the punishment pass

if i chased after a tenth of the cars and drivers that come too close or scare me witless i’d never get anywhere near where I wanted to be. I might get quite fit and it could also be suitable for intervals, but it would present some serious geographical challenges. As a general rule i try to say nothing and do nothing, be unassuming and keep on the straight and narrow.

today i chased after a car; it swerved towards me on a blind corner of a narrow residential street. the street is two-way but with no entrance at one end. this seems to convince some drivers that it’s therefore a one way street and any cyclists coming the other way must therefore be punished. I’ve had people screaming in incandescant rage before now.

a close call with a car and driver which involves the car being driven at or near the cyclist, wilffully and dangerously close, is known demotically as a ‘punishment pass’. it requires a weird suspension of normally accepted behaviour and the cyclist to be seen as an inconvenience or object of irritation. it also needs a dehumanising factor – no-one would swerve at a small child ambling into the road to punish them for being there. somehow, within the confines of a car, the presence of a cyclist can create all sorts of odd and visceral reactions in seemingly sane and rational people.

after standing silently for a few moments I opted to chase after the driver and remonstrate. in common parlance, i flipped out a bit. anyone who spends a lot of time on a bike on the road will have a tipping point – there is a limit to how much ill-treatment you can take from ignorant and life-threatening people.

i caught the driver at the lights and they knew immediately why i was there. there was a flash of recognition, followed by an attempt to defend themselves. it went like this: It’s a one way street/I didn’t have much space on the right/I didn’t see you/i see cyclists every day/i respect cyclists on the road. None of these statements had any connection with the truth. 

The driver was angry about the whole thing; a horrible misguided and inarticulate anger that comes about from knowing you’re defending something indefensible. I imagine later there will be conversations about ‘bloody cyclists’ and being ‘assailed and assaulted by an angry lycra lout’, all of which will be very wide of the mark. But in the back somewhere will be the nagging knowledge and guilt that they were completely in the wrong and made a stupid choice.

I have a child and all i want to do after a training ride or commute is get home and see my 6 month old daughter. people need to pay more attention to vulnerable road users. i imagine the person involved probably has children, loved ones, relatives, and wouldn’t begin to contemplate driving in such a way anywhere near them.

Arguments aside, and you can argue with someone in a car for as long as they choose to argue and not get anywhere, there are some simple realities. A driver made a stupid choice in a fit of pique because they felt a cyclist was in their way. It happens all the time, every single day, on every single ride. In this case, that would have been it if i hadn’t caught up to remonstrate to attempt to remind them that I am a person rather an obstacle. There was a moment of intense irony when the driver reached over to lock their door and said they felt ‘threatened’. Apart from a fairly strident tone, i was about two metres away and my body language was entirely unthreatening. Threatening is two tonnes of metal coming within a couple of inches, at speed, with deliberation.

Vulpine are currently running this campaign.

getting home after cycling and telling penfold all about the ride


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