Adventures in urban cycling: Part 1

The summer always brings them out. What am I talking about? Idiot road-users. I am an experienced urban cyclist who obeys the rules of the road. I cover my brakes and I wear my helmet correctly; I look behind and I signal. I also take the correct position on the road to avoid potential hazards. I want to be safe, who doesn’t? When I was 12 my family stayed in a guest house in Bedford while we waited for our accommodation on RAF Chicksands to be prepared. In one of the rooms that were staying in, someone had left a copy of the Highway Code. Being a bit of a bookworm, I read it from cover to cover, paying particular attention to road signs and markings, because I knew one day that I would have to use the road. So I do get a little cross when people clearly ignore the rules, bend the rules or behave as though they don’t apply to them.

In the last fortnight I’ve nearly been hit by stupid cyclists ignoring the rules and putting themselves and others in danger. Twice I have had  near-misses while positioning myself to take a right turn into a side road. The first near miss occured while I was waiting for an approaching motorist to pass when some lunatic flew off the pavement, approached me from behind, cutting me off as I was about to turn. This forced the motorist to brake suddenly. I made eye contact with the driver and waved him on. The second near miss came when I was again about to take a right turn when some fool came off the pavement to my left and cycled across my path and that of an approaching road user. We both looked at each other with a look of confusion on our faces. The motorist wanted to let me go first but just to prove I wasn’t like the moron who crossed our paths, I let him go first because he had right of way. As I passed the pavement cyclist I said “Do you have a death wish”? I didn’t wait for a reply but he didn’t shout abuse at me, so maybe he didn’t hear me…or he was just plain dozy.

Some motorists clearly have a problem with cyclists and while I appreciate there are some pretty abysmal cyclists on the road, the numbers of bad motorists is just as scary, if not scarier. But there is a staggering ignorance among many motorists about where cyclists should be on the road. As I said earlier, I take a position on the road that will keep me safe.  There are many motorists who believe that cyclists should only use the cycle lane. In the Highway Code it says

Cycle Lanes. These are marked by a white line (which may be broken) along the carriageway (see Rule 140). Keep within the lane when practicable. When leaving a cycle lane check before pulling out that it is safe to do so and signal your intention clearly to other road users. Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer. (63)

Take note, cycle lanes are not compulsory and besides, not only do many motorists encroach into them, they are often full of debris, potholes, sunken or wet drain covers and so on. I don’t want a puncture and I want my back to last me into old age, so  I am not cycling in the gutter or close to the Give Way lines where I could get hit. Again, this particular passage in the HC is for cyclists.

take extra care near road humps, narrowings and other traffic calming features  (67)

It’s narrowings that seem to be a problem with some motorists. I was taking extra care. Some motorists seem to feel that they can barge past me, squeezing me into the kerb and possibly injuring me…or they will insist on overtaking me and racing to the narrowing. Either way, it’s dangerous and guess who’s going to come off worst? Not the driver, that’s for sure. I always look behind and take the lane and go through the middle of the narrowing and some drivers really hate this.

Today as I’m cycling along the Chiswick end of King Street, I am aware that there is road user behind me driving an electric blue Mini Cooper – that’s how aware I am. As I get to a set of narrowings that are spaced approximately 20m apart, the driver sounds her horn. I turn around and shout and gesture “One only”! As she catches up with me at the junction near the cinema, she leaned out of her window and I ask her “how many vehicles can fit through the narrowing”? Unaware of the traffic that’s suddenly starting to buildup behind her, she  tells me that I was “sitting in the middle of the road”. To which I reply very quietly and calmly “I wasn’t sitting in the middle of the road, I was cycling”. This completely stumped her and off she drove. Logic always trumps idiocy.  Besides, I wasn’t cycling in the middle of the road…on the dashed lines…which would have been silly, not to mention dangerous. Would she dared try to squeeze past a motorcyclist? Probably. It’s all too easy to think of someone on two wheels as being slower but I was doing between 23 and 25mph – a pretty good speed for that stretch of road. I believe the limit on that part of King Street is 30mph.

Here’s a sign that some motorists refuse to obey when I’ve had priority.

The sign is there for a reason, only one road user can get through and priority is indicated by the the black arrow, not the red one and take a good look at those Give way lines too…or didn’t you notice them? It’s a traffic calming measure and besides, why are you using this road as a rat run?

So there it is, there are good and bad road users and they are not restricted to one mode of vehicle or the other.  But the attitude exhibited by some motorists towards cyclists in Britain is pretty medieval.  Some cyclists clearly need to be taken off the road and educated and some motorists need to understand that I cycle where I do to avoid going to hospital. There is no pecking order on the road,  sometimes you just have to take your turn.

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