So the recent Jeremy Vine Cycling Fiasco has garnered much attention. Here are some thoughts of a long-time cyclist.
I am a grizzled cycling veteran
I have cycled for about 10 years now. It is my major mode of transport and I think of myself as a pretty good cyclist. I try to make myself as visible as possible, I wear a hi-vis jacket, I have lights on my bike when it’s dark, I wear a helmet, I use hand signals. I have my cycling proficiency badge. I do this because I know that cyclists just don’t really pop up on many drivers’ radars and I really just don’t want to die. I feel dying might be shit.
But Jeremy Vine’s experience is nothing new. Sadly, it happens all too often. Allow me to take a navel-gazing look down memory lane. A couple of years ago I was cycling along a busy main road, in the cycle lane (which was in dire need of some TLC) over in the gutter (which was filled with broken glass, because they all are) and a car came roaring passed me on the right hand side.
All of a sudden, it turned left onto a side street right in front of me. I didn’t see if the driver signalled or not.
The only reason I am still here and able to write this was I slammed my brakes on as hard as I could just in time. The reason I was able to do that was that I saw the car overtake me and thought ‘I wonder if this car’s going to overtake me and turn left like an absolute- Shit they have!’
I hit into the back of the car, nearly-but-not-quite sending me up and over the handlebars. The driver got out of their car and shouted “I’m fucking turning here! Look out you cunt!” and was generally pretty obnoxious.
I came back with a Jeremy Vine-level shit retort of “Oh, um, look out for cyclists!” and went on my way.
But why is this?
I think many drivers don’t cycle, because why would they? They have nice air-conditioned, water-proof cars with suspension that can go above 15mph. They have crumple-zones and air bags, cup-holders, radios. Seriously, WHY WOULD YOU CYCLE!? It’s shit.
It isn’t, it’s great, but still.
So I reckon many drivers just don’t understand what it’s like to be a cyclist. It can be very difficult and dangerous cycling in busy cities, you have to avoid pedestrians nipping across the street, busses pulling in and out, car doors opening, ruddy great big pot holes, broken glass, uneven road surfaces, you name it! All the while trying to negotiate hundreds of cars driven by drivers of differing skill level.
A lot of the time, drivers do things to cyclists that you just would NOT do if the bike was replaced with a car. Overtaking, in particular. If a car was driving at about 10mph because the traffic light up ahead was red, there’s no way you would overtake them. But if there’s a cyclist, fair game! If a car was signalling to pull out in order to overtake a bus, there wouldn’t be any question about putting on a burst of speed to overtake them! If Jeremy Vine had been driving a car rather than his bike, that situation just would not have happened.
Is there a war on the streets?
No. But there is a very big ‘us and them’ distinction. Drivers hate cyclists because they scoot up to lights and weave between traffic. There’s a feeling of “I pay road tax, I passed a test to be allowed onto the road. I have more right to be on the road than cyclists.” and cyclists, understandably, are scared for their lives some of the time, so there is anger towards drivers.
There are bad cyclists (going through red lights, dark clothes, no hand signals, weaving through traffic left and right so that they change which mirror they can be seen in, simply can’t control their bike very well) and there are bad drivers (overtaking and turning left, cramping cyclists for room, flat out abuse, needlessly overtaking). And there isn’t very much discussion between the two about how we should be behaving on the road. Jeremy Vine cycling and getting into an argument doesn’t advance the discussion.
He was cycling in the middle of the road (which he is allowed to do!). The driver got angry at a cyclist in the middle of the road (understandably, he’s in the middle of the bloody road. He should try to be as far over the left as is safe to do so). They have a big argument and Jeremy then STOPPED HIS BIKE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD! Then he came back with one of those verbal ripostes the British are so famous for:
“Actually, I think you’ll find that I should allow the width of a car door to facilitate my safe bicycling. I think you’ll find that what you’ve just said could be legally defined as ‘Assault’ please don’t do it again. Or if you do, I shall have to ring my legally-required bell at you, my dear fellow!”
Jeremy Vine, 2016
All Jeremy Vine has done is to reinforce the idea that drivers are uber-aggressive arse holes with an unquenchable lust for the blood of cyclists, and that cyclists are shit at using the road and generally all-round tossers. I feel bad for ol’ Jeremy Vine for having a nasty experience as a cyclist, but he’s not helping the discussion.