Chris' Cycling Page

A small polemic which I've written to replace the one that I wrote a few years ago (and which is probably still relevant) and a few bits of my own writing that I've collected down the years and seems appropriate. It might seem a bit disjointed, but I hope it's thought provoking.

It's a stress release, it's exciting, it's quicker, it's cheaper, it's healthier. (It's about lycra :) It's about experiencing the elements, being able to hear the bustle of the roadside, not being cocooned in a box. It's about not taking an hour to go one mile. It's about not fuming at the Underground/South West Trains/Stagecoach for being hopelessly inefficient. It's about racing other cyclists from traffic light to traffic light and not being overtaken, or chaining down the now traffic-free Castlenau at 30+mph with three strangers you'd never met before or since. Or it's about pootling along at little more than walking pace on a sit up and beg and still going faster than a car worth more than 90% of the population's annual salary. It's about having justifiable rants at ignorant motorists. It's about almost being beaten up for opening your big mouth once too often to someone whose hours in a jam have rendered humour a thing of mystery. It's about being different and an example to those drivers who can't see beyond the advertiser's car cultured autopia.

But most of all, it's because it's bloody good fun, a cyclist is more likely to arrive grinning than a car driver.

Schadenfreude

Sometimes there just don't seem to be the words available but, almost ironically, like with the motor industry, the Germans can help us out. "Schadenfreude" Delighting in the discomfort of others. And I positively delight in it. Every day.

I cycle to work, you see. It's not just because it's cheaper, quicker and more healthy than any of the alternatives, but it's fun. It's certainly more fun than sitting in a traffic jam and I know it's better than being crushed in a train carriage or bus with dozens of smelly, sweaty strangers.

I cycle a few thousand miles a year, mostly doing the daily grind that most of us do, travelling from home to work. And I'm damned sure whilst doing the majority of those miles I've having more fun than the car drivers I'm overtaking. I spend far more time going faster than the surrounding traffic than not. And that's the crux of the problem.

The answer is a reduction in traffic numbers, convincing people to leave their cars at home and take public transport, convince companies (and the government's tax system) that many people don't need company cars. (Yes, yes, spare me the moans of the exceptional situations, most company car drivers do not need that car. Single vehicle occupancy on commuting trips should be made illegal rather than just immoral.)

I'm not a car!

Some people complaint that cyclists should act like cars, with the folly that if you cycle so as to "deserve" to be treated like a small car, you take just as long as if you had driven, but I don't cycle so that car drivers deign (in their estimation) to treat me like a small car. When I cycle I expect to be treated like a road user with just as much right to my bit of tarmac as you have to your's.

If you cycle reasonably then there is nothing dangerous about passing queues of motor vehicles, there's no difference between this and queues of cars moving at different speeds.

Treating cyclists like small cars is a typical car-driver response and asking cyclists not to pass queues of stationary cars is merely abnegating their ability to travel quicker than you, introducing artificial constraints because you're jealous.

Cycling is not anti-driving. This is, perhaps unfortunately, one of the side-effects to the fact that cycling can be lumped into the amorphous "green" movement, that lump of enviromental action groups which seems to have a problem with modern corporate Britain. I might sympathise with some of its elements to a certain degree, but that's not my candidature for rent-a-mob. The rise of the single issue pressure group in need of a louder voice ......

Living reasonably close to my place of work and in a flat very close to all the local amenities, really helps, and for all the complaints, London's public transport infrastructure is reasonably good. In my situation a car just simply isn't needed, my daily commute would take three times as long and that's ignoring the hassle of parking at both ends of the journey, and I would loose out on the very therapeutic shouting session that is my ride home ... Obviously not everyone lives within walking distance of a high street, but part of the reason for the decline of the corner shop is the huge explosion in out-of-town shopping.

For the few occasions where a car is desirable, hiring isn't cheap but is more than covered by the savings. Hire cars, while not only being new and reasonably maintained, can be thrashed around and abused in a way that you wouldn't really treat your own!

Excuse or a reason?

There are always going to be reasons for owning and regularly using a car, but many of these are out of habit and convention, and (dare I say it) laziness. Commuting, shopping, the school run, none really _require_ a car but it's a habit forming beast. My parents live three doors down from a primary school in a suburban area, therefore the number of kids living more than a mile, let alone 2, from the school, is going to be relatively small - you wouldn't believe that from the number of cars that clog the area twice a day during term time.

I would suggest that a reasonable maximum commuting distance would be about 10 miles, so long as suitable facilities exist for changing at the workplace. How many driver-commuters live within ten miles of their workplace? How much cheaper would it be for a company to sell a proportion of it's car-park and install a few showers? (Ten miles would take about 45-60 minutes at worst, and it really isn't as far or as hard as it sounds. If you can walk for 45 minutes without any problems, then, given a bit of time to get used to it, you'll be able to cycle for that long too.)

One of the major problems is the company car, private ownership is much lower in this country than elsewhere and if someone's going to give you a car and subsidise your petrol and your work parking space, you're going to use it, aren't you? A side-effect of this is the single occupant vehicle, the majority of cars I pass (emphasis, cars that I pass) on my daily cycles have but one person in them.

Stress Relief

Some people play squash. I shout at errant car drivers. I wrote this in a post to the Usenet newsgroup uk.rec.cycling a couple of years ago;

    The moral high ground sometimes helps, especially if you have the opportunity to point it out. I was heading home through Richmond Park yesterday afternoon and was feeling less than tip-top after 2+ hours on the road in the sun. This chap in an open-top had a momentary lapse at a roundabout and forgot about giving way to the right and carved me up tremendously. Fortunately he was fairly law abiding and stuck to the 30 limit, equally fortunately it was on a downward section (the stretch from the Star & Garter toward Roehampton) and I was able to catch him up. When he slowed at the next roundabout I drew level with him and, noticing a kid's seat in the back, I asked him if he would have reacted to me at the previous roundabout in the same way if I had been his child .... needless to say, sheepish was a good word to describe his reaction.

Reporting

Is it worth reporting stupidity on the roads?

In a word, yes.

In pure legal theory the evidence of one witness is sufficient to prove a case. In practice, the offender, when interviewed, issues a blank denial and will make counter allegations - either against the original witness or blaming the circumstances on a third party. The CPS will not take a case unless there is a good prospect of conviction. In pre-CPS days the police would often have a go, even with less than a 50-50 chance of conviction. Under the guidelines laid down by the DPP, which include such matters as the public interest, the staleness of the circumstances, whether alternative methods of disposal (such as a caution) are suitable as well as consideration of the weight of the evidence, single witness allegations are often unsuccessful. However, if the circumstances are really bad some forces will usually still have a try. A good interview of the offender can often get him/her unwittingly to corroborate the allegation. Few motoring offenders are wise enough to keep their mouths shut if their motoring skills are impugned and will thereby convict themselves. Photographs are useful.

Cutting up cyclists is usually charged as 'Driving without consideration for other road users'. This is at the bottom end of the bad driving offences. What happens by way of punishment does depend to a considerable extent on the individual views of the magistrates. Get a cocky defendant before a stipendiary and you could be surprised by the severity of the sentence. Get a plausible middle aged gent in front of a Chairman who is fed up with seeing cyclists ride through red lights every day, and he could receive a conditional discharge. It's all a big game - sad to say.

Due care, disobey red light, double white lines and a number of other offences involve the sending of a notice to the potential offender (or the owner of the vehicle) within 14 days of the incident. Sometimes these may be sent in the cases of written letters of complaint, in the hope that it will at the very least give the offender a fright.

The evidence of one witness is unlikely to be sufficient to convince the CPS to go ahead and then the court to convict. With only one witness, if he gets torn up in the witness box, the whole case is out of the window. So a note will be made of the allegations. If a second witness then comes forward with consistent evidence then a prosecution is much more likely. If, therefore, you can find other witnesses - even collecting a few car numbers of those who must have seen what went on - there is a reasonable prospect that one of them will be prepared to go to court. I recall hearing of an allegation of careless/dangerous involving stupid overtakes. A friend reported details to the local station and found that two others had independently reported the matter and the case was taken to court. Cases can turn nasty, involve a lot of wasted time and end up with the public spirited witness being mad to look a fool in the box. There are a lot of barristers and solicitors around only too willing to prostitute their skills by hectoring the well meaning but inexperienced witness. It's not a pleasant experience and they very often come away resolved to keep their mouth shut in future.

In theory, anybody can take out a private summons themselves, but it is an expensive process since legal aid is not available to private prosecutors. If the matter is reported, try to talk to a traffic policeman. Very often these days the chap on the front desk is a civilian who couldn't tell a 'due care' from Cap'n Bob's will (at least one of which is a work of fiction). You are more likely to get a straight answer from someone who's dealing with it every day. There are a lot of myths about sufficiency of evidence, even within the those in the know.

This was written with the input of someone who really does know more about the situation than the rest of the population.

Facilities

For the majority of the roads in this country, cyclists would need no extra facilities, bar a little more consideration from a minority of drivers, after all, most drivers are sensible, if a little misguided and generally oblivious to their over-use of the car :-)

But there are significant examples where roads have been built at great expense and the needs of the cyclist completely neglected, many motorways for example. You find yourself heading along a nice, good surfaced road which soon becomes a motorway, you pass a socking great sign saying non-motorway traffic leave this exit .... then what? Circuitous routes, badly signposted, massive assumptions that you know even roughly where you're going. (To digress slightly, there was a report a while ago that suggested that two thirds of London's road signs were either illegible, irrelevant or in disrepair. Ok, so most of this number are in the last category, but there's a point in there somewhere.)

As has been said time and time again, I don't actually want any special facilities. I just want all other road users to afford me the rights I am due, the right to use the road without fear or intimidation.

Not all the same

Several times in the last few weeks I've managed to get away at a reasonable hour and cycled home in the busier periods (5-6 rather than 8ish) and there is a marked difference in the behaviour of all road users. Maybe this is a function of the higher numbers, both of cars and cyclists, around, but the atmosphere at these times is different. There are a larger number of cyclists around who I get angry at, and there's no reason why they shouldn't then also anger non-cyclists. Like the guy the other night who went straight through a red light to join the stream of traffic that I was part of, as I passed him (having had to pull out to avoid him) I said, "Red lights only for some of us then?" and he replied (and I quote) "Fuck off you sanctimonious git". I swear and blind as much as the next person, but if I'm in the wrong I tend to temper it slightly! Small wonder we're getting a dubious persona in the media.

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