safe or popular?

Last week I posted good news, that the temporary buildings on Leyton Marsh are down. A couple of hours later Ron Binns announced a suspension of his prolific web-log “crap cycling and walking in Waltham Forest” from which the story was originally lifted. A sorry coincidence as Ron’s angry diary was a useful source of intelligence from the Essex side of the River Lee or Lea.

Last week I posted good news, that the temporary buildings on Leyton Marsh are down. A couple of hours later Ron Binns announced a suspension of his prolific web-log “crap cycling and walking in Waltham Forest” from which the story was originally lifted. A sorry coincidence as Ron’s angry diary was a useful source of intelligence from the Essex side of the River Lee or Lea.
Ron’s wide-ranging commentary sometimes featured short motion-pictures from the currently booming, head-mounted-camera-genre.

In January 2011, he used one to illustrate the ineffectual nature of cycle-training because according to Ron…

“…the more you cycle, the more you are exposed to risk, and the more likely you are to have these unpleasant experiences. YouTube is crammed with videos like this one:”

 

and two months later

“…cycling will never have mass appeal on the vehicle-dominated streets of Greater London, this short video will explain why.”

The two clips feature similar episodes, they both begin in a way that will be familiar to anyone who rides regularly in urban Britain, and is experienced enough to keep out of the gutter or the door-zone.

In both clips the camera-operator is proceeding innocently when a motorist behind starts blowing their horn because they want to overtake, even though traffic conditions mean no advantage is to be gained by such a manoeuvre. Almost immediately pedallist and sofa-jockey are forced to stop. Shouty, sweary exchanges follow.

Ron conflates these sorry little scenes of immaturity and discourtesy with deadly threat. Even though there’s no danger apparent in either.

To be safe on the road other people need to take notice of you. When you demand the attention of others you’re not in control of how they will react. Some might admire your choice of trousers. Others may start chewing their lips and thinking aloud “dozy fucking mare should be riding on the fucking pavement.”

In either case you’re not in danger. When someone following in a car blows their horn to express frustration they’re telling you three things…

  • …they’re thinking about you.
  • …they know they’re not allowed to run you over.
  • …you’re safe.

(Alternatively they may be trying to tell you that you’ve just dropped a glove, but that’s another story.)

A key skill in riding comfortably in city traffic is separating two issues:-

  • The social hazard of upsetting disappointed MDVs.
  • The real physical danger of being in a crash.

Perhaps Ron’s confusion of these two distinct categories explains his pessimistic view of cycle travel in London? Maybe fear of social conflict explains why his ‘Crap Cycling’ web-log didn’t take comments?

In his critique of cycle training Ron reveals…

“I find the concept of ‘defensive cycling’ quite an interesting one, because it tacitly accepts that there is an offensive going on. And cycle training is basically all about accommodating yourself to the mass-motorized battlefield.”

Anyone unfortunate enough to have tried to move a motor-vehicle with four or more wheels around, on streets busy with other motors, understands that you have no choice. You have to be pushy. If you’re not selfish you won’t get anywhere. Driving a car in a city busy with others trying to do the same thing is to join battle with your peers. Motor-traffic has a temper of it’s own.

One of the many pleasant things about city cycling is that – while you need the skill, knowledge and chutzpah to control the space around you – the flexibility and efficiency of your chosen mode means you don’t need to get involved in the battle. You can rise above it, defend the space around you but be generous to those less fortunate, less imaginative than yourself.

The main observation from Ron’s two clips is that – in both cases – the auteur looses his calm and ends up shouting and swearing. This incontinence risks dangerous escalation, surrenders the moral high ground, and lets slip any chance to promote growth and self-awareness in the agitated MDV.

If – when I’m riding my bike – somebody following in a car starts making a fuss because they can’t pass, the default is to check that there’s no source of danger present (and that they’re not trying to attract your attention because you just dropped a glove) then ignore the foolishness. Then – when it’s safe to let them pass and if there’s space enough ahead that they won’t be in the way, to let them by to continue their futile hurry with a courteous thank-you wave.

If you’re feeling frisky, generous and sociable you can jump to the right and wave them through on the inside, like they were your team car going ahead to support a teammate in a break, then you can drop into the turbulence behind the car and follow – for the usually very short distance – until they are forced to slow or stop by sheer volume of traffic.

You’re then nicely placed – on the right of the car to engage them in cheerful conversation.

This is my best recollection of an exemplary exchange in the Queensbridge Road, E8, last Winter.

Me: You alright mate?

MDV: You should keep to the left.

Me: No, I was riding there because I didn’t want you to try and squeeze past where the road was narrow.

MDV: If you ride in the middle that’s how cyclists get run over.

Me: No they get run over if they get too far to the left. People don’t see them and turn left and run them down. That is a nice car.

MDV: Thanks

Me: Do you race it?

MDV: (slightly confused pause) No.

Me: If I had a car like that I’d want to take it to the racetrack and see if I could rip the tyres off the rims. (traffic-lights change) Have a good weekend

MDV: Yeah you too.

The target is to be safe and popular.

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