There are those who grace this earth who are blessed with a remarkably passive nature, they speak only good of others, they enact grace where most of us adopt rage and they seek only ever to construct what many of us find almost unimaginable. They are the sort of people I envy although I suspect that envy is not a helpful means of adopting their character. John is such a person and I am honured to call him a friend. I was thus a little unnerved to greet John on a quiet Tuesday morning only to observe blood raging through his temple’s and a look of fury in his eyes. Either John had been possessed or something was seriously wrong.
The previous evening John had observed a nasty collision between one of his close friends and riding companions and an aggressive, stupid, moronic motorist. I choose the word ‘moronic’ very carefully. What John had experienced just hours before was not an ‘accident’ it was not a forgivable miscalculation of time over distance, it was not the regrettable but inevitable occasional veering from the strict rules of the highway code, no, it was an act of mindless, stupid, willful, aggression commonly compatible with the mind of a complete moron. The incident was not born from foolishness or ignorance but rather was the result of a malicious unwillingness to engage in those laws of human engagement which keep civilization on the steady trajectory we call progress.
Riding along a suburban lane and at good pace John followed his friend as they approached a T junction to their left. Their flow was good, consistent and steady. At no point did either cyclist offer other road users any indication that they might do anything other than carry straight on. Approaching the T junction at a steady 18 - 19 mph John and his friend observed a young driver sat at the exit of the aforementioned T junction waiting to turn right, a turn which would in theory break their cycling flow. It was however an observation which barely merited the ‘surely he wont’ thought, for the very notion that this individual might do anything other than wait for the flow of traffic to pass was logically inconcievable. Yet nano seconds before John and his friend cross the junction the aforementioned driver pulls out leaving no possibility other than a full on collision. Adding gross insult to serious injury the driver then failed to stop.
You’ll note that I describe the actions of the driver and not the problem of the car. Too often the 'bike v car' debate plays straight into a fundamental unwillingness for us to accept that the real issue is not the particular shape of steel but the behavior of its occupants. Talking about the problems we cyclists experience as resulting from and increased number of cars is to too often ignore that we have a real, dangerous and emerging problem with the behavior of what appears to be an increased number of complete idiots.
Having heard the collision local residents came rushing to help. With blood gushing from his face John’s friend lay in urgent need of medical attention. The entire front end of the bike lay mangled across the road while local residents cordoned off the surrounding area and patiently waited for medical attention to arrive. Every one involved did all they could to bring a measure of calm to a situation of immense stress.
While it sounds a strange thing to say my experience of talking to people involved in such incidents leads me to believe that, within limits, witnessing such a crash is sometimes far worse than being caught in the actual crash. Watching some one you care about attacked in an act of wild stupidity wrenches the very guts of our humanity and thus John’s pulsing temples.
In the light of such an incident it feels futile to offer any suggestion as to how we might best act to prevent such horrors. I need to be clear and state that how a perfectly reasonable group of cyclists had acted in no way contributed to this incident.
Expose The Horrors
In recent years it has become far more common place to see a cyclist wearing a head cam and for very good reason. Our Urban Cycles training team have used footage from @CCSteV head cam when training bus drivers in basic cycle awareness. This method of recording drivers behaviour works not because it prevents stupid behavior, it is after all little more than a historical record of what has already happened, but because, once suitably uploaded to You Tube and spread across as many social media platforms as possible, the methodology exposes and shames the culprits and thus encourages others to think twice. Is it controversial? Yes. Has it been abused by some cyclists? Probably? Does it still offer a valuable contribution to increased road safety? Without a doubt. While it’s a little ‘in your face’ I’m particularly impressed with those who have combined head cams with a high vis jacket adorning the screen printed slogan ‘smile you’re on camera’.
“As more and more drivers realise that so many of us are filming, they begin to take more care around cyclists generally. It's no different to all the Russian drivers using dashcams, a natural reaction to bad driving and bad justice.
“I have a playlist of repeat ‘customers’ who generally considerably improve their behaviour on the second encounter,” Cycling Mikey, Manchester
Whether its Ray Mears, Bear Grylls or Bradford Angier the survival books all tell us the same thing. When trapped by a bear do not run! Some say that to a wild bear the sight of a human running only exaggerates their hunt and kill instinct. Bizarre though it sounds the advise of the experts is to make yourself as big as possible and even to shout back (I applaud any human being who has ever actually acted in such a way). We cyclists can be a polite and timid bunch. Neatly lining out so as not to obstruct the traffic has never been a method I’ve favored. Not only does it make no sense in terms of traffic flow it also makes cyclists small and discrete and that’s just code for ‘vulnerable’. Pack up and be big!
I train on my own. It is almost the only head space I get and I value it dearly yet I also acknowledge it makes me very vulnerable and may not always be the wisest move. In these posts I always try to argue for multiple and textured means of redress to difficult and complex problems. Maybe it’s time I thought about riding in a group for at least some of my rides and for the remainder I definitely need to start carrying the numbers of those I term my next of kin. However you interpret it, numbers matter. Are there people you could ride to work with? Are there routes you could use which have more fellow cyclists than others?
Do Not Allow Yourself Or Others To Be Robbed.
Every month we meet dozens if not hundreds of people with moving stories of their cycling disasters. For too many these stories have become defining moments nurturing seemingly rational arguments for said persons never again riding a bike; the car which scrapped the lady’s pedal, the break which jammed and sent the young boy flying, the HGV which just pulled out. In these powerful stories it is clear that what leads from a specific incident to a long term withdrawal from cycling is not overcoming the incident quickly enough. Sometimes this means getting back on the bike very quickly other times it simply means talking through what has been experienced. An incident such as that witnessed by John is traumatic. Having space to process that trauma is critical; avoiding doing so is to allow our enemies to possess far too much of our being. Talk, hunt out your friend and their hauting story, ride again, reject the darkness.
Writing this post has left me well and truly stumped. In truth it is simply impossible to mitigate against the behavior of a moron(s). I am painfully aware that the actions I have encouraged are profoundly unlikely to change other people’s behavior. It is none the less, my hope, that they might in some tiny way help us live more safely in a world we too often can not change. If you have other suggestions please do share them.
Keep riding and keep safe.