Vulnerability

i feel compelled to write today; but it’s not an easy post to structure. i ride to work and back every day, bar the odd rest. this means i am on the road, on my bike, for around 2 hours a day. factor in weekend rides and races and it comes to around 10 hours a week – this is much longer than most people – sales reps, wvms and lorry drivers aside – spend on the road.

during the course of my morning commute i am regularly – and by regularly i would say, conservatively every 10 to 15 minutes – by a car going too fast and too near me. it’s unnerving; and it’s unsafe. there are a number of possible reasons for this: the roads are awful and there are potholes everywhere; if my front wheel hit a pothole – which i quite possibly rode through to avoid changing line – the bike could be thrown out and i might end up under the wheels of the car; if i sneeze – an unavoidable thing – the same thing could happen; if i lost control on a wet surface, hit a patch of oil, or a leaf, or shiny white/yellow line – ditto, and lastly, a moment of inattention from car driver or bike rider could lead to a collision.

i have to say i think that most of these are avoidable; and i admire those car drivers who show a certain attentiveness, who allow cyclists a minimum of 3 feet of space, and who do not squeeze through. however, there are still a large minority who don’t follow these patterns. and i’d like to speculate as to why this might be: they have a keen belief in their capabilities with regard to controlling the car; they simply do not take into account – empathetically speaking – the vulnerability of cyclists; they have a poor perception of how much time will be lost by not overtaking; or perhaps they have a pathological hatred of all cyclists for using the roads in the first place.

as for me; i do not trust the driver’s instincts, at all. i do not believe that anyone is sufficiently attentive to make swooping passes within 3 feet. i am frequently depressed by abuse i receive from car drivers – and there is no other word for it; abused, threatened with physical violence, sworn at – for pointing out how unnerved i was or fearful by their driving. the hermeneutic bubble of the car insulates – road rage is directed outwards, and cyclists are an easy target. it’s a shame. i ride responsibly, i allow space, i let lorries past by pulling in, i do all i can to avoid annoying drivers; but also – i know the road to work very well, i know where the road surface is treacherous, and i know where it is unsafe for a car to pass me, and at these times, i ride assertively. this can be the proverbial red rag to a bull. i try really hard to avoid having a lingering antipathy towards all car drivers; and i try to thank those with a wave who have given me room.

my colleagues know i am totally crazy about cycling; but strangely enough, they often ask if i was out cycling at the weekend, saying that they thought they saw me. this suggests that now that they know a cyclist, they tend to treat all cyclists a little bit differently; as though it needs that humanising factor. this has been acknowledged by others at work; that their perception of cycling and cyclists on  the road has changed sufficiently for them to give all cyclists that bit more space and respect.

i’m not really sure what i’m saying, i guess, and i warned it would be unstructured. maybe this: cars are really dangerous huge great hulking chunks of metal that have the capacity to kill people; this risk is a constant where cyclists and cars share the same space; being prepared to share the same space can make a huge difference; the consequences of a reckless approach to other road users, and cyclists, are staggering and profound for all people concerned.

some links – firstly the ones that provoked the text; they’re quite depressing:

http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/308/6943/1534?ijkey=8f9f6d810c3122b1af472dfd1f5c74ab60a1d1f6

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/edinburgh_and_east/8660564.stm

http://road.cc/content/news/17145-drive-avoids-prison-term-killing-cyclist

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/7646957/Driver-killed-cyclist-in-revenge-attack.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_bike

and secondly, a compelling blog post from tevjan about car tax; which i remembered after a friend was abused by a motorist on the first day of our current government-less limbo:

http://cyclinginfo.co.uk/blog/cycling/road-tax-in-uk/

here’s a happy picture:

One thought on “Vulnerability

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