behind him.
It began with, “That should teach you not to block the road. F$@king blocking the road like that.”
My response was, “Yeah, okay, thank you.”
He went on effing and blinding – as I responded to each insult with, “okay, great,” “yes, thanks a lot,” “yeah, you have a lovely evening too” his language got worse and his voice got louder.
As the light changed to green and he revved up again, I felt like shouting some abuse back, but barely held myself back, aware that on my bike I was vulnerable to any further verbal or even physical abuse. He had already tried once to weaponise his over-priced car against me, and he certainly sounded the type who wouldn’t think twice about doing it again.
The irony is, I was going at a decent speed on the left hand side of the road where I should be on a road I am just as entitled to use as he is.
The irony is, only two days ago I had signed and shared on social media a petition for the Department for Transport to run a public awareness campaign to address driver aggression toward cyclists.
The irony is that, in response to the petition, I got a response from a friend that went, “My pet hate; sorry Sinem. I’m not aggressive to cyclists. I just don’t understand why they can’t find a path, especially in MK where there are red ways.”
I went on to educate her that according to the Highway Code, cyclists have equal rights to roads in the UK except for motorways. I didn’t go into the nitty-gritty that not only cyclists are allowed on urban and country roads, increasingly, but traffic police forces across the country are also encouraging them to take the primary road position on the road for their safety. The primary position is the centre of the lane, and it’s where you’ll find it easier to see and be seen.
It’s not mentioned in the Highway Code, but it is in the Bikeability training program which is itself based on the National Standard for Cycle Training, produced by the Department for Transport.
Northamptonshire Police, also advocating for cyclists to take the primary position where their safety is concerned, is one of many police forces in the country trying to educate drivers about looking after cyclists on the roads.
Some of their recommendations include:
- Cyclists require additional room in case they need to avoid potholes, storm drain covers, debris or other hazardous surfaces
- The higher the speed limit, the more room will be required when passing – if passing a cyclist at 30mph, the minimum distance is 1.5m. Horses should be passed wide and slow, leaving at least the width of a car and travelling at 15mph or less
- Allow ample room to pull back in after overtaking
- If there is not enough room to give the required clearance, drivers should wait until sufficient space becomes available
Operation Close Pass openly states:
“Cyclists are not obliged to use cycle tracks or stay within cycle lanes.”Operation Close Pass
The truth is, it is fairly easy to have conversations with educated, empathetic, sensible road users like my friend, who’d be the first to admit cyclists are her pet hate but who would never be aggressive towards cyclists or weaponise their car to threaten their safety.
How do you educate the masses in a world where there are still people stupid and ignorant enough to think that their YouTube PhDs in conspiracy theories are more reliable than science and would rather put the public at risk than getting vaccinated against the coronavirus for fear that the lizard people ruling the world want to change their DNA… How do you educate a man who’d rather compensate for his other shortcomings by the size of his overpriced car?
In his 2010 book Bike Snob: Systemically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling, popular cycling blogger BikeSnobNYC wrote of “vehicular intimidation”:
And that’s the real reason everybody is trying to kill you. It’s because they are self-important. And self-important people are way more important than you can ever hope to be. Consequently, self-importance makes people act stupidly. It’s why certain people spend tens (of hundreds) of thousands of dollars on cars with leather interiors and climate control and lavish sound systems, yet will drive them in such a way as to endanger human lives so that they don’t have to spend an extra twenty seconds in them. Major purchases such as automobiles are how self-important people measure their self-worth… So when you do something as audacious as question someone’s importance by obstructing the physical manifestation of that importance with your bicycle, you are an affront to their very existence.”
Joking aside, according to the Department for Transport statistics, in 2019, 16,884 cyclists were injured in reported road accidents, including 4,433 who were killed or seriously injured. These figures only include cyclists killed or injured in road accidents that were reported to the police. Many cyclist casualties are not reported to the police.
Last Wednesday, I could have easily been a statistic for 2021. I have seen first-hand fellow cyclists in my community who’ve fallen victims to road rage. In the words of the Bike Snob, this does not make me afraid, it makes me angry. For every swear word I was called today, I want to shout back to the entitled man with a lot of self-importance and a very ‘small dick energy’, I’d like to shout:
“I could be your colleague at work, or your next-door neighbour. I could be the person cycling to raise money for the hospice looking after your mother. I could be your daughter in fifteen years time when she takes up cycling and gets abused by an entitled, self-important man like you who will exude the very same small dick energy.”
Above all, I’d like to say:
“I may have stolen two seconds of your time getting to your home which was round the corner a hundred yards down the road. But you will never steal from me the joy of a golden hour ride.”