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OPINION

This isn't about cycle lanes or the Highway Code – I just want to get home in one piece

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VecchioJo is riding against the clock, but not like that – sadly near misses with drivers are an unavoidable and inevitable consequence of being behind a set of handlebars in 2022

Tick tick tick tick tick...

Every time I leave the house on a bike, I press ’Start’ on the mental stopwatch. It doesn’t matter which bike I’m on; road, gravel, mountain, cyclo-cross or town hack, that second hand begins its sweep as soon as I click in my second foot.

Whether it’s a trip to the shops a couple of miles away, riding over to a friend's or out for a good few hours in the countryside, the timer is running as soon as I scoot off the garden path and bump onto the road.

Tick tick tick tick tick...

Anyone that spends regular time pedalling regular routes will have sections of road where spidey senses start to tingle and fingers will subconsciously cover brake levers, because they’re where 'something' always happens.

Everyone that rides a bike has a mental rolodex of these. Whether they just commute to and from work or are out all day on roads they know, it’s those places where there’s a strong likelihood of there being some kind of interaction with a car. A close pass, a squeeze through, a 'SMIDSY' or just the usual normal low-level driving ineptitude and dickery. Something that could merely warrant a muttered "FFS" under the breath, or be a contretemps that is a little more life threatening, but something. There's always something.

Tick tick tick tick tick...

I could list all the places where I start to operate on high alert, my fight-or-flight reflexes beginning to hum. It would take me a while to write them all down; in fact it would probably just be easier to get a map out and scribble all over it in red pen.

It starts for me if I head down my street and turn left; watch out for a car that might be parked right there after the junction, and keep alert as the road kinks round. Drivers like to cut the corner at speed here, and a short while later the road narrows considerably as there’s an immobile stream of cars and vans parked both sides for quite a while. This is a full vigilance situation, as drivers like to think they can force their way through the gap.

In this high incidence area, there’s a brief breather before approaching a mini-roundabout where it’s always a relief if a car doesn’t just breeze on through after not bothering to look. I could go on in this vein for a while, but while I feel every cyclist would sympathise it would get predictably boring, and that was just one mile.

Tick tick tick tick tick...

I don’t even live in a big city where you’d expect traffic friction to occur almost continuously, and I don’t even have a daily commute to deal with that racks up the odds. I live in sleepy suburbia and I’m just going about my day to day business, yet any time I go anywhere by bike there’s little time to be complacent.

In decades of accumulated anecdotal evidence, it doesn’t matter one iota what I’m riding or wearing as to the frequency of incident: helmet or no helmet, taking primary, stealth black or Italian Pro technicolour clothing, blinky lights or not, riding assertively, full lycra or pub casual, I’ve yet to find the incident free formula. My favourite was when I was on large electric blue cargo bike and somebody pulled straight out on me, and instantly spewed out a loud tirade of arm waving excuses in response to my shrugged shoulders of disbelief and sighed resignation. That was a record stopping of the mental stopwatch at about five seconds. It was only ten doors from my house on a quiet cul-de-sac, which made it all the more comically ridiculous.

Tick tick tick tick tick...

Knowing that a moment of driver twattery is going to happen at some point at least once every time I pedal away from the house has made it easier to deal with. I don’t get angry about it any more, because I just don’t have that much energy; it’s a sadly unavoidable and inevitable consequence of being behind a set of handlebars.

I’m mostly just tired with the tedious "not-when-but-if" predictability of it all, so now all I can manage is an eyeroll, a check on that ticking stopwatch, a Gallic shrug in an “I have no idea what you were trying to do there” fashion, or a visibly disappointed shake of the head. Strangely enough the latter has had some quite volatile results.

Tick tick tick tick tick...

A lot of the Near Miss Of The Day clickbait on this site doesn’t even make me wince. Maybe I’ve just become immune to it over the years, or my expectations for acceptable driving standards are too low. Maybe avoiding getting knocked off and not heading home via the hospital I consider a small win these days.

There have been a few times when I think I might have got away with it, and the last few miles home after a long day out on the lanes are always a time of building anticipation of a small celebration that nothing actually happened; but I’ve been minutes from making it back to the front door and there it is, it was just teasing.

Tick tick tick tick tick...

This isn’t about bike lanes, or proper segregated infrastructure, or new codes, or road tax, or running red lights, or riding on pavements, or deaths per day, or any of the whataboutery that spits and infects all this when you discuss cars and bicycles. It’s none of that, it’s a lot lot simpler.

It’s about being treated like a normal human being just going about their business in a totally normal and harmless way.

I do not want to fear for my life just going to the shops. I do not want to be bullied, I will not ever be bullied, I do not have to quietly prepare for the worst every time I leave the house. I don’t want someone to have to make an awkward phone call to the last number on my phone, just because I popped out for milk and a few bits for supper. I just want to get to where I want to get to in peace, in one piece, and alive.

Tick tick tick tick tick...

So, if I’m screaming at you through your windscreen and you’re looking at me incredulous, that’s because it’s not just you. It’s the tens, hundreds, thousands of other near misses, close calls, day-to-day driver shittery and nonchalant "sorry-I-nearly-killed-you" hand waves that I’ve let pass previously, and unfortunately you’re the one that cut the wrong wire connected to the ticking clock.

That’s why I’m shouting as you’re squinting into my front light, saying you didn’t see me and your kids in the back seat are starting to cry. That’s why I’ve punched your car, because you’re just close enough to punch it. That’s why you jumped when I tapped on your window after you pulled out in front of me without looking; but I knew you were going to do it, so reacted accordingly because it always happens and I’d like a word about it, please.

That’s why we’re front wheel to front bumper, yelling at each other and everyone’s looking. Because today and just now... I’ve fucking had enough.

Tick tick tick tick tick... boom. 

Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.

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59 comments

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Simon E | 1 year ago
8 likes

"Because today and just now... I’ve fucking had enough."

I've been feeling that way for a while. I have very few incidents on my rural commute but still too many and I live in fear of the possibilities because some selfish c**t in a car doesn't give a shit about anyone else.

Some bad news yesterday brought it home - someone I knew (though not very well) was killed in a road collision on Monday, just riding his bike.

An experienced, very capable cyclist making his way from A to B as usual. Only he didn't reach B this time.

It makes me sad but, coming on top of everything else, it also makes me extremely fucking angry!

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brooksby replied to Simon E | 1 year ago
5 likes

Sorry to hear that, Simon.

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giff77 replied to Simon E | 1 year ago
4 likes

So very saddened to hear this Simon

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Protecpete replied to Simon E | 1 year ago
0 likes

Hi Simon E,

I am now 63 years of age, and due to severe arthritis, can no longer cycle. I am still at work as a mobile engineer and have sadly noticed more young cyclist who do not seem to understand that a red traffic light also applies to them. I was turning right onto Deansgate in Manchester, my lights were on red. When on green, my car engine re started (so I was not rushing off), I started to turn right and was met by a young (20's), cyclist coming through on red. So, to be fair, there are some cyclist who are also C**ts, who don't give a shit about anyone but themselves. I have only become aware of this due to driving now, every day. It's just a case of sharing the road and following the rules by all.

 

 

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ktache replied to Protecpete | 1 year ago
3 likes

Sorry to hear about your near death experience.

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Rendel Harris replied to ktache | 1 year ago
3 likes

ktache wrote:

Sorry to hear about your near death experience.

Well, at least he got a fabulous story out of it. I wonder if the film rights are available?

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Mungecrundle replied to Protecpete | 1 year ago
2 likes

That would be the bit in the HC where it says:

"GREEN means you may go on if the way is clear. Take special care if you intend to turn left or right and give way to pedestrians who are crossing".

Literally 10 minutes of my life Googling "Crash Manchester red light". But yeah, cyclists are the bigger problem.

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/grea...

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/dad-dies-af...

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/student-ran...

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.cheshire-live.co.uk/news/chester-ches...

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.thesun.co.uk/news/4030564/couple-inju...

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.thesun.co.uk/sport/17947707/mancheste...

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.express.co.uk/news/uk/1616817/Driver-...

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-...

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/metro.co.uk/2015/11/02/watch-driver-jumps...

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.express.co.uk/news/uk/1456390/Motorcy...

https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/19702828.teenager-took-mothers-ca...

https://m.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/uk/death-crash-driver-in-142mph-bo...

And for balance, why it isn't a great idea to cycle through a red light:

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/grea...

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.theboltonnews.co.uk/news/19650370.amp/

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/cyclist-who...

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Hirsute replied to Protecpete | 1 year ago
2 likes

Have you tried an ebike?

Great first post- how did you find this thread?

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ktache | 1 year ago
6 likes

Bit dark, but I kind of think you have to survive a few bits of being run over to really understand how awful some drivers really are...

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GMBasix | 1 year ago
9 likes

Nice!

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marmotte27 | 1 year ago
8 likes

Exactly. Every effing day out there. Today, yesterday, the day before that, as long as I remember.

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giff77 | 1 year ago
8 likes

Brilliant article Joe 👍👏

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nappe | 1 year ago
13 likes

Great piece.

Made me just tick off my first mile...stupid van parked on the junction blocking the view, the corner that gets cut by everyone, climb up through all the double parked cars waiting for someone to squeeze past if they're behind or just bully me out of the way if they're in front. Crap surface on half of the road forcing me into primary. Left at the junction onto the main road into a pinch point with a traffic island, it was clear right, but they may be speeding...

Exhausting, isn't it?

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Euan | 1 year ago
12 likes

This is such an excellent piece.  Describes exactly how I feel every time I go out.

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Captain Badger | 1 year ago
9 likes

Nice work

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Daveyraveygravey | 1 year ago
11 likes

A great read.  I'm very lucky, I can hit the South Downs Way and other off road trails within 5 minutes (well, maybe 10 for the SDW, it is a proper climb) so my mountain bike is a refuge when the thought of mixing it with Drivers are too much.

As Argos 74 said, I want to preach about the joys of cycling, it's why I keep doing it.

As BartP said, that dismissive hand wave gets my goat, the sorry-not-sorry trying to excuse their twuntish behaviour.

As Eddyberckx said, the ones who completely fuck you up, do something completely incomprehensible, and then launch into one at you like it was your fault.

I ride to work, I ride for fun, I ride to try and get fitter, I ride because it makes my head a better place to live in, I ride because it makes me a nicer person to live with.

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Sevenfold | 1 year ago
9 likes

I run cameras front & rear but unless the half-sozzled brain-dead speeding moton on their phone knows what to look for, all cameras do is provide the evidence to support you in case of an 'incident' be it a near hit or an actual collision. What I have found to improve the behaviour of said brain dead speeding moron is an @passpixi sign attached via magnets to a jersey/jacket pocket. Whilst it does not work every time (2 reports following club rides in the last 2 weeks!) it does tend to improve driver behaviour as it gives them pause for thought that they might lose their licence if they do something stupid - I'm under no misconception that they might actually give a sh*t about my safety, only something that matters to them i.e. their driving licence. I've no affiliations with PassPixi, I can only speak from anecdotal evidence that drivers do give more space, think about the overtake a little more & actually drive a bit more appropriate around a VRU

 

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JustTryingToGet... replied to Sevenfold | 1 year ago
5 likes
Sevenfold wrote:

I run cameras front & rear but unless the half-sozzled brain-dead speeding moton on their phone knows what to look for, all cameras do is provide the evidence to support you in case of an 'incident' be it a near hit or an actual collision. What I have found to improve the behaviour of said brain dead speeding moron is an @passpixi sign attached via magnets to a jersey/jacket pocket. Whilst it does not work every time (2 reports following club rides in the last 2 weeks!) it does tend to improve driver behaviour as it gives them pause for thought that they might lose their licence if they do something stupid - I'm under no misconception that they might actually give a sh*t about my safety, only something that matters to them i.e. their driving licence. I've no affiliations with PassPixi, I can only speak from anecdotal evidence that drivers do give more space, think about the overtake a little more & actually drive a bit more appropriate around a VRU

 

I'm sure there is a study that concluded exactly the same as your experience. That generally, what a cyclist is wearing generally makes no difference to the space a motorist will provide to a cyclist. The exception is a vest which suggests filming. That's quite depressing in terms of triggers for motorist behaviour. I'll try and dig it out but I'm guessing people on here will be better informed than me and will find it more quickly.

I think the same survey concluded that a hard core small proportion of motorists will always dangerous close pass. Which is explains why this article resonates so much.

And why a snidy response to valid fear is not only disgusting but was presumably written in order to demonstrate an attitude that would be received as disgusting.

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JustTryingToGet... replied to JustTryingToGetFromAtoB | 1 year ago
3 likes

Found it... https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24333770/

And if you're as juvenile as me, you'll snigger at accid anal

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markieteeee replied to JustTryingToGetFromAtoB | 1 year ago
1 like

I recall a study conducted around Cambridge where the only item of clothing that afforded a rider more space was a hi-viz jacket that said 'polite' on the back. They weren't allowed to wear one saying 'police' due to potentially committing an offence, but it was close enough to make motorists suddenly pass at safer distance.

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grOg replied to markieteeee | 1 year ago
0 likes

The only trouble with the 'Polite' vest fooling drivers is they won't be fooled the next time and anecdotally, some wearers were targeted by some anti-social types with some very bad behaviours, such as pushing the rider off their bike.

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markieteeee replied to grOg | 1 year ago
0 likes

That doesn't surprise me. I think in the case of this particular study,  it wasn't a recommendation to wear one, more a conclusion that only the belief that you were a police officer made any difference to the space people give you. 

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OldRidgeback replied to grOg | 1 year ago
0 likes

grOg wrote:

The only trouble with the 'Polite' vest fooling drivers is they won't be fooled the next time and anecdotally, some wearers were targeted by some anti-social types with some very bad behaviours, such as pushing the rider off their bike.

A motorcycling friend (and former colleague) has a BMW motorcycle of a similar model to those the police use. It's covered with high viz decals, similar to those on police bikes. He wears a high viz vest but it doesn't say anything on it. He uses the same type of flip up helmet as the police use, but the bike has no blue lights. Having been out for a ride with him, it's interesting how car drivers do spot him and modify their behaviour. He finds this extremely amusing. 

I suppose there aren't enough police cyclists around for other cyclists to wear similar gear. Those polite high viz jackets don't really cut it.

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Rendel Harris replied to Sevenfold | 1 year ago
2 likes

Like you, I have no affiliation with PP except as a customer, and my experience very much accords with yours. Quick video here:

https://twitter.com/Rendel_Harris/status/1467505319114952712

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grOg replied to Sevenfold | 1 year ago
0 likes

I'd like a radar that triggers a Gatso like flash as a vehicle approaches from behind.. get their attention at least.

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BartP | 1 year ago
4 likes

I hate that hand-wave. It's like getting the finger, five times.

Some drivers just see this as a means to not give you your right of way. Just approach the cyclist / pedestrian with your hand raised and drive on, they'll back off as they don't like to be run over.

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Argos74 | 1 year ago
11 likes

I want to tell you about the joys of riding bikes. It's bloody awesome. The feeling of freedom, power, resilience. Even just a short ride to the shops leaves me smiling. I couldn't not ride to work now, unless it's dangerous winds like the weekend or I'm injured. Even if it's just a few miles. And I used to the Princess Road / Mancunian Way roundabout twice a day before they tamed it and made it dull with traffic lights.

I look at googlemaps, or maps of canals or trails, and I'm thinking how far could I ride? I look out the train, and I see places and think 'just let me off at the next station, I'll stop off at a supermarket for food and water, and bike the rest of it'. On the Metro, could I visit every station by bike in one day? What would be the shortest route? Pinch a TT course off a CC website and leave it all out there, shivering with fatigue at the end and hobbling home. Or just setting off with a bottle of water and a couple of sandwiches for a bit of a wander and stopping at bus stops to work out where the hell I got to. I'm really not good at directions.

But yeah, then there was the blazing halfwitted bag of turds beeping and shouting at me the other day while overtaking another cyclist with six foot clearance. The knife-edge close - and intentional - left hook last year, Pidcock would have been proud of the handling to get out of that one. The bike lane that cars always cut across, be careful there. Listening out for overtaking cars changing down a gear. Slow moving artic coming up behind, hold my nerve. Car waiting at a minor to major, watching for their eyes - what's he gonna do? Has he seen me? There's the joys of riding bikes, but yeah, I know where you're coming from. It's not if but when.

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Shake | 1 year ago
4 likes

One way to prevent being rear-ended is to not use tri bars

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Steve K replied to Shake | 1 year ago
5 likes

Shake wrote:

One way to prevent being rear-ended is to not use tri bars

Seriously, how do tri bars increase your chance of being rear-ended?

I can see arguments about other types of collision or accident, but not rear ending.

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Hirsute replied to Steve K | 1 year ago
4 likes

A reference to a previous story here. I'm sure you can work out the protagonist and their 'argument'.

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