Social media is awash with people telling anyone who’d listen about how good cycling is for you, for your physical and mental health, for society and for the wider world. There might be a million blog posts waxing lyrical about wonderful cycling is.
Marketing types add to all this, and fill your timelines with bicycle porn – pictures of bicycles in jaw-droppingly beautiful locations. All this designed (of course) to get you part with hard-earned cash, to buy a little bit of that dream-world for yourself.
The darker side
I’m one of those people forever going on about how wonderful cycling is, and about how central to my life it really is.
And yet there really is a darker side. A few days ago I cycled into the city of Plymouth. It was a Sunday morning, early enough to beat the crowd that only ever gets up at 11am. As a result, I opted to cycle on the main road – the A379.
I live out in the sticks, and I really love where I live. Usually, unless I’m in a hurry, or there’s a risk of black ice (rural lanes don’t get gritted) I would take a considerable detour that avoids the A379.
I do that to avoid some of the murderously-incompetent drivers that you will find daily on that effectively lawless, and entirely un-policed road. The rural lanes are far more hilly, narrow, bumpy and simply gorgeous.
Must. Get. In. Front.
I badly misjudged what traffic was going to be like, and over a three miles stretch suffered 17 very close passes. In the UK, drivers must give cyclists at least 1.5 metres space when overtaking at speeds up to 30mph, and more space if driving faster.
Many of those drivers gave my considerably less than one metre space when overtaking at 60mph, and I’m not embarrassed to say at times it’s bloody scary.
The last driver who close-passed me did so three seconds before I reached the start of a cycle lane, with no oncoming traffic. Drivers either simply do not care about risking your life, or all too frequently they suffer from MGIF syndrome: Must Get In Front.
The mental health price we pay
I am sick and tired of drivers risking my life. That’s the reason why I extended my commute by 5 extra and hilly miles: to get away from dangerous drivers on lawless roads.
This is also why so many of my GoCycle routes are as traffic-free as I can get them to be. When I go cycle touring, I don’t want to live in fear all the time. Instead, I want to enjoy the freedom.
Rides like what I had a few days ago stay with me for a long time. It was an awful ride in. It brings back memories of other, previous similar experiences. For example, the day when an articulated lorry overtook me, also on the A379. There was a stone wall to my left, and when the idiot driver saw the oncoming traffic, he veered left. As I was doing emergency braking, one of the tyres from his trailer was rubbing against my raincoat sleeve.
I nearly quit cycling that day. And the day when an idiot pushed past me on a narrow lane, clipping my handlebars with his wing mirror. I’ve no idea how I managed to not crash that day. I also distinctly recall cycling just a bit further, then stopping. I got off my bike and I was shaking. My legs were jelly, and I just had to sit down. I screamed into the night with rage, impotence and despair.
The MTB on the back of the Audi crowd
I long ago lost count of the enormous number of close overtakes I have had on the roads by drivers with one or more mountain bikes on the back of their car. I realise many MTBers never ride on the roads, but surely you’d expect at least some solidarity from fellow cyclists?
And no, I’m not for a moment suggesting all mountain bikers are terrible drivers, but there certainly seems to be a significant minority who simply don’t care about endangering cyclists on the roads.
How do you cope when things like this happen to you? I mostly work from home these days (the benefits of working in IT) so I don’t cycle commute daily any more. That’s reduced the volume of close passes I get, but only because it’s hugely reduced the number of miles I ride in a year.
Those of you who cycle in traffic daily, does it ever make you feel like stopping? I’d love to hear your thoughts, as in this I have no answers.