Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Bikes versus cars

I was once very, very keen on cycling. This was when I was thirty or so and living in London. That was in 1982 and 1983, thirty-odd years ago. It was an interest I embraced suddenly, and then discarded just as suddenly - for good reasons.

I should explain that I never owned a bike in childhood, and did not learn to ride one until I was thirty. That's why I was so smitten. It was much more than just a novelty, it was a revelation, something I'd missed out on, and like any convert I was fanatical. I instantly fell totally in love with the whole notion of cycling. It was a city thing, but it could take you out into the countryside, and it had connotations of freedom and rebellion. It was obviously good for physical exercise. Pedal power seemed in every way wholesome and virtuous. It did not pollute the roads with exhaust fumes. It seemed also to have a philosophical element to it, or at least you had to change your mindset in a good way.

I bought inspiring books about cycling. I bought glossy cycling magazines. I added accessories, becoming a saddle fetishist, a pannier fetishist, a lighting fetishist, a tyre fetishist, a bike lock fetishist. I bought reflective belts and ankle straps, to ward off the city traffic. I had mirrors, so that I could see what was coming up behind. I was going to ride hard and fast, and cut through the London buses and taxis with confidence. For I was now a Road Warrior.

I learned to repair punctures, to replace cables and to use special brake blocks. I tried various styles of handlebar. I even experimented with different gear ratios. I found bicycle shops that catered for the cycling enthusiast - not the old fuddy-duddy enthusiast, but the younger kind that were fired up by the latest technology. The term 'mountain bike' was still new, and the notion of a tough, go-anywhere machine had a magical appeal. I couldn't afford one of those: but I went through two more ordinary bikes in quick succession.

I deferred renewing my Underground season ticket. I would save money by cycling from Wimbledon to Victoria and back every day. An hour's journey. I started when it was late summer, in sunshine. It seemed ideal. I noticed the extra cash in my pocket. But the days got shorter. As soon as the light level fell, I realised how vulnerable I was, how invisible. I had a couple of very close shaves. And then a spate of punctures. The potholes and bumps were a nightmare in near-darkness. I gave up. This was stupidity. I was going to get knocked off and hurt. And as it grew colder, so the trains seemed more and more sensible. The bike was put away, never more to be ridden. I sold it a few months later.

I was disillusioned, and I have remained disillusioned. And from being avidly pro-bike, I have become firmly a champion of four-wheeled transport. The advantages of having a wheel at each corner of a covered platform with seats on it seem overwhelming. You are large enough to be seen; you are protected from weather and impacts; you can't fall over; you can carry passengers; you can carry a useful load; and given the right kind of engine and fuel, you can travel a long way very quickly. Pedal bikes can't do any of that. Even if it had to be a car that looked like a weird Mars rover, it would still be more versatile, and safer, than a bike.

Bikes scare me. Every time I see a bike rider, I am scared that I will witness a dreadful accident as frustrated car drivers ahead of me take risks to get past. I am afraid that one day, when I am passing, a cyclist will swerve to avoid a pothole, or a crack in the road, or a dead squirrel, or wobble as cramp strikes in a leg muscle, and we may connect with ghastly results.

Cyclists face a hazard overload. Really, I can't see how it's possible to enjoy doing what they do. In fact I think that cycling is a type of suicide, certainly an activity that will inevitably put you in hospital sooner or later. Nothing would induce me to get on a bike again.

I can't see why little children are allowed onto any road where traffic might go. They may wear helmets, and they may be shadowed by a parent, but in reality they are horribly exposed to death or serious injury. I shudder to think what would happen if they wobbled and fell as a car passed. Whereas if these children (and their parents) were all in four-wheeled buggies or carts, they would have a much better chance of survival.

But I really want to propose that cyclists should be banned from all roads that cars can use. Lives are at stake. Cars and bikes simply do not mix. Nor, for that matter, do cars and horses, or cars and pedestrians. Each needs their own roads and paths and ways that none of the others can use. Of course it won't happen.


  1. I don't know about a ban but "serious cyclists" seem to risk their lives to enjoy sport.
    My prior commute was up a very busy two lane road, in the summer with temperatures high and frazzled drivers just wanting to get home I would invariably encounter single or multiple riders, and witnessed no end of close calls.

  2. It's the car that has to go, at least in its present form. When automotive vehicles can be controlled completely by computers which can monitor the environment around the vehicle and force preventative encounters with pedestrians, cyclists and everything else then they will be safe. It is the drivers of vehicles who are at fault, it is human error and misjudgement that causes accidents and death on our roads. I am climbing down off my soapbox now...LOL

    Shirley Anne x

  3. Simple answer is to go back to what we had before where everyone had been a cyclist before ever getting a chance to drive a car so had a great understanding of the vulnerability and needs of the cyclists.

    When I was at my most enthusiastic as a cyclist there was always room for cars to pass but the road system has hardly changed except to reduce the possible passing places with millions of miles of paint lines and the numbers of cars has more than doubled with so many motorists believing that it is their right to drive over or through cyclists without any care or attention.

    There will probably be cyclists long after the cars have stopped running and all rusted away...

  4. There certainly are impatient car drivers (and other drivers too) who treat cyclists with an irritated contempt. But nowadays many 'cyclists' are also 'motorists' and on different occasions wear both hats; so they should be fully aware of the problems each may have with the other. Well, I would personally claim to be a driver who understands what suffering a motorist's impatience feels like, or what a near miss does to your day.

    But even if every motorist's road behaviour were the acme of courtesy, or every road vehicle had radar and computerised safety systems that would ensure that all vehicles gave each other a wide berth, the fact remains that two-wheeled bikes are unstable and terribly vulnerable, and should not be on the same road as much larger, faster, heavier and harder moving objects that can crush and kill if accidental contact is made. Radar and clever electronics cannot save a cyclist who suddenly swerves or falls into the path of a vehicle. Just like a car driver, a cyclist can be riding when ill, or drunk, or on medication, or when distracted by worries, or confused about the route, or near exhaustion on a hot day - any of which could make them behave erratically, with of course no onboard computer to correct a momentary slip.

    Imagine a cycle way alongside a busy railway line, with no fence in between. The tightly-controlled train absolutely could not deviate from its course, nor behave in a maverick fashion. But cyclists could (and occasionally would) end up riding too close to the track, and placing themselves in dire danger. In other words, human error or carelessness will always tend to place cyclists in danger of having a fatal accident, whatever the mix of travel modes.

    Cyclists need their own dedicated cycleways, free of any intersections with other types of roadway, so that their safety really can be assured. And until then, it seems to me madness to ride a bike in places where one must share road space with other traffic.

    Nor should cyclists usurp pedestrians' walking spaces. A fast-moving bike can seriously injure anyone who can't move out of the way in time. I will be highly annoyed if some idiot rams into me outside a shop and leaves me with disfiguring or disabling injuries. And we are all pedestrians, every one of us, at some point.

    Rant over.


  5. The loss of so many old railway tracks which should have been retained as easy public rights of way was a tragedy. We have a cycle route heading towards the nearby city but the trackway was dug up for half the length and a new way had to be found...

    I am someone who walks, cycles and drives and find terrible habits amongst all those groups, I guess it is a faster paced world with everyone out for themselves. When I stop to allow someone out into traffic many are dumbfounded and at a loss as what to do!

    The government wants more cyclists so that they do not have to improve the roads which only encourages more motorists. Sadly the best the government can come up with to "help" cyclists integrate is to mark off narrow edges of road with all the drain covers and pot holes for their use but motorists just think those lanes have been marked off and kept clear to make it easier to park!

    I recently spent a week of holiday cycling on an island where the cars and bicycles hardly ever had to share the same space and it was pure paradise and felt like a different island from the same one visited by car the year before.

    Motorists are too isolated from real life in their safety cages and cyclists and pedestrians too soft and squishy without, we should all be very careful...

  6. This country's highways are not wide enough to accommodate both forms of transport separately except in certain areas where there are dedicated cycle tracks. As things stand we are unable to completely separate bikes from cars and that will remain a fact of life for some considerable time I feel. In many towns now they are reducing local speed limits as I mentioned in a previous post recently. This will go a long way to make roads safer for both pedestrians and cyclists provided car drivers adhere to the rules. This is also something I mentioned in that post.

    Shirley Anne x

  7. 20mph zones are a pain, and merely cause frustration to anyone driving a car. There is one in the centre of Brighton. It seems dreadfully pointless. It isn't even 'green' because you end up chugging along in low gear: more fumes, and a waste of fuel. And of course, the 20mph limit isn't much observed, which discredits it. It's seen as a political imposition by the local Green Party, and not something that everyone was consulted about.

    From my out-of-town point of view, it's simply another annoying reason to avoid coming into Brighton.


  8. It is as I said, drivers won't stick to the speed limit and are too impatient. Does going slower really use up more fuel? I have my doubts. As for it being down to the local Green Party, they are for the most part not in power even at local levels in most towns and cities.

    Shirley Anne x

  9. Brighton has the only Green Party MP in the country, and its city council has historically been keen on battering the car owner, with, for instance, swingeingly expensive car parking charges and draconian fines. It's not welcoming.



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