Anybody who is a regular cyclist has experienced it. That sudden feeling of something alongside you, that skip in your heartbeat when you’re not sure whether they’re doing it on purpose or if they’ve not seen you, the clenching of the bars and hoping you don’t get dragged under the wheels.
Close passes are unfortunately an aspect of cycling that we have all experienced to varying degrees.
I lived in London for 15 years, and close passes there are unfortunately common. To be honest the standards of driving were generally worse, the number of cars were a lot higher, and the streets a lot narrower, so it’s not surprising. However, all this meant that while close passes were almost a daily experience, they took place at much lower speeds.
I recently moved to the Cotswolds, where the main roads are wider, cars drive faster, and the standard of driving is generally much better. Despite this, yesterday I experienced the worst close pass I have experienced in my 20+ years of riding.
I set out to do a quick gravel ride before work. I was wearing a bright orange jersey, a red helmet, and even had a light and radar system. I decided to try a new route, and as is the way in many rural areas, the path I was following had become a ploughed field with no signs. After 20 minutes of trying to find my way out of what seemed to be the world’s largest field, I found the path again and was back on track. For some reason the path went through somebody’s garden, then back onto a road.
I then had a lovely ride of a few miles in the late summer sunshine along quiet country lanes. Even on these thin lanes, every driver I encountered gave me plenty of room. Despite getting lost it had generally been a great ride.
My final kilometre is along a relatively quiet A road, and after 300m it goes from 50mph down to 30mph, so there usually is very little issue with it. Not on this occasion, unfortunately.
As I was riding I was aware of a big Luton van behind me. It slowed and passed me perfectly, completely on the other side of the white line. Then about 10 seconds later, a Transit pickup truck raced past me leaving all of 12 inches, at well over 50mph.
To be honest, I didn’t even have time to do everything I mentioned in the first paragraph. There was no firm gripping of the bars, no increased heart rate. It all happened so fast that there was almost no reaction beyond a slight wobble.
It took me a couple of seconds to understand what had happened and to shout the second-worst swear word, and my next action was to call the driver the worst one. I was angry and instantly fuming that somebody seemed to deliberately put me in that much danger for no reason, and appeared to have done it deliberately.
This is the instant reaction that we’re used to, the one we see in videos, but it’s the part afterwards that has the real impact and the bit that drivers don’t see.
I got home still pretty angry, put my bike in the garage and went to say hello to my heavily pregnant wife who had just dropped my two-year-old daughter at nursery. Then, I jumped in the shower and began to calm down and think rationally.
It was only then I realised how close to death I had been. If I had moved to my right at all in that split second, my daughter would have lost a father and my soon-to-be-born son would never have met me. Everything began to run through my head, how my wife would have had the police arrive at the door, how she would have had to call my parents and sister. She would have had to explain to my daughter what had happened. The only thing that prevented this scenario was me not drifting away from the kerb, there being no obstacle to avoid, and there being no wind pushing me the smallest distance outwards.
Due to the actions of one driver, my life was nearly ended and my family nearly left fatherless.
I was in shock to the extent that people at work mentioned it and asked if I was ok. I couldn’t think straight. To come that close to death through no fault of your own, all because one person decided that you’re not worth anything because you’re not travelling as fast as them, is not something you like to think about.
This is the element that is not discussed enough when we see all the anti-cyclist rants on social media, or when people in positions of power like Grant Shapps demonise cyclists. The damage caused by vindictive messaging is more than just some nasty words, it has real consequences when poorly informed people begin to see cyclists as less than human.
There is not a doubt in my mind that the person yesterday did it on purpose. They could not have missed a giant Luton van clearly passing a cyclist, it was a perfectly straight road, and there was perfect visibility. I was so lit up I would have stood out in a rave.
Their actions were inches away from orphaning my children, widowing my wife, and by chance alone they didn’t. That split-second decision caused me to have nightmares about what they did, and I know that for the next few rides I am going to be flinching whenever a dot appears on my bike computer telling me a vehicle is approaching.
So, if there is anybody reading this who wants cyclists to ‘get off the road’, or who feels like a ‘punishment pass’ is a justifiable reaction to the cyclist existing near them, I hope you can begin to understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end.
Unfortunately, given the callous way this person behaved, I have no doubt they would have probably laughed about the damage they caused when they got to work. Unfortunately, far too many people in this country and others would have laughed with them.
George is the host of the road.cc podcast and has been writing for road.cc since 2014. He has reviewed everything from a saddle with a shark fin through to a set of glasses with a HUD and everything in between.
Although, ironically, spending more time writing and talking about cycling than on the bike nowadays, he still manages to do a couple of decent rides every week on his ever changing number of bikes.