Blast from the Past

It’s been a while since someone last tried to kill me (and that was in London so it doesn’t count). So long, in fact, that my ninja cycling reflexes may have become somewhat dulled. Which is why I found myself cycling along a residential street in Bigtown on my normal route into town, seeing the big red van ready to pull out of a side street, noticing the driver looking away off to his left, where there were no cars and not to his right where there was me, thinking hah! I bet he’s just going to pull out without looking and yet STILL not slowing down or stopping to let him out. After all, I did have right of way, and it was a bright clear afternoon and he was (presumably) in possession of a driver’s licence and hence had passed a driving test in which the importance of looking BOTH ways before turning right onto a street would undoubtedly have been impressed upon him. And more to the point, I have cycled past that street a hundred times now and never had a waiting driver do anything but continue to wait until I had passed before making their turn. And so, when the inevitable happened and he chose exactly the moment when I was cycling across the entrance to the street he was on to accelerate out and make his turn, suddenly my field of vision was full of red van and his was full of frightened cyclist. He hesitated, I accelerated and swerved right across the street and fortunately managed to get past his bumper unscathed. He drove off before I could either get his number or have a full and frank exchange of views with him about the difference between looking and seeing, which in retrospect was probably fortunate.

I’d barely recovered from that when I was the one waiting at a junction to turn right when a car turned, cutting the corner so much that it basically drove straight at me until the driver finally looked where he was going, noticed me and managed to swerve around me. All in a day’s work when you cycle around London, I suppose – and I probably would have been much more cautious in the first incident although even now I’m not sure what I could have done about the second – it’s almost impossible to move a bike sideways or backwards in a hurry. Sometimes you’ve just got to rely on your fellow road users not to actually try to kill you if they can help it. It doesn’t seem all that much to ask.

I don’t know if there’s any greater irony than being almost wiped out twice when cycling to meet someone at the council about safer cycling routes (short of being almost wiped out by a council van). As it is, we had a productive and useful meeting and then I cycled home in the dusk slowly and carefully, especially as I could sense the ice practically forming under my wheels. And – I must note – every single driver behaved with exemplary courtesy, even pulling over to let me past so I didn’t have to negotiate the icy edges of the road. The problem is, you get used to that sort of behaviour in the end. And it makes the occasional idiot even more lethal…

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15 Responses to Blast from the Past

  1. welshcyclist says:

    Every day riding a bike, you must concentrate in traffic, always on guard, if you like. Out on the quiet country roads, I’m alot more relaxed, but my eyes and ears never stop scanning. In town, somehow more senses come into play, what are they? I don’t know, but it’s almost as if I can sense in my mind what that other idiot is about to do. So often, I find myself swerving or stopping before the dangerous move happens. Strange, yes? I guess the day those other senses fail me, or I become careless, the latter probably, I’ll wake up in hospital. There’s alot to be said for concentration.

  2. mrzimmerboy says:

    Definetely you’re lucky… feeeling safe just because car drivers are in possession of a driver’s licence is just like being confident in winning the lotto because you know how to differentiate a function. Please take care!!!!

  3. WOL says:

    We have a thing here called “defensive driving” — it works on the principle that if there is anything stupid the drivers around you could do, they will, so you should always be prepared with an avoidance strategy. It’s like a dialog in your head. . .”I’ll bet this idiot is going to pull right out in front of me. I’d better ease back on the gas. . .yep, pulled right out in front of me without even looking. . .Watch this numbskull not pay attention when he’s merging over into my lane and nearly run me off the road. . . hah! good thing I changed lanes to avoid him . . dolt!” I would imagine it works for cyclists, too. . .

  4. disgruntled says:

    Yup to all of the above – and mostly I do keep pretty alert. I just wish the drivers did too, because I’m the one that’s going to get hurt.

    And I’ve still no idea how I can prevent someone driving into me when I’m stationary at a junction if they’re just going to cut corners and drive on the wrong side of the road.

  5. John Gibson says:

    I don’t like saying this, but of course you and everyone else must be careful, but there is no way of knowing when you will come across someone who will do something stupid, and cause you harm.
    I’m glad you are ok.
    John

  6. Dom says:

    Your assumption that they are driving, ergo they’ve passed a test and would look both ways is, I’m afraid, flawed. And it’s not just cyclists who suffer. I’ve been driven into while driving a bright red car thanks to someone looking left, looking right, looking left again, stalling, restarting their car and then blithely pulling out and turning right without rechecking. I’ve also had a lady turn right in a supermarket carpark while looking hard left. Even while turning. Never looked right or even straight ahead. So engrossed in whatever was left of them they failed to spot me or the fact that they had turned into oncoming traffic. Seeing what had happened I had stopped and had put the car in reverse to get out of the way. If people can’t spot other cars you have absolutely no hope on a bike. Sorry.

  7. Bob says:

    This is one of my biggest fears. Not the ‘getting knocked down’ part, but what could possibly happen if I manage to get up. Don’t want to go to prison.

  8. [...] have killed a cyclist, motor or otherwise. Even cyclists in rural Scotland can come this close to getting run over, twice. A Dublin man is awarded 20,000 Euros when he’s hit by a car, despite repeatedly falling [...]

  9. This is exactly why the Dutch (and Danes) keep motor vehicles as far away from people on bicycles, as well as people on foot, as they can. They call it “sustainable safety” and it means you can ride a bicycle without having to concentrate on fearing the worst all the time.

    Which is why ordinary people cycle for local transport there, and why they don’t here.

  10. disgruntled says:

    The sad irony is, the road in question was a tiny quiet residential street that even the Dutch wouldn’t put bike lanes on. I suppose idiots are everywhere…

  11. Charles says:

    Well I used to ride to work until I was knocked over by a taxi that did not bother to stop. No harm done except to my blood pressure. In north London there is a charming habit among certain youths of driving close behind cyclists and then yelling out of the window to try and make you fall off.

    I rarely cycle in London these days it just is not worth it.

  12. That’s sounds dreadful Sally. I hope you weren’t too shaken up.

  13. disgruntled says:

    @Charles – that’s exactly why I campaign for better cycling conditions. It shouldn’t have to be unpleasant and stressful…
    @Toby – not too bad, although there was a moment when I really thought I was about to get hit…

  14. Opus the Poet says:

    I don’t know which I fear most, the few people that want to kill me for riding a bike, or the scores of oblivious ones that don’t pay attention to what’s in front of their faces. Either one can be equally deadly.

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