Please don’t feed the pondlife

Am I turning into an anti-cyclist cyclist?

by Martin Thomas   June 29, 2012  

No cycling

Walking my kids to school, we pause at the traffic lights at the foot of our road until the green man appears. Stepping out into the road, I notice a fast moving object in my peripheral vision. Just in time, I realize that the cyclist who’s just gone through the red light with a little kid perched on his top tube has no intention of stopping so I pull my daughter out of harm’s way and warn a mum with a buggy who’s about to step into his path. I shout at him as he cycles past. He ignores me.

Nearer the school, there are cyclists emerging from the park (in which cycling is forbidden) with their kids. They cycle along the pavement towards the school until it gets too congested, sometimes waiting for gaps before passing pedestrians, sometimes pinging their bells to get past.

Along the seafront in Brighton, the cycle lane runs alongside the pavement, past various tourist attractions that are regularly teeming with people from out of town: the pier, the big wheel, the sightseeing bus stops, and numerous access points to the beach. At regular intervals there are give way signs where pedestrians are supposed to be able to safely cross from the town to the beach. It’s a system that relies on cooperation between cyclists and pedestrians and yet some cyclists barrel along, never stopping where they are supposed to; shouting abuse at people who stray into the bike lane. When I stop at a give way point (and I don’t always – see below), pedestrians stare incredulously and then thank me suspiciously as they tentatively cross, as though half expecting me to cackle evilly and plough into them.

Cycling back through the town, past the busy central shopping area, I pause at the red lights. A middle-aged bloke dressed like a teenager goes past on his BMX, half-exposed arse hanging over the back wheel and a phone clamped to his ear as he weaves through pedestrians.

For a week or so, when they were building the jubilee stage opposite Buckingham Palace and erecting the banks of seating, The Mall was closed and, because the way through had been narrowed so much by the construction work, cyclists were required to walk or find another route. I walk that way every morning to get to work and I saw numerous cyclists pedal past the crystal-clear ‘please dismount’ signs and slalom through the crowds of walking workers.

When they were asked to get off their bikes and walk through like everyone else, some did so, but others argued with the stewards, saying asinine things like “I’ve got a job to get to you know”, while others just kept cycling. I saw one ignoring a motorbike cop who’d told him to dismount. Bad idea.

Even after the road was reopened I saw loads of people cycling along the path on the eastern edge of Green Park, past the permanent ‘no cycling’ signs, cutting through narrow gaps between pedestrians and fence on the loose gravel. At a tight gateway used by many to cut through from the park towards Pall Mall, a cyclist barges to the front of the queue, shoving his Boris bike through the gate, forcing those coming the other way to wait while he inexpertly manhandles it in the narrow gap.

Every day I see red lights jumped, pavements mounted, pedestrians harassed, horses spooked, by-laws flouted…I see cyclists texting, phoning, abusing… For some reason it’s doing my head in now more than ever before. Perhaps it’s an age thing.

I suppose I’ve been pretty inconsiderate myself at times over the years, with little regard for anything except my own swift progress. Back in the day I rather enjoyed breaking the rules every now and then and feeling like a bit of an outlaw. I still like darting in and out of traffic, I still cross the odd red light when there’s no one around, and I still use the occasional pavement when it’s safer.

I know that makes me a hypocrite. I know some of the rules are daft. I know some pedestrians are a pain in the arse. I know some motorists are careless to the point of recklessness. I know some road systems have been designed as though to deliberately endanger cyclists. I know there are situations where it’s safer to break the rules than to observe them.

I know all these things, but still I say we have to do better as a breed or we run the risk of fuelling the lunatic anti-cyclist frothings of pondlife like Jeremy Clarkson. And if that’s not incentive enough to obey the rules, then truly we are lost forever.

18 user comments

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I started reading this piece expecting you to turn it around halfway through and say, actually all those situations occurred with cars, not bikes, and that the people who complain about lunatic dangerous cyclists don't seem to care that their driving brethren are doing exactly the same day in and day out.

You're spot on though, while there are so many traffic laws/bi-laws and just general polite sign-age being deliberately ignored by cyclists it's hard to make a real stand against those who are happy to ignore the danger cyclists find themselves in every day.

An effort needs to be made to ensure that cyclists operate within the law just as motorists are obliged to do so. Likewise there needs to be some education that what most cyclists generally think of as small things (jumping the red light slightly, weaving down a pavement, ignoring some sign-age because you want to take the quickest route home etc) is dangerous not just for them as individuals but for cyclists as a whole because the longer we continue to break the law and annoy drivers the longer it'll take to put the 'war' to bed and for everyone to be living in a cycling utopia.

posted by drheaton [3429 posts]
29th June 2012 - 21:05

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Some people in cities behave selfishly.

And some of them ride bikes.

Shock horror.

I'm sorry, but this just doesn't add up.

We are not "a breed". We are individuals. When we harp on, pleading with "ourselves" to behave with the kind of unity we would never expect of drivers, we pander to the idea of cyclists as a tribe of outcasts and oddballs.

Missing the point.

posted by CliveA [2 posts]
29th June 2012 - 22:45

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'Cyclists Dismount' must be the most overused sign in the country. It's the default setting for any moderately complicated junction or possibility of conflict. Familiarity makes them quickly become invisible wallpaper on our streets.

Arseholes will be arseholes whether in their Audi or on their fixi or Yabba Mundo whatsit or other covered in kids. Consideration for others is a wider social issue that may take a little time to overcome.

posted by Cranky Acid [36 posts]
30th June 2012 - 0:00

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This article is a contradictory mess.

I agree with Clive A that you can't lump every person on two wheels into a community of cyclists.

Please don't assume that I've got any affinity with some numpty, weaving along a crowded pavement, taking phone calls, scratching their backside and ignoring every roadside instruction, simply because they also happen to straddle a bicycle.

In Holland, Germany and Belgium, where daily use of a bicycle is commonplace, people classed as 'cyclists' tend to be passionate, sporting or recreational riders.

Can we take the same view when reporting for Road.cc?

-- Hey, how many gears have you got? .. Just one! ... Mate, your bike sucks! --

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posted by brylonscamel [20 posts]
30th June 2012 - 0:17

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-- Hey, how many gears have you got? .. Just one! ... Mate, your bike sucks! --

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posted by brylonscamel [20 posts]
30th June 2012 - 0:21

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Most people in this country don't cycle. To them, it's immaterial whether you're riding £5k worth of carbon fibre to get yourself in shape for the Etape and obey every traffic rule, or whether you're riding a BSO with the saddle set way too low and weaving in and out of pedestrians in a zone where you're not allowed to ride bikes. You're a cyclist, and we're all lumped together.

Not that antisocial cycling is the preserve of those that some of us wouldn't view as cyclists; last year in the centre of Oxford, in a street that is a de facto pedestrianised street (traffic only allowed for access, so you see very few cars), a woman on a nice road bike tore past me at I guess more than 20mph, almost took the wife and dog (and several other pedestrians) out and all to save a few seconds.

When I'm on the Continent, I look at how cyclists and pedestrians interact, and I'm not necessarily talking about places with huge levels of infrastructure either - in Reggio Emilia for the Giro last year, people heading off to Monday morning at work in the pedestrianised centro storico, and there was a lot more awareness on both sides than seems to be the case here, pedestrians looking knowing that cyclists are around so not suddenly lurching to one side, cyclists not tearing through the crowds as I've all too often seen here.

Like Martin, I confess I've done a bit of that myself in my time, work colleague once told me how I'd left a pedestrian petrified in my wake when I reckoned I'd given them plenty of room.

I don't see anything contradictory about Martin's article - I see someone who rides a bike expressing how pissed off he is about the behaviour of certain other people who ride bikes.

He's not the only one.

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [8002 posts]
30th June 2012 - 0:47

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Jeez internet opinions are sometimes expressed with such gusto aren’t they? Smile

OK, first of all – and perhaps most importantly - I’m not ‘reporting for road.cc’. I’m expressing an opinion in a blog post.

Second thing is that of course I agree with Clive & brylonscamel – we’re not all the same. I should have been clearer in my post that I don’t think we are. But Simon’s right: cyclists are lumped together whether we like it or not. brylonscamel, you may not feel any affinity with the itchy-arsed numpty but you can bet many people will group you together just because you both ride a bike.

I think most of us understand that and to disregard the frustrations people – even Jeremy Clarkson! - express about cyclists on the grounds that you’re one of the good ones is a mistake if you ask me. It makes it too easy to dismiss all anti-cyclist commentary as irrelevant and ignorant when in fact some of it is perfectly valid.

Yes we’re all individuals*, my point is that it seems to me a disproportionate number of people who ride bikes are prepared to bend the rules of the road and of basic politeness and I’m suggesting that we do what we can as responsible cyclists to have a word with ourselves about that and encourage others to do the same. Setting a conspicuously good example could have a knock-on effect, who knows?

*I’m not!

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posted by Martin Thomas [567 posts]
30th June 2012 - 9:52

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Martin Thomas wrote:
...my point is that it seems to me a disproportionate number of people who ride bikes are prepared to bend the rules of the road and of basic politeness and I’m suggesting that we do what we can as responsible cyclists to have a word with ourselves about that and encourage others to do the same.

Totally agree with the first part of this, and it is getting worse. When I started cycling in London (about 10 years ago) there were a few messenger nutters who ignored all the rules, but most other people seemed to pay attention to red lights and junctions. Over the last few weeks, I've been counting at each junction the number of people on bikes who stop at the red light and the number who ride on through. It seems to be coming out about 60/40 for stopping/not stopping. At bigger junctions it is more in favour of stopping, and at smaller ones more in favour of not. It mostly isn't 'serious' cyclists (those who obviously own a bike for leisure purposes), it's those just travelling to work/school/coffee shop/wherever.

Obviously this isn't a statistically significant study, just an observation, but the issue with the perception of the public about the need to obey the law when riding a bike is self-fuelling. The general public now sees so many people on bikes ignoring traffic laws that they seem to think that those on bikes don't need to obey the rules. So when they get on a bike, they don't obey the rules. And so it goes on.

The general perception needs to be changed. In my view, that's by a combo of publicity and enforcement. But this needs to be done in a way which doesn't demonise 'cyclists' - and that's pretty difficult to manage. Can it be done?

posted by step-hent [669 posts]
2nd July 2012 - 9:47

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Tough question. On Friday evening I went out for an hour, and was slowing down approaching some lights when a driver passed me then pulled right in, indicating left. Now ok, he wouldn't want someone getting trapped on his left, fair enough, but there's an ASL, and the light was red, so I passed him via the huge gap on his right. Seeing that his window was down, I commented "really necessary to pull across me was it?" as I passed. Then I sat in the ASL and watched several cycle commuters use guerilla tactics to cross; pedestrian crossings, jump the red, you name it. From the driver's point of view, he was probably thinking that "you lot just go through anyway" - he may have even thought that I only obeyed the red light in order to claim the moral high ground.

I think it comes back to the whole 'lumping us all in together' thing again. I don't assume that all drivers are idiots/red light jumpers or whatever else, I don't need grouping together with people I don't know.

Car drivers in general aren't idiots. Cyclists in general aren't idiots. Idiots are idiots, they just happen to choose a mode of transport like the rest of us.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3073 posts]
2nd July 2012 - 11:31

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Some people are twats.

Some people are twats on foot. They are an annoyance.

Some people are twats on bikes. They are an inconvenience.

Some people are twats in cars. They kill and maim by the 1000.

I think I know who the real problem are.

Really, though?

posted by workhard [377 posts]
3rd July 2012 - 22:35

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workhard wrote:
Some people are twats.

Some people are twats on foot. They are an annoyance.

Some people are twats on bikes. They are an inconvenience.

Some people are twats in cars. They kill and maim by the 1000.

I think I know who the real problem are.

The last sentence is not grammatically correct. Otherwise, you're not too wide of the mark.

Smile

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2165 posts]
4th July 2012 - 13:45

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I agree that twats in cars constitute a bigger problem, but they're not who I was writing about. And just because that problem exists, it doesn't mean the problems caused by twats on bikes aren't worth addressing.

The main point I'd make (again) is that I think more and more people on bikes seem to think it's acceptable to break the rules. But I don't think it is.

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posted by Martin Thomas [567 posts]
4th July 2012 - 13:59

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Martin Thomas wrote:
I agree that twats in cars constitute a bigger problem, but they're not who I was writing about. And just because that problem exists, it doesn't mean the problems caused by twats on bikes aren't worth addressing.

The main point I'd make (again) is that I think more and more people on bikes seem to think it's acceptable to break the rules. But I don't think it is.

It is not acceptable to break the road rules, no matter what type of road user you are. That said, there are degrees to every point. Cycling along an empty pavement for example puts no-one at risk.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2165 posts]
5th July 2012 - 11:29

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OldRidgeback wrote:
Martin Thomas wrote:
I agree that twats in cars constitute a bigger problem, but they're not who I was writing about. And just because that problem exists, it doesn't mean the problems caused by twats on bikes aren't worth addressing.

The main point I'd make (again) is that I think more and more people on bikes seem to think it's acceptable to break the rules. But I don't think it is.

It is not acceptable to break the road rules, no matter what type of road user you are. That said, there are degrees to every point. Cycling along an empty pavement for example puts no-one at risk. Some things may be more unacceptable than others.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2165 posts]
5th July 2012 - 11:30

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Agreed.

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posted by Martin Thomas [567 posts]
5th July 2012 - 11:42

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This is quite timely considering the current news story about the guy who was left brain damaged after being hit by an RLJing cyclist. I don't dispute for a second the devastating effect on the victim but it's a sad fact that this was only in the news because of it's extreme rarity - consider how many people are maimed and killed by motor vehicles weekly that never make a blip on the nationals, never the less it's been perfect fodder for hate columnists in the gutter press.

What I did find quite disturbing was the comments made by the victims wife about the incident, now I know her life has been turned upside down by the effect on her family and you can't blame her anger but I think she echoes a common view that cyclists are a sub-class of human and ultimately the authors of their own misfortune.

She said (from the Times)

“I want the whole world to know that cyclists have a duty of care to behave like human beings,” she said. “It’s about time people stopped worrying about cyclists being killed by lorries if they do not conduct themselves in the right manner. He nearly killed my husband.”

That, unfortunately is what we're up against and on the whole I'm in agreement with Martin but I suspect that we're preaching to the converted here.

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posted by joemmo [787 posts]
5th July 2012 - 13:09

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OldRidgeback wrote:
The last sentence is not grammatically correct. Otherwise, you're not too wide of the mark.

Smile

Agreed. My grade A O level English Language is spinning in its grave. Wink

Really, though?

posted by workhard [377 posts]
5th July 2012 - 16:30

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Martin

I agree with your point re the unacceptability, the sheer uncivilised nature, of rule breaking.

we need to consider the consequences though. From a perspective of risk. I'd contend that the minority of rule breakers increase the risk to the law abiders because they degrade the image of cyclists in the eyes of other road users who then think "If they are casual and sloppy around me then I can be casual and sloppy around them".

Purely based on anecdata of course but its my experience.

Really, though?

posted by workhard [377 posts]
5th July 2012 - 16:31

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