6 Sept 2013

Modern cyclists: the only road users who hate everyone else

I took a Jaguar for a lovely drive the other night.  The sun was low and the sky was clear.  It was the perfect evening for a late summer mosey.

The roads were marvellous, being the Lambourn Downs, and the traffic light.  Most other drivers were obviously out testing their machinery.  I even came across a caterpillar of Caterhams wending their way along the B4000 towards Hungerford.

Every now and again a light fog drifted across the road.  Not the usual airborne-moisture fog but a fine mist of dust coming from the hulking great combine harvesters working late into the evening to bring in the crops before autumn proper arrives.

It was as good as one can expect from an English summer's evening.

But the cyclists were doing their best to spoil everybody's fun.  There was a road race taking place in the area.  Brightly clad middle-aged wasps on their mega-bucks machines were puffing and panting up and down the West Berkshire hills without a care for anyone else.

They spread themselves out at 100 yard intervals and travelled at a speed of 15-20mph.  I, and the rest of the cars, would speed round a corner, halt, sit and wait behind a cycle, wait for a gap in the opposing traffic, find the gap, breath in, floor the throttle and hope not to clip the yellow peril as we barrelled past.

The cyclists seemed to have no sense of community, or awareness of other road users.  All seemed lost in their own little Chris Hoy-inspired world.  Leg muscles bulging, chin on the handlebars, posterior in the air.  As I passed I would see their red, sweat-drenched brows, eyes focussed on a patch of road 2 yards in front of them.

Not a single one acknowledged the presence of any other living being.  On inclines they would puff and pant even more, and swerve around from their usual 2 feet from the kerb to 3 or 4 feet.

I have no beef with cyclists.  I used to be one - still am periodically.  Between the ages of 6 and 18 my cycle was my main mode of transport.  I graduated from some Woolworths bought child's bike to an Raleigh Arena with 15 gears.

I'd cycle to school, college, work, everywhere.  I could wheelie, endo and jump about 6 feet from a makeshift ramp.  I once jumped over 5 of my friends who were lying on the ground like sardines.

Cycling, when I regularly cycled, was transport and it was fun.  But I knew my place.

There were no cycle lanes in the 1980s.  We used the road and occasionally the pavement - but not often.  In circa 1985 I was told off by the village copper at 6.30am for cycling on a 10 yard stretch of pavement.  I was on my paper round with a 15kg bag full of newspapers round my neck and I was 14.

The policeman was unrepentant.  He gave me a stern lecture and sent me off with a flea in my ear.

The clothes I wore were the clothes I would normally wear.  Not once did I wear a helmet.  I fell off several times, once in shorts and a t-shirt.  The resultant road rash made my leg look like a butcher's window.

But I am not dead.  I am still here.  Not wearing a helmet and yellow clothes didn't reduce me to a jam-coloured smear on some HGV infested dual carriageway.

I had awareness of and respect for other road users.  I knew my place in the automotive firmament.

Today's cyclists seem not to.

Today's cyclists seem to be angry.  They seem not to enjoy what they do but to grimly pursue their 'hobby' in the name of fitness.  They seem to think other road users are a threatening morass of metal out to kill them.  So they spew vibes of resentment and refuse to acknowledge the presence of anything else.  They do not flinch.

The problem is they travel at one third the speed of other traffic and never recognise that fact nor do anything about it.  I don't mean that cyclists should get out of my way, I mean that after I have waited behind said two-wheeled leg-driven machine that the human on top of it could at least raise a hand and acknowledge my patience, and I will wave back at him to acknowledge his politeness and right to use the same roads as I do.

Cyclists and other road users should get along.  They don't because they're either in a race (which no-one else is allowed to do on the road) or because they have a deep in-built sense of entitlement to the detriment of everyone else.

They grit their teeth and hate us.

I live on a road that is often frequented by cycle races.  If I were to modify my car (which costs less than a lot of these racing cycles) with slick tyres and a roll cage and subject it to a weight-loss regime and then race it against similarly track-prepped cars on the Queen's highway I would rightfully be pulled by Mr Plod and sent to prison in Wales with all the people who do not pay their TV licence.

Competition is for the track.  Roads are for getting from A to B, and sometimes to F, and for pleasure.

Cyclists are often drivers and drivers are often cyclists.  Most drivers do not have a 'hate cyclists' mode but most cyclists seem to have a 'hate drivers' mode.

Horse riders travel at 5-10mph and they wave if we drivers behave as we should and stick their fingers up at us if we rev our engines and scare the beast.  Tractor drivers travel at 20mph but they wave us past when the road is clear ahead, and occasionally pull over when a queue has formed behind them.  Pedestrians walking along country lanes with no pavement move off the road when they hear us, so we slow and we wave at each other in recognition of each other's presence - and out of politeness.

Cyclists do none of these things because they are so furious at us they do not want to acknowledge us.

We should learn to live side by side on our pot-hole riven carriageways.  And we can make a start by accepting each other's presence.  And by not racing on the road.  And by smiling once in a while.

Article by Matt Hubbard