Cy­clists ver­sus mo­torists: it doesn’t have to be us ver­sus them


t was five years ago when I first joined the Ly­cra army, just ahead of the 2012 Cape Ar­gus Cy­cle Tour. I was, of course, the con­sum­mate mo­torist at the time – a self-con­fessed petrol­head, in fact, be­ing a salaried mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ist of 10-year vin­tage by that stage and bran­dish­ing a driver’s li­cence ap­proach­ing its se­cond decade. So, imag­ine my sur­prise when my mo­torised peers and fel­low road users turned on me ( lit­er­ally on more than one oc­ca­sion). It was grad­ual at first … then all at once. Ini­tially, I imag­ined it was be­cause I didn’t cut a fine enough form in my skin-tight out­fit, look­ing less like a su­per­hero and more like a poorly stuffed sausage. But it be­came in­creas­ingly clear that your av­er­age mo­torist sub­scribes to the “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” ethos, and while I don’t mind the ridicule, I was barely ped­alling a month be­fore my first take­down.


“Oh. I didn’t see you there.” “But I was in front of you? How did you not see me?” “You were in my way; you left me no choice.” “So, which is it: you didn’t see me, or I was in your way, and that made clip­ping me with your mir­ror fair game?”

I man­aged to stay on my bike dur­ing this, some­how, but the force from the ram­pag­ing Opel Corsa had been enough to do the job of send­ing me to the ground. I’m not an ag­gres­sor on the road, and this al­ter­ca­tion wouldn’t even have been pos­si­ble if Mr Corsa Driver hadn’t cho­sen peak-hour traf­fic as his time to strike, so af­ter nail­ing me, he man­aged only another 20 me­tres or so be­fore be­ing en­trenched once more in thick Wood­stock Main Road traf­fic, al­low­ing me the time to re­cover and con­front him. At this point, he rolled his eyes and his win­dow. Faced with this sit­u­a­tion as a cy­clist, you have two op­tions – go crazy and be­come the typ­i­cal en­ti­tled cy­clist who loses it at ev­ery “bas­tard mo­torist that thinks he owns the road”; or, as I, ever the paci­fist, did, blast him with a stare that spelled out “one day, I’ll eat your chil­dren”, thus re­duc­ing him to stare woe­fully into his lap.

Yet this may not even be a cy­clist-ver­sus-mo­torist is­sue. The fact is, his prob­lem is most likely sim­ply that he is an id­iot. And brace your­self, there are a lot of them on bi­cy­cles, too.


It took me a while to ar­rive at the next no­tion. And, while it isn’t meant to be a reve­la­tion, the fact of the mat­ter is that it tends to ag­gra­vate the real rea­son that mo­torists and cy­clists are cur­rently at war with each other. Do you think you know the an­swer? It’s sim­ple: ed­u­ca­tion. There’s not enough of it.

Your un­en­light­ened/ ill-in­formed mo­torist as­sumes many things in­cor­rectly, such as that bi­cy­cles be­long ex­clu­sively on pave­ments; and that, if you see one any­where else, it’s prob­a­bly be­ing rid­den il­le­gally. Your un­en­light­ened/ ill-in­formed mo­torist sub­se­quently at­tempts driv­ing close enough to said bi­cy­cle so that their ex­haust fumes singes the cy­clist’s nose hair. His re­ward? Vin­di­ca­tion and hand­ing out suf­fi­cient pun­ish­ment for us­ing the road, the right­ful sole do­main of the mo­tor­car. Depend­ing on the cy­clist’s own state of en­light­en­ment (and how much of an id­iot he is), this sort of be­hav­iour could es­ca­late to any one of many out­comes, rang­ing from vi­o­lent to worse. The sober­ing part? I’ve lost friends, loved ones. Many of us have. They’ve been mowed down by driv­ers, not just ma­li­cious ones but, as has be­come the norm now, dis­tracted ones. I’ve looked into the eyes of driv­ers at in­ter­sec­tions and I’ve seen them stare right back into mine as they pull out, their tra­jec­tory scy­thing a killing path right through me un­less I stop in time.

But, be­fore you think I’m tak­ing sides, let me re­mind you of the sort of ap­palling be­hav­iour some of you, dear cy­clists, com­mit. It’s worth list­ing.

DON’T DO THIS 1 The law pro­hibits two rid­ers abreast.

Yes, in many other coun­tries it is 100% le­gal to do so, but not here. And, I agree, it’s eas­ier for a car to quickly pass two rid­ers along­side each other than one be­hind the other, but it’s the law so get over it. Sure, you could have the famed re­laxed cy­cling laws of Capri, Italy. But over there, it’s il­le­gal to wear flip-flops, or any noisy shoes for that mat­ter, so take the bad with the good.

2 Run red lights.

You not only po­ten­tially harm your­self, dear cy­clist, but you en­rage mo­torists of all states of en­light­en­ment, and you sour the names of all cy­clists in gen­eral. In other words, you paint a tar­get on our backs. Don’t do it. The light will change soon enough, I prom­ise.

3 Whole­sale lit­ter­ing.

I’ve seen it. You’ve seen it. They’ve seen it. It’s pun­ish­able by law. But, also, it’s gross, so stop do­ing it.


Do you have any idea how ter­ri­fy­ing it is to be passed at 100 km/h with less than a hair’s breadth be­tween us? We’re the soft, squishy thing strad­dling some­thing with the pro­tec­tive qual­i­ties of scaf­fold­ing; you’re in the big, metal, one-and-ahalf-tonne box. A dis­tance of 1,5 me­tres isn’t too much to ask for, plus it’s been the law since 2012. As in, it’s il­le­gal to pass any closer. That’s lit­er­ally the only reg­u­la­tion we’re re­ally non-ne­go­tiable on. Be­yond that? See us, re­spect us. It’s hard work.

Look. I get it. Cy­clists get to jump ahead of the queue, so long as we can get by you on the left side, which is very rarely the case. In­ter­sec­tions are a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment for us, which is a pity be­cause, karmic-ally, cy­clists do so much good. For all of us. Keep in mind that al­most ev­ery cy­clist you blast by al­most cer­tainly also has a car, and that means they’re a mo­torist just like you. But, be­cause they’re out there suck­ing on car­bon-diox­ides and not con­tribut­ing to it, they’re re­duc­ing our pop­u­la­tion’s car­bon foot­print while, and this is quite cru­cial, not con­tribut­ing to the traf­fic load as much as you are. Put another way, ev­ery bi­cy­cle is one fewer car. One fewer car for mo­torists to con­tend with; one fewer nox­ious ap­pli­ance.

Maybe this term will sound fa­mil­iar: those cy­clists, while joy­ful in their pur­suits, are also in fact “tak­ing one for the team”. Each and ev­ery cy­clist on the road is a car you don’t have to tango with. And, if the only dis­claimer comes in the form of a wide berth when pass­ing, I reckon that’s fair trade. Or, maybe, that’s just jin­go­ism from a con­vert, a bona-fide cy­clist who dis­guises him­self as a petrol­head when it suits him?

No, the truth is, I need the good karma. How else will I at one for the 95- oc­taneguz­zling, en­vi­ron­ment-de­stroy­ing ,34 -year-old coupé that lives in my garage be­tween all the bi­cy­cles?

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