Pretty soon after I started using the cargo bike on a daily basis, I realised that I was no longer just ‘a cyclist’ to the people I came across. I became “that woman with the bike”.
I know this because I have a friend who is lovely and who looks the part of a playground mum. She is ‘in with the playground mum chat’. What I do not know is the tone that people use when they say “that woman on the bike”. I like to think that it’s not snarled through gritted teeth but sometimes I suspect otherwise.
I also find it incredible how many other cyclists tell me where else in the city they have seen me on my distinctive bike.
And I find it incredible how many people say “oh, you’re the woman with the bike” when I am off the bike but talk about it.
It is a strange feeling not being anonymous.
It makes me realise how often we are anonymous in daily life. We don’t really recognise people that we don’t know, even when we see them every day walking or driving or cycling around our streets.
Trust me, you do get recognised when you ride the only bakfiets in the village.
It also makes me realise that there is more than one way to ride a bike.
I consider myself a safe cyclist.
I consider myself an assertive cyclist.
Others perhaps consider me an aggressive cyclist.
Others definitely consider me an annoying cyclist.
Here’s the thing. I take the issue of safe passing distance very seriously.
There are plenty of articles available online detailing close pass statistics. A quick Google of ‘close pass cyclist’ will provide plenty of links. I’m not going to bother repeating them here.
I am going to speak from daily experience.
Close passes are scary.
Close passes can be terrifying.
Close passes are completely unnecessary.
In my more generous moments, I think people pass me so close I could reach out and touch their car / van / taxi / bus because they just do not realise how vulnerable cyclists are. They do not realise how close they are. They do not see the potholes that might mean I need to move further from the curb.
In my less generous moments, I think people people pass that close because they really do think that their journey is more important than my life and my childrens’ lives.
West Midlands Police recently ran a campaign to educate drivers about the dangers of close passes. Other police forces also showed interest in this and Cycling UK are running a kickstarter campaign to provide close pass cycle mats to every police force in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
I think this is a fantastic initiative.
I think it can make cycling safer.
Even more important, I think it can make cycling more attractive to people who currently don’t cycle.
I think it could encourage more families to take to their bikes.
I hope it could encourage more families to take to their bikes on the school run.
Back to why I know I am an annoying cyclist.
I do not cycle right next to the curb. I cycle around half a metre from the curb. Maybe more, maybe less, depending on the state of the road. I have always done this. Long before I realised that this is exactly what the police would advise. I have always seen this as providing me with somewhere to go if a driver does pass me too close for comfort.
Sometimes, this means that a vehicle cannot get past me as soon as they might like to.
But it does mean we are safe.
Anyone who has had any experience of the school run will know the kind of parking which goes on. This narrows some of the roads I have to use to one lane. If I squeeze into the kerb and drivers pass me as close as they can, then there is still room for them to pass me immediately.
But that means we are not safe.
So, I won’t allow it.
If a road is narrow and there is not room for a car to pass me with at least a metre to spare, I will cycle much more than 0.5m from the kerb, to make drivers wait until the road is wider before they pass me.
And that means that we are safe.
There are a couple of roads where I do this every day.
I can appreciate that this must be frustrating for some drivers.
I am not trying to make any kind of point. I am not trying to upset anyone. I am just keeping us safe.
The roads where I do this every day are not very long.
The delay to drivers cannot be more than two minutes.
The minority of drivers who react to this by shouting abuse are not going to make any difference to me.
I will still cycle.
I will still cycle defensively.
I will still wonder, does two minutes really make that much difference to a person’s day?