Tag Archives: urban cycling

Top Motorist Myths About Cycling and, er, Motoring

Advisory cycle lanes exist to let councils off the hook. They’re mostly useless and can encourage bad cycling.

The recent cluster of cycling deaths on London’s streets has brought road cycling back into the spotlight. It is unfortunate, of course, that it has taken 6 deaths in the space of a fortnight for people to sit up and pay attention. Now it’s all fine for motorists to complain that cyclists are self-righteous wankers (and there are no drivers who are self-righteous wankers? Come off it.) who dress in Lycra and take serious, often foolhardy, risks with their lives, but drivers have no room to talk given the numbers of undetected motoring offences I see every day in London.

With any debate of this nature, cycling is always likely to excite some passionate, if not excitable, views. I have spent some time in the last week or so scanning the comments threads on the recent spate of blogs that highlight the problems cyclists face when riding on urban streets. The comments, particularly those from motorists, are some of the most ill-informed and point to a basic and often wilful ignorance of the Highway Code.

Here are some of the more enduring myths that motorists have when they engage in a ‘debate’ over the rights and wrongs of cycling.

1. “I pay road tax”

This is the myth that’s heard the most. It’s also been debunked endlessly. There is no such thing as “road tax” and there hasn’t been since the 1920s. There is Vehicle Excise Duty and it is, as its name suggests, an excise dutypayable to HM Customs – that all motorists have to pay. It’s essentially a tax on pollution . If you don’t want to pay it, you can always cycle (cheaper) or take public transport (expensive). The choice is yours.

I had an encounter on a comments thread during which the other person claimed that he/she “believed Vehicle Excise Duty was the same as road tax”, which somehow made it true. I told him/her that just because “people believe in fairies and unicorns it doesn’t make them any more real”. There was no reply.

2. Cycling is dangerous

This is based on the notion that driving a car is inherently safer than riding a bike, because the driver feels that he/she is safer inside a two ton metal, glass and plastic box. It sort of makes sense… being surrounded by all that stuff. It’s like the cyclists who think that helmets have magical powers that render the wearer safe. They don’t.  Thing is, most car bodies are not armoured; they’re made out of lightweight metal. Have you ever seen a car that’s been side-impacted by a lorry? It’s a mess. Even the numbers of motoring fatalities aren’t on the motorist’s side. According to this Guardian article from 2012, the numbers of road fatalities are on the rise.

1,901 people died in road accidents in Great Britain last year – a rise of 51 since 2010, but still one third lower than the average number of fatalities between 2005 and 2009.

The figures, released by the Department for Transport, also show that the number of deaths to pedestrians and car occupants rose by 12% and 6% respectively, while there were drops in the numbers of bus and coach occupants (-22%), motorcyclists and (-10%) pedal cyclists (-4%) killed.

Over a thousand road deaths caused by a combination of factors: drink-driving, being in a hurry (speeding), reckless driving and not paying attention (put your goddam phone away!). It’s not as bad as Ireland, but still isn’t good.  According to ROSPA, there were 118 cyclist deaths last year. Again, it’s nothing to brag about but anyone can see that 118 is less than 1,901. But that’s one in five cyclists dying on the roads, often for a range of factors, some of which I’ve talked about on this blog. A UCL study from last year notes that cycling is still safer than driving. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, many motorists are lulled into a false sense of security while they’re driving and it is because of this that some feel that they can take greater risks. Cyclists and motorcyclists feel everything because they’re exposed to the elements. The experience is much more immediate and real. For the cyclist perhaps more so, because of the amount of physical effort need to pedal at a decent cadence.

3. Cyclists jump red lights

What? And motorists never jump red lights? This myth really needs to be put to bed. In the last three days I have seen no less than 5 motorists jump red lights, some of them at pelican crossings. I sat on a bus last year and the driver jumped seven red lights in a row. Let’s get something straight: some road-users jump red lights.  To say that all cyclists jump reds is a sweeping generalization. It’s like saying that – as an urban cyclist –  I believe that all Mercedes drivers are selfish dickheads. They clearly aren’t but most of the ones that I’ve met are selfish dickheads.

4. If you ride on the road, you should be insured and that includes cyclists

This is another ‘belief’. Many cyclists are motorists and are already insured and all cycling instructors are insured – often through their employer – because of the nature of their work. Insisting that cyclists be insured to ride on the road is like saying users of mobility scooters and pedestrians should be insured. Where does it end?

Then there are the numbers of uninsured drivers on Britain’s roads. It’s estimated that there are over a million of them. Yes, motorists whose insurance payments are up to date have a right to be angry about uninsured drivers. Their premiums increase because of them. According to The Guardian, Britain has the highest number of uninsured drivers in Europe. Many of the accidents on Britain’s roads are caused by uninsured drivers.

5. Cyclists don’t know the rules of the road.

Yes, there are a lot of bad cyclists out there. I almost got hit by one as I was going through  a green light in Ealing as he was jumping a red light. I had another one pull out of minor road while I was travelling along the major road. When I remonstrated with him I got a ‘V’ sign for my trouble. Then there are the motorists who pull out from a minor road without bothering to look for cyclists and motorcyclists. An experienced cyclist could be travelling at 20mph, perhaps faster and there are some motorists who lull themselves into thinking that anything on two wheels is slower.

Then there was an occasion when I was behind someone in a four-wheel drive who didn’t indicate once in the half a mile or so that I’d followed them. Use your indicators! Or how about the driver who’s in the wrong lane on the Hammersmith gyratory and fails to indicate while changing lanes? It isn’t just cyclists who do this kind of thing. Drivers do it too – all the time. Pick your lane early and if you find you’re in the wrong lane, look behind and signal your intention to change lanes to other road users.

There are some motorists who think it’s fine to park on double yellow or zig-zag lines. I often see drivers parking on the double yellow line on Bridge Avenue in Hammersmith. One woman told me that it was okay to park on double yellow lines (on a bend) because “it was Saturday”.  Double yellow lines are there for a reason and are enforceable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Then there are the numbers of drivers who are driving without a license or operating a vehicle that’s ringed or displaying a false number plate. Some people don’t care for the rules of the road. They think they’re above them.

6. Cyclists weave in and out of traffic

This is called “filtering” and it’s a perfectly reasonable and legitimate thing to do when you’re faced with a long queue of traffic. Motorcyclists and moped riders also filter. The motorist’s objection appears to be based on two things: 1) Why should I have to sit here in a long queue of traffic, while they get to ride to the front on the queue? 2. The bicycle has no engine, therefore it’s dangerous to filter. My reply to the first is, “start cycling or get a moped, then you won’t have to sit in traffic” and second, get used to cyclists filtering (and read the Highway Code). Having an engine is completely irrelevant.

Of course, cyclists also need to avoid potholes and this means swerving to avoid them. Riding into a pothole can be dangerous. It could also damage your bike and you could injure your spine. The motorists is protected by shock absorbers and the most that could happen is that they damage their suspension. Their spines will not suffer as a consequence.

7. Cyclists should wear helmets

Since when did cycling helmets come with magical powers? Never and the things that are going to keep you safe are your eyes and your road position. I always make eye contact with other road users and I look back frequently. If I make a turn, I always perform a lifesaver check.  I know that a helmet will protect the head in event of a crash but what about the other bones of the body? Should all cyclists be thinking of wearing full body armour too? Absurd.

8. Cyclists should ride on the pavement or in the gutter where I can’t see them

First, it’s illegal to cycle on the pavement unless where indicated. Second, riding in the gutter is not only uncomfortable but it could lead to punctures and skidding on wet drain covers. Staying out of sight is how many cyclists end up being killed or injured by motorists. Many cycle paths that run adjacent to roads aren’t cleaned regularly and there will be debris, including broken glass, lying in them. I can’t think of many motorists who want to damage their car or risk a puncture because they think it’s “safer” to do so. Can you? For the cyclist, it’s often better to ride on the road, than to ride on a detritus-strewn cycle path.

9. Cyclists should stick to cycle lanes and paths

Most cycle lanes are designed by people who don’t ride bikes, therefore many of them are actually dangerous. Some cycle lanes run close to give way lines or will encourage riders to overtake larger vehicles on the left. Cycle lanes need to be segregated and the Advance Stop Boxes need to be properly enforced.

Even if a cyclist uses the cycle lane, some drivers won’t give the cyclist enough room and will overtake far too closely. The safe recommended overtaking distance is three feet or a metre. This is another cause of accidents.

Some motorists clearly have a sense of entitlement and much of it is based entirely upon myths and the belief that because they drive a car, then they’re better than anyone who uses public transport – often seen by them as the “poor man’s mode of transport”. To these people, the cyclist is an inferior form of life that serves the same function as the tenant does to the self-styled homeowner (who rents their home from the bank).

There is no hierarchy of road users. Everyone needs to remember this.

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Crap Cycle Lanes (#5)

These photos were taken near a new development that has been built on the old Oxford and Cambridge pub site at the corner of Hammersmith Bridge Road and the A4. This is a stretch of shared pavement which is regularly blocked by builders vans, forcing cyclists and pedestrians alike to step into the busy road. This is a combination of poor planning, a lack of space and selfishness.

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Pedestrians and cyclists approaching from the south will see this.

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Most of the time, vans that are parked here straddle the entire width of the path. Notice the shared pavement sign on the lamp post. I bet the van drivers didn’t see it and if they had seen it they probably gave it no thought.

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Crap Cycle Lanes (#4)

So far most of the crap cycle lanes and paths that I’ve featured on this blog are those in Hammersmith and Fulham, the government’s ‘model’ borough (that helps itself to money from your bank account without a Direct Debit mandate).

This cycle lane is truly dangerous. It isn’t controlled by lights and practically invites cyclists to ride out into a very busy one-way street.

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The shared cycle path that this erm, lane, leads to is only partly usable since the builder at the car park opposite have closed the pedestrian side of the pavement. If you should manage to get to the other side, you will be greeted by irate pedestrians who think you should cycle the wrong way up the street and not on the, erm, pavement.

Here’s another view.

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Complete and utter incompetence. When you get to the other side, you have to give way to motorists entering the multi-story car park.

Even though I attack the Hammersmith & Fulham Tory ruling group in this blog, this cycle lane was built (is that the right word?) under the Labour administration, thus proving that politicians of all political stripes only pay lip service when it comes to the needs of cyclists.

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Crap Cycle Lanes (#3)

This is a classic case of a lack of ‘joined up’ thinking. Here, Transport for London (TfL) has wasted money building this impressive cycle path near the Hogarth Roundabout only to close it because it’s, er, dangerous.

But if they’ve blocked it with a pedestrian barrier, why did they need to attach a no entry sign to it?

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It isn’t clear what you’re meant to do here. If you want to join the road, it’s a case of waiting  near the pedestrian refuge 2m to the right of this bizarre sight. The traffic is pretty heavy at the best of times because this is where motorists join the M4. You could be waiting for some time.

In the distance you can see another no entry sign where the useless path continues.

Hounslow-20130626-00109Cheers, TfL! Next time, why don’t you consult cyclists before you waste loads of money?

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Crap cycle lanes (#2)

This is fairly typical. Notice how the parked van blocks the entrance to the contra-flow cycle lane, forcing cyclists into the path of oncoming traffic on a one-way street.  But the driver of this van isn’t the only one to have done this, I have seen Royal Mail van drivers do the same thing in this spot. This is at the junction of Rockley Road and Charecroft Road in Shepherd’s Bush.

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How to pedal

The title of this blog may seem a little self-evident. If you can ride a bike, you can pedal, right? Well, sort of. There is a way to pedal and a way not to pedal. When I’m out riding, I often see people pedalling badly. They don’t look as though they’re enjoying the experience much either. Now there may well be three reasons for poor pedalling technique:

1) The bike is too small or the saddle is too low for the rider

2) They were never taught how to pedal correctly

3) Both of the above

So what do I mean by “correct pedalling”? Pedalling should always be done with the balls of your feet and not the arch or the heel. There are a couple of reasons for this: when you pedal with the balls of your feet, you are delivering more power to the pedals. It’s also friendlier to your knees and ankles and you will improve your cadence (rate of pedalling). When you pedal with your arches or your heels, you will not deliver sufficient force to the pedals. You’re also storing up knee and ankle problems for the future.

If you already use SPD pedals, the choice has been made for you. The cleat is in the correct position on the sole of the shoe.

This illustration indicates the correct foot position for pedalling.

Courtesy Bikeradar.com

Happy cycling!

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Bradley Wiggins, road safety and myth

Yesterday Bradley Wiggins added another gold medal to his impressive collection of gold medals and his Tour de France victory. Well done, Wiggo! But this morning as I’m listening to Radio 4, there’s an item about Wiggins calling for all cyclists to be compelled to wear helmets. While his sentiment is well-intentioned, there is more that could be done to ensure that cyclists are safe on the roads. Helmets do not magically protect the wearer from harm. If you don’t look around or signal and ride in the gutter and jump red lights, then no amount of safety gear is going to protect you. You’re already a dangerous cyclist.

Wiggins’ call came after a cyclist was killed by a bus driver on the A12. The official Olympics bus was carrying journalists between venues. I understand that the driver, a man in his mid-60s, has been arrested for causing death by careless driving. On any other day, this death would have been confined to the local press. Today, because of Wiggins, it’s national news.

Here’s Wiggins in The Times,

Ultimately, if you get knocked off and you don’t have a helmet on, then you can’t argue,” he said. “You can get killed if you don’t have a helmet on.

Brad, you can get killed even if you are wearing a helmet. Perhaps you haven’t heard of the many deaths caused by left-turning lorries at road junctions? Helmets won’t help anyone who is badly positioned on the road.

He adds,

You shouldn’t be riding along with iPods and phones and things on. You have lights on. Once there are laws passed for cyclists then you are protected and you can say, ‘Well, I have done everything to be safe’.

I’m one of those who wears headphones. I don’t have my music on loud and I can hear everything. But being able to hear is only a small part of staying safe on the road.  I haven’t always listened to music while riding. In fact, I was just like all the other naysayers who’d say, “But I want to hear everything”. A few years ago, as I was cycling through Kingston, I thought I heard the sound of an engine behind me, I turned around and saw nothing there. After making a turn down a side street, I found the sound that I’d heard. So much for using my ears. I began riding wearing headphones.

What Wiggins and the others have failed to mention is on-road cycle training. If more people accepted the fact that they need training to ride on the roads, we’d be in a better place. The other thing that doesn’t get mentioned is the woeful provision for on-road cyclists. We have Advance Stop Boxes that are routinely encroached by motorists, badly designed and sited cycle lanes – most of which are the useless Advisory Cycle Lanes.

The Advisory Cycle Lane below is fairly typical. Notice the width of the lane as well as the drain cover. There is no minimum width for a cycle lane and many councils just slap down a bit of paint and leave it at that. This cycle lane look as though it is only half a metre wide. Cyclists are told to cycle approximately 1m from the kerb (Thanks to Croydon Cycling for this image).

Here’s a lorry that’s pulled completely into the ASB. For the inexperienced cyclist, this is an invitation to put their life at risk.

If we are going to have a debate about cycle safety, let’s have an informed one. Many motorists drive with their music turned up full. Can they hear everything? No. But then the motorist who drives around listening to loud music would probably tell you that “it’s safer to be in a car”. The fact of the matter is that it isn’t and it’s unlikely that these people have ever seen a car that’s been in a serious accident in which the driver has to be cut free of the crumpled wreck.

Do you think the driver of this vehicle thought he/she was adequately protected? Probably.

The man who was killed was 28 years old. It isn’t known if he was wearing a helmet. However, according to the Telegraph,

Witnesses said that both the bus and the cyclist were turning left on the same corner.

A fellow unidentified cyclist, who claimed to be riding on his way home next to the dead rider and gave a graphic account of the accident.

Writing on a riding blog, he said: “As we approached a bus he went inside while I held back.

“The lights changed as he was in the buses blind spot and as he was attempting to go straight the bus turned left.

“He didn’t really have anywhere to go and no time to do anything anyway… he got pulled under the wheel and dragged around 10 feet or so [all sic].”

My bold. Once again, we have a situation where the cyclist did the wrong thing and ended up paying for it with his life. A helmet would not have saved him.

If the authorities ban cyclists from listening to music while riding, then they need to do the same for drivers who have their music turned up on full volume. It’s only fair. There’s a law against texting or using a mobile phone if you’re driving but this law is not as rigorously enforced as it should be and on most days of the week, I pass several motorists who are on their phones. I once actually saw a van driver eating food from a container while he was driving. He wasn’t driving responsibly.

Rather than get into a “them and us” situation, isn’t it time all road users were treated equally? Bad road users are bad road users, whether they’re riding a bike or driving a tanker lorry.

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