I don’t own a car. I cycle to work each day, and travel by train when visiting far-flung client offices. The cycle route to work is only three miles each way, and can be done in anything from ten to fifteen minutes, depending on how energetic I’m feeling, and if the wind is favorable.
I have been cycling pretty much the same route for fifteen years. The only variation occurred during the “foot and mouth” scare during the first year – which coincided with getting married. It sticks in my mind because part of my route was diverted for a couple of months – taking me over a sizeable hill twice a day. Those couple of months put an inch of muscle on each thigh and calf – so you can imagine how the fitting of my morning suit went for the wedding. I vaguely remember being a 34″ waist, but wearing 38″ trousers, folded hilariously under the waistcoat in order to get them over my legs.
A part of the journey involves turning across a busy road. A smaller road joins on the opposite side, so I invariably pull off the road into the road end, and wait for traffic to pass rather than stopping in the middle and being passed on both sides by cars doing forty miles an hour or more. I have sat on my bike in that road end for some minutes in the past – long enough to get bored and start counting the cars passing me. It doesn’t help that the road approaching town sweeps down the hill mentioned earlier, causing many drivers to treat it like turns two and three at Spa Francorchamps.
After fifteen years of sitting in that road end, counting sometimes twenty or thirty cars snaking down the hill and past me, tonight – for the first time – a car in the train slowed and flashed his headlights. I almost fell over in surprise, before scrabbling onto my pedals, and launching off across the road.
The first car to let me cross in fifteen years. That says something about the general thoughtlessness of drivers on the road, doesn’t it. I’ve read several times that car accidents invariably happen within a mile of home, on your way home. I can completely understand that – I’ve often thought about buying a helmet mounted camera to record the idiocy I often see around me. I imagine some people will react by stating that cyclists are a menace too – crossing red lights, cycling on the pavement, and so on – and yes – you are right too – there are assholes everywhere. The difference is though that those asshole cyclists aren’t in control of three tons of metal that could kill somebody in a few thoughtless seconds.
It’s horrible in some ways – that I naturally ride incredibly defensively in traffic. I expect drivers not only to not see me, but to actively ignore my existence. I am regularly cut up, or have drivers pull out in front of me – even though I wear a reflective coat and crash helmet. While approaching a line of cars rolling slowly towards a junction, if room allows I will sometimes pass in the center of the road – it never ceases to amaze me how many cars pull out on my approach, doing everything they can to stop me making any more progress than them.
Anyway – kudos to the driver that slowed for a few seconds this evening to let me pass – you were the first in fifteen years.