Vulnerable Road Users and a Frightening Week to be a Cyclist

Today was perfect cycling weather, at least in comparison to the manifold treachery of the ice fields of yore. Temperatures were kind and it was possible to ride in a state of blissful innocence, free from the latent fear of frozen liquid and the potential for horrible crashes.

I made my way to work the long way round. I did not enjoy the battle with the headwind on the A38 but hunkered down and forced the pace. It made a lovely contrast to the rollers and the endless repetition of riding indoors. feeling the wind in your face at least makes you feel alive.

Eventually i made my way into Bristol and across the downs. It was about 7.10am. I paused at the lights on the corner of Parry’s Lane and Saville Road and waited patiently for an opportunity to pull out. i glanced back over my shoulder and saw a car approaching really quickly and it became apparent in that instant that it was very unlikely he was going to stop. and so it goes.

The car rammed straight into the back wheel of the bike, throwing me forwards onto the main road. it was a sudden but slow impact. I lay on the floor for a few moments before getting up and walking to the side. The car driver had stopped and he got out of his car. I asked him fairly simply; “What are you doing?”. I think i repeated it. His reply was something along the lines of “these are just things that happen”, which was a bit of an injudicious comment and prompted me to unleash a bit of a rant. I was surprisingly articulate given the circumstances and can remember most of what I said. This is because normally i think of what i should have said after the event, whereas this morning it just poured out in a torrent of anger, shock and frustration.

These aren’t just things that happen or accidents. I’m was trying to get to work and being careful and riding safely and I was knocked off my bike. I wasn’t an invisible cyclist or someone riding in a crazy manner. I was highly visible with three Smart lights on the back, scotchlite tape, a bright red jacket and luminous overshoes. A driver went straight into the back of me.

I was really angry and both the shock and adrenalin were making me shake. I was aware that i was uninjured but also aware that this was an entirely fortuitous result. At this point a passer-by came across the road to give me his details to say exactly what he saw and that I could get in touch if i needed to. The car driver was not angry, he was also shocked and a bit freaked out. He continued to say that it was an accident. .

It wasn’t an accident, it was a direct result of decisions made on the road. He drove into the back of me because he wasn’t looking. It’s entirely the driver’s fault and when a driver does this; looks down or the wrong way, or makes an assumption, or thinks someone might be about to do something so pre-empts it, only to find they don’t, then one of three things could happen. The first of these is nothing; the driver goes home and doesn’t even remember the incident. The second thing is “this” happens and a cyclist ends up on the floor in front of a car. The third of which is serious injury or death.

If i was in a car we wouldn’t even have particularly discussed the matter, i’d have taken his details and he’d apologise and think about his no claims bonus. I pointed all of this out to him quite forcefully. He apologised and was genuinely remorseful. I was still really angry and shaken.

I ride every day to work, give or take. i get up at 5.50am so i can ride 20 miles before work because i’m a committed racing cyclist. This morning i’d been out on my bike for an hour when i came across a semi-comatose, unthinking driver who’d slumped into his car, not even thinking about it and proceeded to hit my bike. It’s unfair. Every day in the time i spend on the road someone comes within inches of knocking me off. and i ride safely, assertively and without cause for alarm, and yet still it happens every single day. A day when i don’t feel threatened by a car driver is a cause for celebration. I’m not some irritant in the way or even particularly different to your average car drive, i’m just going to work, trying to do an honest day’s work to earn money so i can pay my bills. I’m not an asshole or insignificant thing, i’m just like the errant driver, except i’m much more dedicated to cycling than he (or presumably anyone) could ever be to driving. every minute i spend on the bike is time i value, each and every second, whereas every second spent in a car is time wasted or rushed through in an unceasing hurry to be somewhere else, doing something else.

He apologised and said he wanted to do something to help. The adrenalin and shock subsided and i was feeling a bit wasted. He drove me to work because my back wheel was fubar. I couldn’t even get it go past the seat stays, let alone the brake blocks.

He was a chap who took his eye off the road for a moment with unpleasant consequences. It could have been far worse. In a week where a married couple on a tandem were killed in Hanham, road safety is uppermost in my mind. I’ve been haunted by the ridiculously lenient and offensive sentences handed down for those causing death by dangerous driving and upset by the lack of will by anyone in government to do anything about it.

I told him that i would fix the wheel.  The one good thing he could do that would make a positive difference is to give all cyclists a wide berth, space on the road to breathe and not feel threatened and intimidated. As we passed a cyclist I pointed out that it’s someone’s wife, daughter or sister, just trying to get to work in nasty weather. They shouldn’t be running the gauntlet and risking life and limb. They deserve heartfelt respect from callow and fickle drivers in their hermetically-sealed and dangerously insulated cars.

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