Do dangerous cyclists put us all at risk?
If one cyclist behaves recklessly, does it have an impact on other bike users? Paul Smith
Earlier this month we posted a video from VooDoo Cycles that pitted a mountain bike against a singlespeed commuter on the streets of Bristol, England. Some 10,000 views later, it has clearly split opinion, with some people regarding it as a bit of fun and others worried that it sets a bad example.
Of course, this was a professional shoot using a trained stuntman – former downhill racer Rob Jarman. As VooDoo say: "Our video dramatising two very different routes across Bristol was carefully created by professional cyclists to depict the very real experiences of road and off-road cyclists. We spent a lot of time planning and staging in order to create the final cut, and at all times had the safety of our cyclists, and passing pedestrians' and motorists, in mind."
However, there are some riders out there who behave in a reckless manner without any such controls in place. The fear is that their actions reflect badly on the rest of us. Do a small minority of 'dangerous' cyclists put other bike users at risk? We decided to speak to a cross-section of people to find out their views on the matter...
Keef Sloan, who does a 30-mile cycle commute to his job in London, gets angry when he sees other riders disobeying the rules of the road – particularly jumping red lights. "This infuriates me!" he says. "Drivers shouldn't have to look out for people deliberately ignoring road signals. Cyclists who jump red lights tar the rest of the cycling community with this bad brush. I've heard many of my driver friends comment on cyclists being 'a law unto themselves' and I've had to defend myself, saying we're not all like that.
"Jumping pedestrian lights is also a definite no-no in my book. The zig-zag lines on a pedestrian crossing are there for a reason – no overtaking! I've seen cyclists jump these and then glare at the pedestrian walking across the road as if it's their fault they were nearly run over. Incredible. Again, all this does is make pedestrians look at us as 'the enemy'. So now we've got car drivers wanting a piece of us and pedestrians thinking we're all law breaking idiots. Not a good place to be…
"Other dangerous riding is undertaking without due care. I understand that cycle lanes are on the nearside but, personally, in heavy traffic, I'd rather be on the offside of a car because that’s where drivers tend to naturally look (and there's a greater chance of an escape route appearing if anything goes wrong). I've seen people zoom down the nearside and miss the fact that there's a car giving way to right-turning oncoming traffic. Again, the cyclist usually throws the driver a finger, when in fact it's the rider's fault for not reading the road correctly."
"When you're on two wheels, blame doesn't come into any accident," Keef adds. "Whether it's your fault or the driver’s, when you're sliding down the road on your arse at 30mph you're the one that's going to come off worst, not the guy in the Audi. So it's got to be about riding defensively, watching (and, where needed, maintaining) road position and keeping a full heads-up on the situation that's unfolding around you so that you're ready to avoid trouble, not hit it." Keef reckons rider – and driver – training is the way to improve things.
The mountain biker
Dr-Chars from the BikeRadar forum, a mountain biker who lives in Bristol, says it's inexperienced cyclists, not skilled riders who choose to do reckless things, who are the biggest danger to other road users. He says cyclists need to take responsibility for their own actions rather than automatically blaming motorists when things go wrong.
"In recent years, people have been driven onto bikes by faux environmental policy, petrol prices and congestion – all of which is great," he says. "But I notice that the tracks and roads of Bristol have become filled with nervous and wobbly riders who slow everyone down and often force the hand of the irresponsible driver, who grows ever impatient...
"Responsible cycling is a compound of overt predictability – I can't labour this word enough – for other road users, a very high level of observational skills and the capacity for good acceleration and deceleration. If you can pop manuals, hop street furniture and buzz stairs within these limits then I'd say you were as responsible as you needed to be!"
Surely bad drivers are far more of a danger than bad cyclists? Dr-Chars points out that motorists have at least been tested on their ability to operate a car or truck, are licensed and insured, and their vehicles are subject to regular checks. "It's difficult to compare the driver (who, I hazard, must take more responsibility for the bike rider as a consequence) and the cyclist who's been handed the arrogance card and feels he's invincible to the bone crushing trauma of a car because he has the right of way, because bikes are best," he says.
The bike advocate
Carlton Reid, the man behind 'I Pay Road Tax' cycling jerseys, thinks motorists will always have a dim view of cyclists, no matter how they behave. "Motorists are blind to their own faults, but have 20/20 vision of ours," he says. "They'll use law breaking such as riding on footpaths as a stick to beat us with, but would still beat us with a stick anyway.
"If not the law breaking then something else – like getting in their way, not being registered and licensed, and not paying the mythical 'road tax'. Many of the most visible cycling lawbreakers – young lads on bikes – may soon get the keys to a car. Then their law breaking takes on a whole new level of danger. Motorists are licensed because of their potential to cause harm."
So, do motorists really regard us as a menace, or at best an inconvenience? Davy Lewis, editor of Redline performance car magazine, disagrees. "Generally speaking, I don’t think dangerous cyclists put all bike riders at risk," he says. "As I driver, I’ve developed a sense for when a cyclist is about to do something daft, and I judge each rider accordingly.
"Some drivers may have had a bad experience and decided they’re not going to give way to any rider, but I think these idiots would be anti-bike anyway. Many of the car enthusiasts I know also ride, so there’s a lot of mutual respect. But like anything, there’s a small group that causes problems.
"For me the main culprits are d**kheads on cheap, supermarket mountain bikes who ride without lights, down one-way streets and generally don’t pay attention. They can usually be spotted coming from Wetherspoon on their way to Maccys via Cash Converters. No helmet; no road sense; no clue. Most genuine enthusiasts are spot-on as they’re ultra aware of cars and other hazards.
"Having said that, some older guys on road bikes seem to think they own the streets, riding two or three abreast. And as for people over 50 wearing Lycra... Ultra-bright LED headlights coming towards you can also be very distracting. I’m fully behind making cyclists as visible as possible, but there’s no need to look like you’re on your way to a rave. To sum up, I’d say that the more serious a cyclist looks, the more respect the driver is likely to pay them in return."
What do you think? Do the actions of a small minority reflect badly on the rest of us, and can that go as far as putting all cyclists at greater risk? Have your say in the comments box below...
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