Some Questions to a Cyclist

Big-boned CyclistThis is an imaginary conversation I’ve been having with myself on the way to work each morning.

Until very recently my inner dialogue was dominated by Twitter bile – more often than not aimed at SouthEastern Railways – and whatever was the latest innovation in my particular industry. In fact, I even gave a talk on this mindset way back last Spring and the online marketing opportunities that lay within everyone’s daily commute.

These days I’m self powered. A 30-minute (okay closer to 40 minutes most mornings due to sluggishness and South East London traffic) bike ride to work each way. While I help to pass the time by listening to upbeat and therefore inspirational music on my headphones (and yes, I can still hear the world around me) I come across other road users and we interact – on several levels.

But we rarely talk. What’s the point? And anyway, if you’re like me, you ALWAYS think of the right thing to say about 30 seconds further down the road.

It happens to the best of us. The late Humphrey Lyttelton once told the story that he’d been interviewed by a journalist who mentioned his hobby: Twitching. “and you’re an orthinologist too, aren’t you?” inquired the erstwhile hack. Lyttelton recalled that it was only when he was several miles down the road on the way home that he realised he should have replied: “Not so much an orthinologist; more a word botcher!” How we laughed.

So, in the cold hard light of day, and with some little afterthought, here’s what I should have said to my fellow happy travellers.

WHITE VAN MAN: You bloody cyclists shouldn’t be on the road. All you do is get in the way.

A CYCLIST RESPONDS: My dear man, I’m always likely to be in your way because you’re driving like you own the road, and you don’t.

WHITE VAN MAN: But I pay my road tax, you pay nothing!

A CYCLIST RESPONDS: You say you pay road tax, but you don’t. It was abolished in 1937 and replaced by Vehicle Excise Duty. These days VED is based on your carbon emissions, so there are many drivers out there who don’t pay it, most prominent among them the Queen, but more especially those in electric vehicles, hybrids and low-emission diesels. By that measure, even if VED were extended to all road users, cyclists wouldn’t have to pay it. Any vehicle with an emission level of 130g/km has a zero rate of VED and since the average CO2 emission of cyclists – even unfit ones like me – is about 78g/km, it would take almost two of me to reach that figure.

Incidentally, I’m also a car driver so I do pay VED. I don’t drive my car very much (it’s not really worth it in London traffic) so by your logic I could say that its tax disc is paying for my cycling.

To you second point, however, even VED doesn’t pay for the roads, it goes straight into the general Treasury fund where the roads get a (diminishing) share of the total pot. As such, I do pay for the roads via PAYE and VAT and if, as I suspect, you’re doing a lot of work “cash in hand”, that means I probably pay considerably more towards them than you.

WHITE VAN MAN: But you’re not even insured!

A CYCLIST RESPONDS: Actually, as I have a comprehensive home and contents policy, I also have all risks and personal liability cover which should compensate you for any minor damage I cause to your vehicle. However, I’d like to remind you that your Bedford Soft Top Rascal Van weighs considerably more than even me and is unlikely to suffer more than the odd scratch if you decide on impulse to run me over. A bit like the Chihuahua that killed the Rottweiler – it got stuck in the bigger dog’s throat.

WHITE VAN MAN: But you’re the exception! Most cyclists aren’t insured

A CYCLIST RESPONDS: Well, I would dispute that, since most people have some sort of insurance; however, I think you should be more concerned about the number of uninsured CAR drivers – either because their vehicle doesn’t have a current MoT certificate or VED, or because they simply can’t afford to (or be bothered to). In such cases, you are protected by various agreements between insurers which cover losses incurred by uninsured drivers. The same goes for bicycles.

A PEDESTRIAN: What does that cute white cycle symbol mean on the pavement?

A CYCLIST RESPONDS: That means you’re standing in a cycle lane. It does not refer to your nickname at school.

A PEDESTRIAN: But don’t cyclists have to give way to pedestrians?

A CYCLIST RESPONDS: In general yes, as should all road users. However, if you were to carelessly walk into the main road you would not be surprised if you were hit by a passing car. Generally, cyclists have poorer brakes than a car and are also more vulnerable to poor road conditions – pot holes, wet leaves, uneven pavements, etc. – and so may not be able to stop in time.

A PEDESTRIAN: Yes if I was hit by a car it would hurt but a bicycle weighs much less. I’d be fine.

A CYCLIST RESPONDS: Time for a quick physics lesson I think. The force you would feel if an average-sized cyclist hit you at 10mph can be worked out like this:

Initial Kinetic Energy = 1/2 x (Mass of the Bike + Rider) x Speed2

Impact Force to stop the bike = Initial Kinetic Energy/stopping distance

:: Weight of Bike + Rider = 12st

:: Speed = 10mph

:: Stopping distance = 6ft

Therefore …

Impact Force = 1/20th OF A TONNE!

Just an extra 5mph increases that a TENTH OF A TONNE and if you factor in my weight, as opposed to those cycling fanatic Lycra-clad stick insects, you’re going to be hit with a force of almost A FIFTH OF A TONNE!

That sort of impact won’t do you much good. It might even kill you. And if it’s any consolation to your loved ones, I’ll most likely be killed too.

A PEDESTRIAN: Why are you ringing that bell?

A CYCLIST RESPONDS: Because you are wandering down the cycle lane and don’t have a clue I’m here. I’m hoping you will realize the error of your ways and move back to the relative safety of the footpath.

A PEDESTRIAN: If I stand still or shift anxiously from foot to foot while looking straight at you what will happen next?

A CYCLIST RESPONDS: I will ring my bell more furiously as I get closer.

A PEDESTRIAN: And after that?

A CYCLIST RESPONDS: I may try shouting at you. I will certainly be attempting to take avoiding action but I may not have time. This might hurt.

LOLLYPOP LADY: Why do you always sigh when I step out in the road in front of you to let children cross?

A CYCLIST RESPONDS: Your crossing is almost at the top of a hill and by the time I reach it, I’m just beginning to pick up speed. If you leap out in front of me, I won’t be going very fast, it’s true, but it does mean than I have to start again, particularly, if you step out just as I reach you. It would be nice if you could let me go befroe you step out. I’m not the sort of cyclist that goes through red lights or cuts up pedestrians, and it would literally just take a couple of seconds.

Incidentally, I see you guide your kids across every time a single one of them appears. Don’t you think this is giving them a false picture of how crossings work? Surely they associate the crossing with being able to step out directly in front of cars. Pedestrian crossings are a bargaining point between pedestrians and drivers. Both must be sure that the way is clear – the pedestrian as well as the driver. Wouldn’t it be better to make them wait a few seconds to gather themselves and be sure that the traffic is going to stop? Just a thought.

A CAR DRIVER: Why you you cyclists weave in and out of traffic. It’s a hazard.

A CYCLIST RESPONDS: I agree. Particularly since many drivers seem to have no idea of what’s going on around them and so pay no attention to cyclists who may be using the road alongside them. Personally, I’m always very cautious when coming to traffic or a junction. I now rarely travel up the inside of traffic when approaching a junction. It’s almost always safer to go around the outside of traffic; at least oncoming drivers are looking at you, not ignoring their mirrors.

A CAR DRIVER: What is it with those boxes with a big cycle painted in them at junctions?

A CYCLIST RESPONDS: That is meant to be somewhere for cyclists to gather at traffic lights so that they can move off safely ahead of traffic.

A CAR DRIVER: So if it’s empty when I arrive at the junction I can just move into it right?

A CYCLIST RESPONDS: Wrong. If it’s empty when you arrive, you should leave it clear. Rule 178 of The Highway Code says

Advanced stop lines. Some signal-controlled junctions have advanced stop lines to allow cycles to be positioned ahead of other traffic. Motorists, including motorcyclists, MUST stop at the first white line reached if the lights are amber or red and should avoid blocking the way or encroaching on the marked area at other times”

This is covered by the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions Act 2002. It can earn you a £120 fine AND 6 points on your licence. It also applies to motorbikes and scooters. Still want to stop there?

A CAR DRIVER: But what if I’m in the box and the lights turn red? Won’t I be fined too? That’s not fair.

A CYCLIST RESPONDS: Read Rule 178  – motorists “must stop … if the lights are amber or red”, and “should avoid” at other times. You’ll get off!

A CAR DRIVER: But cyclists that go through red lights should be prosecuted.

A CYCLIST RESPONDS: I agree. I’d go further. I think they should be kneecapped, together with drivers that jump the lights, overtake cyclists and then turn in on them, or otherwise ignore the Highway Code and the Road Traffic Acts in any way whatsoever. It’s the only language they understand.

Does that make sense?