A law unto themselves?

I am not alone in being somewhat infuriated by the announcement of a review into whether a new law is needed to tackle dangerous cycling.

However, today I thought about it a bit more logically.

Now I’m even more infuriated….because I find myself agreeing with the government.

Hear me out here.

I have yet to hear anyone, cyclist or non-cyclist, defend the actions of Charlie Alliston. Riding a bike at speed without brakes is a stupid thing to do. For that matter, riding a bike without brakes at any speed is altogether a stupid thing to do. Unless you are riding it on a track where everybody knows that is what you are riding.

I completely agree that Charlie Alliston should have been convicted and jailed for his actions.

I completely agree that is is absurd to have to rely on a law from 1861 in order to convict and jail him.

So, I have to agree that a review into the law relating to cycling is needed.

So, why are all of us cyclists finding the announcement of such a review so infuriating?

Because we are threatened every day by motorists.

Because, despite the perfectly adequate laws which could prosecute those who threaten us, prosecutions are rare.

On Friday, a car pulled out to overtake me despite the fact that they were already indicating to turn left. I had to brake hard as they cut right across the front of me. The driver behind me felt the need to respond to this by beeping his horn and gesticulating whilst driving around 1cm from my back wheel.

This was one of the closer calls I have had but the behaviour of the two drivers did not surprise me.

As cyclists, I think we have come to expect threatening behaviour from drivers. I expect shouting, gesticulating, close passes and other aggressive behaviour from drivers (strangely, especially if they are driving an audi – is it just me?).

All cyclists expect this.

Many of us are very vocal about our experiences on the roads yet nobody is calling for an ‘urgent review’ into how the laws relating to dangerous driving are implemented.

More worrying yet is the fact that motorists expect to be able to behave like this towards cyclists with no consequences.

After all, cyclists don’t pay ‘road tax‘.

Nobody has the right to knowingly endanger other people.

It should not matter how you choose to travel, you should have the right to travel safely. You should have the expectation that other road users will treat you with respect. You also have the responsibility to treat others with respect.

So yes, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with the government that a review of the laws relating to cycling is needed.

But, a review of the implementation of the laws relating to dangerous driving is also needed.

Urgently.

 

Keeping up Appearances

Cycling and appearance has been making the news at the moment.

Chris Hoy declared in his new GQ style article that:

‘professional cycling gear generally looks awful on pretty much anyone heavier than eight stone and with more than five per cent body aerodynamic fat’

He has since apologised and said that the article was ‘tongue in cheek’.

For me though, the damage is kind of done. I don’t think I’ll be buying a Hoy bike any time soon.

After all, I might break it – I’m well over 8 stone.

What he said may not seem like that big a deal. I don’t think that Sir Chris really thinks that what he said is that big a deal. The thing is, it is that big a deal when it is said by someone like Chris Hoy. A man who is looked up to and admired by thousands of cyclists.

When I ride the cargo bike to get to places and ferry my kids about, I wear ‘normal’ clothes. Generally jeans because I frankly lack imagination when it comes to my wardrobe. I choose to dress like this because I am going about my normal daily business and the bike is just how I get there.

When I ride my road bike for pure enjoyment, I wear lycra. I choose to dress like this because it is so much more comfortable than jeans. I don’t actually care that much what it looks like. I care about whether I am warm enough. I care about not having my clothing flapping about in the breeze since this would slow me down. I may not be all that fast on the bike, but I would like to be as fast as I can be. Fast is fun. Quite frankly, I care about whether or not my arse is sore after a couple of hours on a bike saddle.

I have been cycling for years. I know why I do it (because I love it and it makes me feel like me). I don’t really care what other people think of my hobby or my clothing.

But that’s not the case for everyone.

Right now, more and more people are getting on bikes and this is fantastic. It is fantastic for individual people’s health. It is fantastic for easing congestion and pollution on our roads. It is fantastic for setting an example to our children.

Right now, more and more women are getting on bikes. Even more fantastic because women are under-represented in cycling at the moment.

Lots of these women will be concerned about what they look like. And lots of these women will have heard about Chris Hoy’s comments. And the vast majority of them will be over eight stone in weight. Where does this leave them? Are people sniggering at them when they walk into cafes like Sir Chris suggests?

Right now, there is a major problem with girls leaving all forms of sport and activity as they become teenagers. They leave sport and activity because they are worried about what they look like. They then fail to develop the habit of physical activity. A habit which would keep them healthy for life.

These girls are massively concerned about what they look like. And lots of these girls will have heard about Chris Hoy’s comments too.

Eight stone is not a healthy weight for many people. I’m sure that Chris Hoy didn’t intend to suggest that eight stone is a healthy weight to aim for. But the thing is, he is Chris Hoy. He is an icon that people look up to. I can make flippant comments all I want because very few people care about my opinion. If you are Chris Hoy and many many people care about your opinion, you need to be a bit more careful what you say.

In his defense, I think the article is so poorly written and confused that it’s hard to know what Sir Chris’s meaning really was.

Not that much of a defense though.

So cyclists, wear what you like. Be comfortable. Be whatever weight and shape makes you healthy and comfortable.

And be careful who you look up to.

And wear an aerodynamic helmet if you want to. Even if you’re not at the Olympics.

Me. Not at the Olympics.

 

But I do pay car tax

I man drove his car at us when we were on the cargo bike this morning.

By us, I mean myself, my 5 year old and my 3 year old. He drove his car straight at us.

He wasn’t driving particularly fast, to be fair. But still, he saw us. He pulled out to pass parked cars on his side of the road. This meant he crossed the middle line  and was on our side of the road.

Now, to me, in that situation, I had right of way.

I strongly believe in riding assertively, especially with a bike as big and slow as a cargo bike. So I stood my ground and forced him to stop.

So, we had a chat.

I pointed out to him that I had right of way as he was pulling out to my side of the road to pass an obstruction.

He pointed out that I have no right of way because I am on a bike.

According to him, I do not pay road tax for my bike, therefore I have no rights whatsoever on the road.

I did point out to him that nobody pays road tax and that I do indeed pay car tax…for my car.

He countered that this payment only entitled me to use the roads in my car, not on a bike. Apparently, if I had any intelligence whatsoever, I would know that.

What do you say to this?

My car tax only costs £20 per year. I pay it because that is one of the costs of driving a private car. I do not believe that £20 entitles me to drive at those I do not agree with. To risk killing or injuring or terrifying them.

Personally, I have never understood why any pedestrian would cross a busy road without using a crossing when there is one right by them. But I would never feel justified to drive at them for their choice.

I like to think that I would never deliberately drive my car at anyone.

I would love to believe that this man’s attitude was a one-off. Sadly, I don’t believe it was. I believe that there are quite a few drivers out there who would agree with him. I believe this because of the sheer number of times drivers look me in the eye and aim their cars at me and my children.

This is why I am so loath to let my 5 year old ride his bike on the road.

How did we get to this point? A point where motorists’ sense of entitlement leads them to believe that they have more rights than anyone else? A point where drivers will risk injury or death to children because they pay a nominal fee each year. Because to give way would be to add 10 seconds to their journey. 10 seconds. It took him longer to tell me how lacking in basic intelligence I was.

More importantly, how do we turn this around?

I do not expect priority on the roads when I cycle. I expect to give way when it is not my right of way. I expect others to give way when it is not their right of way. I expect to follow the rules of the road. I expect to wait at red lights. I expect to share the roads.

As a stay at home mum to two small children, I deal with issues around sharing very very regularly. Annoyingly regularly. Tediously regularly.

But I do not know how to persuade some drivers that they really do need to share the roads.

Car tax entitles you to drive your car. Nothing entitles you to use your car as a weapon.

My new old bike

My first bike was not a road bike. Back in the day, when I considered one bike to be entirely sufficient, that one bike was not a road bike.

These days, I have lots of bikes. I can justify them all, I really can.

Well I probably can.

These days, the road bikes are my favourites.

I love my cargo bike and I probably spend more time riding it than any other bike. It is my source of day-to-day transport. It saves me the trauma of school run parking. It allows me to be mummy and a cyclist at the same time. It is a magical vehicle which can be transformed into any kind of carriage on the whim of my childrens’ imaginations.

But it is on a road bike that I truly know who I am.

My first road bike was a Giant OCR. I bought it in 2003 and it was the most expensive thing I had ever bought. I still have it and I still love it. It’s not the most lightweight bike and its not the fastest bike. But then, I’m not the most lightweight rider and I’m not the fastest rider. My Giant and I have been through a lot together – quite often at the instigation of my brother!

I like to feel that the bike was suffering as much as me in the Alps.

When I met the man who became my husband, I maybe got a bit of bike envy and decided it was time for a carbon road bike.

Enter Contessa.

Contessa was light and fast and totally beautiful. I felt like a real speedy cyclist. I could talk about my summer bike and my winter bike. I even entered a couple of road races.

When we had the children it was difficult to find the time to cycle and I decided to sell a couple of bikes. I sadly waved goodbye to Contessa. I kept my Giant though.

I was happy with the decision. Life was different now. There wasn’t time for speeding around the countryside on a carbon bike.

I was fine with it.

For a couple of months anyway.

Without cycling, I realised how much I am a cyclist. Riding bikes is a part of me. I had to find a way to find the time. A five hour cycle may now be a luxury, but a one hour cycle is a necessity. I need that time for me.

I have been hankering for a new road bike pretty much since I sold Contessa. Riding the Giant again made me realise how comfortable I was on it. Giant have now moved in to produce the Liv range of womens’ bikes. A little light googling and I had my heart set on a Liv avail – totally beautiful bikes. Kind of pricey though.

I decided that for now, I would keep an eye on Gumtree and see if I could pick something up secondhand. The bike of my dreams would have to wait. At least until we go back to being a two income family.

It was my husband who spotted the advert for the Planet X.

Not the bike of my dreams, but a great quality bike, barely used and an excellent price.

I was prepared to compromise.

And then I rode it.

It turns out that my compromise was not a compromise. This bike is fantastic. I have never been so comfortable on a bike. I have never felt so strong on a bike. I could honestly ride this bike all day long given the chance.

I love my new old bike.

I actually love it so much that, although I still drool over the Liv bikes, I don’t think I ever want a bike with even slightly different geometry again.

So, if anyone is looking to buy a new bike, my advise would be to seriously consider a new old bike. There are some fantastic secondhand bikes out there. The wonderful thing about buying secondhand is that you get to try out a bike different from everything you thought you wanted. If it doesn’t suit you, you just sell it on again for exactly what you paid for it.

Secondhand bikes are a great way to save money.

And who doesn’t need just one more bike when they are saving money by buying them….

Why having children is like having bikes

Today, I was reflecting on the fact that my bikes were my babies before I had babies. Then it came to me just how many similarities there are between being a mother and being a cyclist.

Here is my reasoning:

  • Some days with them are truly wonderful. You feel alive and strong and joyful.
  • Some days with them are truly awful. You feel like you can’t do anything right and it is all so much slower than it ought to be.
  • Some days it seems to take forever just to get out.
  • Even when you’re not with them, you seem to think about them all the time.
  • There are any number of apps readily available to make you feel bad about how you are doing.
  • There are any number of people – family, friends and total strangers – who are more than happy to offer their opinions about where you are going wrong.
  • In the winter they make you feel trapped indoors but it’s just not worth the hassle to go out.
  • Sometimes you long for a day away from them. But when you finally get one, you just wish you were with them again.
  • There is never a good reason to leave the house without a banana.
  • You love them whatever age and stage they are at, but still there was something magical about the first time you held them.
  • It doesn’t matter how many or what sort you have, they all need your time and attention, and to know that you love them.

I thought about this for quite a long time.

And then I came to a wonderful conclusion:

Being a cyclist is like being a mum.

So cycling is like practicing parenting.

And practice makes perfect.

So I need to cycle more.

Pass me my bike!

Cyclists of the World Unite! Or at least be friendly

My husband and I recently took part in a local sportive.

How times have changed…

In the past (before children), we would have entered the longest route. The night before the ride we would have made sure we got enough sleep. We would have arrived early so we could start early. After the ride, we would have gone home to eat a big dinner and put our feet up on the sofa for a well earned rest.

Now, we enter the shortest route. We don’t often get out for longer than an hour so it’s hard to train for long distance. The night before the ride we were amazed to only get up once at silly o’ clock to fulfill an absurd request from a small person. We set off early to drop the children at their Granny and Grandad’s house for the day, then headed off in a rush to make sure we didn’t miss the last start time. After the ride, we picked up the children and went home to eat a big dinner, put the children to bed (repeatedly) and bake a three-tier birthday cake for the following day.

But we were cycling.

We were cycling together.

We used to cycle together every weekend. Sometimes during the week too. It was something we probably took for granted.

Since having children we do still find time to cycle, but very rarely together. We were chatting about this recently and both agreed that, when we can get babysitting, we would probably rather go for a cycle than go for dinner.

I’m not sure what this says about us apart from the fact that we are most definitely confirmed cyclists.

It was great to be part of a fairly big event with lots of cyclists on the road. It reminded me that we are part of a community of a kind. The sportive was run brilliantly and we had a fantastic day.

There was just one negative.

About five miles in I had a mechanical. Fortunately, I also had my mechanic (husband). It only took 10 minutes or so to fix so it wasn’t really a big deal.

In that 10 minutes, maybe 50 cyclists passed us. 2 slowed down and called to see if we needed any help.

Only 2.

We didn’t need any help so that was fine.

Except, it really wasn’t fine.

Not to my mind.

If I see another cyclist stopped by the side of the road, I always slow down to ask if they are alright. Always. Not just if they are on their own. Not just if they are on a road bike. Not just if their bike is clearly broken in some way. Always.

I do this because I would like to help. When I see another cyclist, I see somebody I have something in common with. It doesn’t matter how fast they are cycling, or how far they are cycling, or what bike they are cycling. They are cycling.

Most of the time, folk do what we did; smile and shout “we’re / I’m fine” and wave you on. This is fortunate because my good intentions are about where my helpfulness ends. I can fix a puncture, but so can most other people. Beyond that, I’m not really much help. As my husband will attest, I am better at breaking bikes than fixing them.

But it’s the thought that counts and I hang on to that.

It’s being part of a community that counts. And communities support their members to the best of their abilities.

Is it me, or are fewer cyclists offering support to each other these days?

Are fewer cyclists smiling and waving when they pass each other?

Or am I just getting old?

Cyclists, we are already a minority. Some days it feels like every other road user hates us. Let’s back each other up.

When you see another cyclist, see somebody you have a connection with. Connections are important. Connections with other people make life worth living. They are what make us human.

Smile and wave folks. Smile and wave.