!Code Red!

Ralph Nader‘s famous 1965 book Unsafe At Any Speed described the dangers of the car and changed motoring safety for the better but half a century on, two wheels must still be wary of four wheels.

This Monday I cycled myself for 40 miles (testing a new campag chain but the finicky technology is for another blog). On tight narrow roads, I would pull in to let oncoming cars pass. Coming down into Crocketford, a driver did the same for me. We waved at each other in acknowledgement. On Tuesday five of us cycled over to the Glenkens. Descending down towards Carsphairn a lorry driver nearly wiped us all out on a tight bend with a look of utter indifference on his face.

And this is the daily dilemna for cyclists; is it going to be understanding and patience or complete contempt from motorists?

Here are some of my personal driving nightmares for cyclists.

  • the motorist on their mobile (funnily enough this is most popular both with country toffs in Land Cruisers and their distant cousins, the shell suited Vauxhall Nova chav/chavettes)
  • the oncoming motorist who makes no attempt to check their speed on country roads (occasionally some of them speed up when they see you – perhaps they think they’re playing Call of Duty)
  • the car which passes you with mere millimetres to spare – if their passenger window was down you could probably lean over and change the CD.
  • the horn blaring, window down, mouthful of abuse, car driver (although to be fair the verbals are usually delivered by his pot bellied passenger chomping on a burger)
  • the driver who manages to combine all of the above.

During the summer months these drivers are usually dotted everywhere but for cyclists in the south-west of Scotland they mainly seem to concentrate themselves on the coast road where their patience is lowest and horn blowing highest by the end of July. (there should be a Springwatchprogramme about them)

‘mum I’ll be home for tea soon’

The advice from the police is to ride two abreast when in a group. For groups of riders this is  sensible. Drivers sometimes shout for single file yet this can increase a line of cyclists making passing more difficult. However cyclists are very good in my experience at letting cars get by them as they don’t like cars sitting behind them for long periods of time.

As I’ve said in a previous blog, we are certainly not blameless when it comes to road use. Yet it’s true to say that cyclists are very sensitive when it comes to road safety. This can be seen in the constant passing up and down the line of info about road conditions and traffic etc. Also our club has an etiquette section which is observed more than breached. Despite this several of our club members have been hit by cars and all they were doing was riding their bikes on a public road..

This is not meant to be a po-faced blog suggesting all motorists are the anti-christ. In fact some of the heat between two wheels and four wheels can be pretty entertaining with hindsight.

a car free zone – the Beef Tub

I remember we were coming back from Samye Ling and some boys spotted a tractor up ahead. They started tail-gating and looked quite pleased with themselves until the farmer realised what they were doing. He gave them quite a row. Not swearing – more like a chiding for school children. The boys re-joined us as if they were going to be grounded that night.

On another occasion two of us were returning into town when we were loudly harassed by a very irate female driver, peeping her horn etc. We started to laugh when she passed us when we spotted the license plate, the first three letters of which read PMT.

It still brings a smile to my face when I remember three of us descending Dunscore hill and a young chav of the type mentioned above, cut us up. My fellow cyclist shouted at the car

‘Hey come back here…I want to speak to you.’ 

He then cycled after the car. Some guys in our club can hit 60ks plus, descending Dunscore hill but that would’ve been quite something had he caught the car, as would the possibility of the Nova driver having highly sensitive hearing skills.

Cyclists have developed three universal signals for silly driving.

  1. The Ironic Wave (combined with an ironic grin) – for getting peeped at or some form of incoherent verbals.
  2. The quickly raised right arm with palm upward (reminiscent of Italian gesturing) – ‘did you seriously have to pass us that closely?’
  3. The slow yoyo hand movement – SLOW DOWN!

These lighter moments are infrequent. As has been said before, when there’s a dispute between a car and a bike, regardless of right or wrong, it’s the cyclist who will suffer.

In my experience the relationship between driver and cyclist has remained almost like an uneasy truce. I do feel that there is a sometimes a lack of understanding on the part of the motorist. With a little more patience, you will be able to pass us safely. Similarly it doesn’t take much to touch the brakes when you see a group of cyclists coming towards you on a narrow road. And if you’re going to shout at us keep in mind that we’re quite often riding in a deafening headwind!

At the moment there is only one Highway Code which should cover all aspects of road use. Perhaps we should add a new Code specifically for drivers and cyclists or an entente cordiale. With the drive by successive governments to encourage more people from their cars onto bikes, it’s time for constructive dialogue.

Who knows if things don’t improve, we might even see a Critical Mass event in South West Scotland.

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