As jolts go, it was a sudden – not to mention unsolicited and unwelcome – one. Minutes after attending the London Cycling Campaign protest on Battersea Bridge, where a young woman was killed last month while riding her bike, my friend and I stopped at a pub for a quick drink before going our separate ways and got a first-hand glimpse at how some drivers view those of us who choose to get around by bike.
Coming back from the bar with our drinks, I found my friend in what is best described as a stand-off situation with one of the guys who had been drinking outside when we arrived.
Now, see me? I’m pretty diplomatic when it comes to conversation with people who don’t share my world view, and I am very happy to try and counter ignorance with facts and figures.
It may not work, but I makes me feel better. One-nil to the good guys, backing up opinion with data.
My friend, though? He’s more your red-mist-descends kind of bloke. Been known to whack a D-lock through the window of a taxi when the driver has cut him up sort of thing.
And given I’ve known him for 25 years, I immediately knew something was up.
It turned out that his new-found friend – in the 30 seconds or so I’d gone inside and got our drinks – had told him that cyclists have no place on Battersea Bridge.
That on that Thames crossing, which is maybe 400 metres or so, we should push our bikes across on the footway – have you seen how narrow those are on that particular bridge, by the way? – that we should not be sharing space with lorries, buses, taxis, 4x4s.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I’m a keen cyclist myself.”
Of course you are.
“But when I’m driving my van, these cyclists weaving in and out … ”
My mate made the point that, crossing a bridge in London, drivers are not going to be unduly held up by someone on a bike.
But according to the bloke at the pub, we all ride at 28mph (if only), cause chaos, and impede other road users.
And we have no place on Battersea Bridge, because if you are riding a bike over it, you are putting yourself in danger, he claims.
I said earlier that I’m usually quite even-handed when it comes to this type of discussion … I will counter these types of views with real world evidence, and if the person I am speaking with doesn’t want to believe it, well, that’s on them, not me.
So, Mr Reasonable here (yeah, me) pointed out the Hierarchy of Road Users that was added to the Highway Code last year.
Which was met with the guy continuing to insist that cyclists should not be on the main carriageway of the bridge at all, and should instead take to the footway and push their bikes across.
“So,” I said, “what about the poor guy who was killed jogging across Battersea Bridge a couple of years ago? Where should he have gone?”
We’d only gone to that pub because we had been to an event nearby commemorating a young woman killed by a hit-and-run lorry driver last month as she rode her bike across a bridge in the heart of our country’s capital.
I’ve spent 30-odd years riding my bike round London, and in that time I’ve been knocked off my bike a couple of times by drivers, and had countless near misses.
My mate’s an ex-courier, and you can multiply the number of his close calls, or the incidents in which he’s ended up on the floor due to a motorist’s inattention, by at least ten compared to me.
I can understand his anger at this bloke outside the pub, trying to tell us we had no place riding our bikes on the road.
Clearly, there was no way this conversation was going to end in agreement, so I ushered my friend (and our bikes) round the corner, so we could at least have in peace the conversation that was the reason we’d stopped at the pub in the first place.
It’s so depressing though to think that we have to share the road with people like this … who clearly do not want to share the road with anyone not in a motor vehicle in the first place.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.