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.
OPEL CORSA TRUMPS TOP-HEAVY BICYCLE
“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.
GETTING TO MY POINT
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.
AND THEN, TO YOU (US) MOTORISTS, I SAY
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?