Road Hog

I made a comment recently on Twitter mocking the rise in Lycra clad middle aged cyclists since the Tour D’ France and Olympic cycling team’s success. Whilst my intention was to lightly mock those dressed like racers but struggling to wobble up to 25mph, some of my flippant comments were picked up on by people with very passionate views on cyclists, unexpectedly a small war broke out between those who love cycling and those who hate it. So this is my feeble attempt to set the record straight, and hopefully enlighten some of you a little too.
But before I make my own views known let me just go over the views that other people have kindly expressed. One aspect that struck a raw nerve was how some cyclists were perceived to put themselves and other road users in potentially dangerous situations, such as travelling slowly round blind bends on country roads. A car travelling at the national speed limit would come up on such a bike very rapidly and have to slow abruptly, with the added potential risk of another car following on and striking the first one from behind, or the first car overtaking in a dangerous position potentially striking an oncoming car. A surprising number of people sited this sort of scenario as a reason why they were frustrated with bikes.
Of course exactly the same situation can also be reasonably sited by cyclists as to why they are frustrated by cars. A cyclist making reasonable progress down a road will often be squeezed into the gutters by idiot drivers overtaking in dangerous positions, or risk being struck from behind at high speed by drivers going too fast for the road.
When you think about it both sides are right, what we have in this particular scenario is an incompatibility problem between high speed cars and lower speed bikes.
Now, this brings me to one of my most strongly held opinions; ALL road users are equally entitled to be there. Roads are public places for us all to use for business and pleasure, I personally gain a huge amount of enjoyment from roads, I clock up fairly high mileages test driving a variety of exciting cars but I also enjoy the very different experiences to be had from other modes of transport. For instance nothing compares to the thrill of riding a fast motorbike as you feed it through an exhilarating series of roller coaster twisting back roads. But I also enjoy driving big things like trucks, large military vehicles, tractors, 4x4s and even Artics.
However you may be surprised to hear that it doesn’t all have to be about big engines, there is great enjoyment available from riding a horse, the best bits are fast runs over moors but inevitably to get from one run to another you have to do a bit on the road, but even travelling slowly with a fantastic view is still a great experience. I have even been known to use my own legs, mostly many years ago when they worked properly. But even this can cause tension on the roads, for instance a nice hill walk on the moors back home in Devon can sometimes be cut abruptly short by sudden fog fall, then the only safe way of finding a way out was to walk along the roads.
And yes, I even own a bicycle. As a child it was a ticket to freedom and adventure, as an adult it is a fantastic way to keep fit and a lovely low pollution transport solution (pollution levels depending on what I’ve eaten recently…) and one I wish I used more.
And remember that we all pay for the roads, road funding comes from general taxation and not from the car tax disc. It is a common misconception that the Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) tax disc is some form of road tax, it is not. It is a car tax, the government decided many years ago to tax cars and trucks, simply because they could. It has nothing to do with funding roads. A car driver has no more paid for the road than a pedestrian or cyclist, everyone who pays income tax has paid for roads, even people with no cars. Just thought I should clear that one up.
And when you think about it this makes some degree of sense, because most of us benefit from the road system even if we don’t use it ourselves. For instance we benefit from the trucks bringing food to the shops, from the nurses driving to work, from the parcel delivery, post or even milk delivery. The road system is funded by most people because it benefits most people, in fact everyone except hermits and self sufficient recluses with their own veg patch.
I feel very uncomfortable with any comments that target one group of road users in an attempt to turn them into villains and banish them from the public roads. I am a strong advocate of the view point that you can’t criticise something you don’t understand, although it is perfectly reasonable to question it and indeed poke fun at it in a light hearted manner. Having used most types of transport (still not driven a hovercraft yet) I have complete sympathy with all the above mentioned road user groups, and whilst I can see there are clearly problems I can also see the need for compromise.
So in our first example above with the cyclist on a blind bend you may be wondering which side I support. But as I said it is a compatibility problem due to the high speed differential, so the solution is to reduce the speed differential, cyclists are usually aware of the need to get through dangerous corners as quickly as possible, and many car drivers slow down enough to be able to manoeuvre in time. So the elements of a solution are already there, the problem seems to be where incompetent cyclist don’t recognise the danger and go too slow in such a section, and equally incompetent car drivers getting cheap thrills by not slowing for corners. Sadly on rare occasions I may have been guilty of both these sins, and I suspect you, dear reader, may even have transgressed one or twice too. The trick is to always think about what you are doing, asses the risks and proceed accordingly.
You may have seen the recent proposal to reduce the national speed limit in rural areas from 60mph to 40mph, something that happened on my beloved Dartmoor many years ago. Now, I love driving and riding fast, and being a country bumpkin the lanes were where I learnt to drive many many years ago, they are my home, the roads that I am most comfortable on. So when I heard about the proposal my heart sank, I felt saddened at the impending loss, but when a friend started a petition against the proposal I found that I couldn’t sign it. 60mph on many rural roads can be lethal, sure 99.999% of the time we get away with it, but that remaining small percentage represents utter misery for far too many people, and sometimes tragic loss. Rural roads have a disproportionate death rate, something that could and should be addressed by educating drivers and riders, but the funding for such an exploit would be difficult and any voluntary system would be unlikely to draw in the irresponsible people that need it most. Dropping the speed from 60mph to 40 means that when a car comes across a cyclist doing 25mph the closing speed is just 15mph, rather than 35mph, giving a much more realistic chance of manoeuvring, slowing and generally avoiding death.
In short it increases compatibility between the varied types of road user. And this has to be the key, remember that it is not vehicles that are entitled to use the road, it’s people, all of us. Roads are the arteries of commerce, essential links in farming, they are freedom for teenagers, the paths to our friends and family, adventure and excitement. They are, and always should be, for everyone. And to preserve that freedom and avoid further restrictive legislation we, the road users of all types, must pull together, look out for one another and reduce the scale of the problems. That surely is the only way we have the right to resist any kind of restriction as to what sort of vehicle belongs on the road.
United we stand, divided we fall.