So, I Voted

June 8, 2017

And I did it by bike, of course, although given that it was resolutely pissing down, the other half did offer to run me up to New Nearest Village before he left with the car. I spurned his offer because it is only 3 miles at most to the polling station and how wet, realistically could I get?*

But that wasn’t what made the ride up to the village and back one of the more unpleasant experiences I’ve had on the bike, although it didn’t help. As regular readers will know, I’m mainly all ‘yay bike’ and generally full of the joys of cycling, but the road up to the new nearest village is a B road which means it has a white line down the middle, regardless of the fact that each lane is basically just a car-width wide, so drivers put their foot down and go for it. It’s also twisty and manages to be uphill in both directions, because to get to the village you have to climb up and then descend, and then repeat to get home. Mostly this is manageable because there aren’t many cars to deal with. But today it was quite busy, and that just made it grim.

The problem is partly that people in cars apparently have to drive like nutters when it’s raining even though cars mostly have roofs and don’t generally let the rain in, and there’s water running across the road and standing on the road, and flying up into my face as cars pass. But mainly it’s just that the road is too fast and too narrow for any sort of comfort on the bike. The first few drivers to pass me were too close for comfort, but even having a car pass you with room to spare is quite frightening at 60 mph, especially when some of them start to pull back in before they’ve finished passing you.

The thing is – and this is not necessarily the drivers doing anything wrong – when I hear a car coming up behind me, I can’t tell whether they’re going to squeeze past or cross into the other lane to overtake. I can’t tell if they’re going to wait for a clear bit of road or just overtake on the blind bend or with an oncoming tractor. I can’t even tell if they’ve seen me or if they’re on their phone, or what. When I’ve had one or two close passes already, my adrenaline levels go through the roof as I hear another driver approaching behind me. I’m waiting to see if they’ll appear right at my elbow or pass me with care. All I can do is take enough space on the road that I can make room for myself if I do get a close pass and await my fate. After enough cars have squeezed past me regardless, what started as a simple trip on the bike begins to feel like an endless succession of death threats.

I’m not going to lie to you, on days like today, riding a bike up that road isn’t a pleasant way of getting about. If there was an alternative road, I would take it. If there was a candidate promising to build a cycle path up to Nearest Village I’d have voted for them like a shot, whatever party they stood for. As it is, I just have to grit my teeth, do everything I can to ride safely myself, and hope.

It really, really doesn’t have to be this way. There will always be hills and there will always be rain, but there’s no reason why riding a bike should mean taking my life in my hands. One day we’ll rearrange our roads so that I can ride away from speeding traffic, and drivers don’t have to worry about hitting people on bikes.

Meanwhile, if you’re driving and you see a cyclist up ahead, please do this for me: don’t just whoosh past as if the cyclist wasn’t there. Come off the accelerator while you assess the situation – it’s extremely reassuring as a cyclist to hear that from an approaching car. Cross right into the other lane to pass (if you’re crossing the white line a bit anyway – which you mostly need to if you’re giving the cyclist enough room to be safe – you might as well go the whole hog and change lanes). If it doesn’t feel safe to change lanes then don’t pass until it is. Oh, and when you’ve overtaken, please do make sure you’ve actually passed the cyclist before you start moving onto the bit of road they’re currently cycling on, especially if you’re towing a trailer. It will literally only be a few seconds on your journey time. But it could mean the difference between me or somebody like me getting home safely and not.

* the answer is ‘thoroughly’ – once again the only piece of kit which didn’t fail me and let the rain in was my Harris tweed cap, although it would have been better had I not then dropped it in a muddy puddle along with my gloves …


Space For Cycling

May 17, 2014

It takes a special sort of navigational incompetence to go on a mass bike ride and still manage to get lost half way through …

Crowd listening to the speeches at the start of the ride

I was at Newcastle for the #BigToonRide – part of a day of mass bike rides in cities around England in support of Space for Cycling. I was there to support the lovely people of New Cycling, but also the enjoy the novelty of just turning up for a protest ride without having to go to all the effort of organising it first. And didn’t they do well, with 150 people of all ages out on a sunny Saturday morning ready to take the Toon by storm to ask their councillors to support space for cycling.

Katja from NewCycling

I know that expression. It’s the expression of someone who’s been up all night thinking ‘what if we hold a mass bike ride and nobody comes’ and has just realised that everybody has…

And boy do they need it. Newcastle is a fairly hostile place to drive, I imagine, with ‘no car lanes’ and traffic lights which are carefully timed to ensure that you never go more than 30 yards without coming to a halt, but that doesn’t make it any better for cycling. And with 150 cyclists scrupulously obeying every signal, and having to wait behind, between, in front of and beside an enormous assortment of double decker buses, very quickly what started as a mass bike ride became several slightly smaller mass bike rides, one of which – it quickly became apparent – wasn’t fully cognisant of the official route… As we lost sight of the peleton at a particularly gnarly series of signals, the people in front who we were confidently following started to look around at each other and us and make gestures that implied that they weren’t entirely sure which way to go next. So we formed an autobus and circled the town anyway, until we discovered the rest of the ride coming up a side street towards us and tagged along, pretending that was what we had meant to do all along. After all, that way an even greater proportion of Newcastle got to sit in bus stops and ask their neighbours what all the bikes were doing out and what was space for cycling anyway? (Not shared bus lanes anyway, I’ll tell you that for free)

Small navigational glitches aside, the day was brilliant, the sun shone, and we went afterwards to have the best coffee in the North East (according to a man who knows) and what were definitely the best salted caramel brownies I’ve had in my life so far, and not just because they were the only ones (I wonder what impact bringing 150 hungry and happy cyclists into your centre has on your town’s coffee-and-cake economy. Substantial, I imagine…)

Bisy Backson

May 16, 2014

So apart from getting up at oh god hundred hours to attend the Newcastle bigtoonride tomorrow, and organising a popup bookshop next weekend, and my Anniversaire ride the weekend after that for which there is much baking still to be done, and then going down to Brighton for the Cycling Embassy AGM the weekend after that (the sun always shines on the Cycling Embassy AGM), oh and organising the Women’s Cycle Forum (although I say organising, can I heartily recommend Suzanne Forup for all your organising things needs as she seems to have done 90% of the work including securing all the funding, while I’ve just stood around making daft suggestions) the weekend after that – and a small jaunt to the Netherlands at the end of June, I shall mostly be relaxing over the next few weeks. Not. Still, through some slight oversight I do seem to have left one weekend unorganised between now and July … let’s see how long that lasts, shall we?