What is the real difference between a cyclist and a "Pseudo-Cyclist"?
As a passionate cyclist, I take to the roads frequently and am amazed by the amount of other people who happen to own bicycles, who ride them like idiots. I must preface this with the fact that as a teenager, I did my cycling proficiency test at school. I learnt how to ride a bike safely, how to make sure drivers don’t kill me due to my own lack of care and attention. I check behind me and indicate each and every time I make a turn, often for up to 20 metres before the actual turn and use the appropriate signals to pull out or slow down to stop at lights. I don’t hop on and off the pavement at my own convenience and I don’t run red lights. I wear high visibility clothing; I have a front and rear reflector, front and rear lights, and a helmet of course.
I say of course, but the majority of "people who ride bikes" I see are riding around aren’t even a wearing a helmet. I use the term "people who ride bikes" instead of cyclist, because I believe that these people are not cyclists. In fact, they make cyclists look bad. We who make every effort to be seen, and to ride safe are undermined by these lunatics. My personal checklist for finding out if you are a cyclist or not, is as follows:
1. Helmet: If you are not wearing a helmet on your bicycle then you are a fool.
2. High-Visibility Clothing: If you are riding a bike on the roads, it makes a lot of sense for you to stand out to drivers, who are going to kill you if they don’t see you. Don’t let them get away with saying they didn’t see you. Not "essential" unless you enjoy being hit by cars.
3. Lights: I try to avoid riding my bike at night in the dark, but it is not always possible. I have a light set that cost very little compared to replacing a bike that has been mangled under the wheels of a car. Of course I will include front and rear reflectors, pedal reflectors and spoke reflectors here too, these are LEGALLY MANDATORY!
4. Bell: By law, all new bicycles are sold fitted with a noise making device or bell. If you do not have one on your bike, get one, fit it and ring it at pedestrians who walk in the bike lane and whenever you are about to overtake a fellow cyclist out of courtesy. I have a polite ding bell, and a klaxon for when people are still in my way after their second bell.
5. Bike Lock: I have seen obnoxious bicycle owners take their bikes into shops and fast food places and leave them in other people's way because they can't be bothered buying a bike lock. Inconveniencing others for the sake of one's own convenience is what narcissists do. Let alone kids who leave their bikes sprawled across the pavement outside shops while they go in to shoplift sweets. If you don't want your bike stolen, lock it, don't bring it everywhere you go.
Why Do I Care So Much?
I do care. I care too much really; because I feel like I have to explain myself to everyone I tell that I cycle to work. People immediately think I am part of the growing majority of bike owners they have seen on the roads/pavements. I just told a colleague that I bike to work and her immediate response was "You're not one of them annoying obnoxious £#%@s are you?”. I had to explain, that no, I am not; I am one of the good ones. I should not have to do this, I'm not saying proper cyclists should be revered or honoured in some way (medals would be cool...) but certainly not disrespected due to the bad behaviour of a few members of our peer group. I'm talking about anti-cyclist discrimination! I have heard drivers talk about the fact that we don't pay road tax therefore should not be on the roads, and that we don't deserve our own special lanes and why do we get so much publicity (aherm, we were on the roads first!). As if we are a nuisance! I have encountered nuisance bicycle owners; they have nearly knocked me off my bike! Hopping from pavement to road without taking the time to look behind them and check to see if I would have to brake hard and swerve dangerously to avoid rear-ending them! That is what prompted me to write this blog. Then it happened again. Then I noticed how many of the people I would have previously considered "Proper Cyclists", run through red lights, or pavement hop to get through them. I couldn't believe how few cyclists seem to signal and indicate properly, or even know which side of the road to ride on.
If you want to drive a car, you first must obtain a license and insurance and tax the vehicle. To ride a bike on the road, you just buy a bike and are let go on an unsuspecting public. I am not insinuating that there should be a test, there already is a test, it is called the cycling proficiency test, but there should be some form of governance. It is clearly not just their own lives they are risking, I have experienced my own life being staked on the ignorance of these pseudo-cyclists swerving in front of me like lunatics!
Other bad cycling habits I have covered in other blog entries such as wearing headphones, not using the handlebars on the road, texting/using the phone, there are plenty more I haven't covered as I had thought they were obviously wrong. Carrying shopping on the handlebars, trying to walk a dog whilst riding a bike (illegal by the way!), or trying to have a coversation with another pseudo-cyclist, cycling two abrest or worst of all, cycling the wrong way on a roadside bike lane.
There are also people who own bikes who are beyond "pseudo-cyclists" and have earnt themselves the title of "Suicyclist", people who are clearly trying to get themselves killed. Wearing all black clothing at night with no lights or high visibility clothing, no/obfuscated reflector, like some sort of bike ninja. Invisible to the naked eye, these cretins are definitely self nominated Darwin Award candidates.
Why Don't Some Drivers Indicate Correctly?
I am a humble pedestrian, occasional cyclist but never a driver, so maybe it will be hard for me to understand the effort involved in remembering to indicate. I know some of the Highway Code, I was thinking about taking my test some day, but the way some people drive just makes me think too much about dying at the hands of a moron. I personally find this off-putting.
Of all of the initial lessons one learns when mastering the art of driving, mirror, signal, manoeuvre is a mantra too quickly forgotten on the roads. Those flashing yellow lights are for warning all other road users of your intentions, those you are aware of and those you haven't seen. On many occasions, this negligence has lead to me being stood directly in front of a car making a turn towards me, while I was crossing the road, on one occasion it didn't quite stop in time and gave me a bump. What was really galling was the fact that these drivers seemed so indignant and defensive of the idea that it was their fault for not signalling.
Maybe it's a generational thing, in my experience younger drivers tend to be more guilty of failing to signal. Older drivers tend to indicate every time; my Dad for example indicates round car parks because it has become so second nature to him. This leads me to believe that it may have something to do with falling out of the habit due to some form of encumbrance, such as not being able to indicate for some reason. I noticed that upon looking into the window of the cars that don't indicate, about a 30% were ON THE PHONE, 40% were sticking their left gear changing hand somewhere else (up their nose, on the gear lever, on their face, drinking HOT coffee, TEXTING!). At least another 20% were resting their right arm out the window, the other ten were miscellaneous in case you were wondering.
What Can Pedestrians Do About It?
I have personally confronted drivers about their failure to indicate or being on the phone, sometimes a simple dirty look is enough to evoke a look of shame and apology. Sometimes they get out of their car and harass you verbally for telling them how to drive, but the advantage of being a pedestrian is that I can walk away, they are making a journey of some kind and usually want to get along, in their car. Maybe if it was the norm for people to be openly critical of other's stupidity things would be better. As for now I am the one with a chip on my shoulder from being bumped over by a car driver in this situation.
Now I am finally blogging about it, maybe I can convince people of why it's important to signal at all times to get into the good habit. Mirror, SIGNAL, manoeuvre is not just for when you see other cars around, but all the time, for the people you don't see (like in your blind spot) too.
I started a Facebook Group about this after I nearly got hit again, and shouted at the middleaged lady driver only to get the finger for my wisdom. Please join it and invite your friends, it's open to all and only takes a minute!
In summation this current trend in bad driving could be due to many of the other bad driving factors I have seen, or it could be a phenomenon of its own. This does not matter, what really matters is that it stops being so prolific. We need to scold drivers with a simple phrase that will put them right back in the learners seat; Mirror, SIGNAL, Manoeuvre!
Headphones & Earphones On A Bike - Is It A Distraction?
As somebody who very occaisionally will take his bicycle out for a spin, and only on cycle lanes, I can honestly say I have never even contemplated the idea of listening to music whilst cycling. For starters, when listening to music I can't help but move some part of my body along to the rhythm of the beat. This is a very Bad Idea when urban cycling, which requires fast changes in tempo all the time. If I was listening to music I would be slower to react to a change in the speed of what was going on around me.
The other downside is that, essentially, you can't hear very much of what's going on around you on the road. This is obviously very dangerous considering how quiet cars are getting these days, and they will practically be silent assassins when they are all electric cars. As much as you should be looking around you at all times on a bike, you should also be listening. Most times a change in revs in the cars around you can be a great indicator that they are about to do something to endanger your life.
Is Cycling With Headphone/Earphones On Dangerous?
Here is a great example of the kind of accident that can happen due to this incredibly Bad Idea. I have seen so many people doing this on a regular basis, I'm surprised that there haven't been more accidents. Obviously, there have been more than just this one, they just don't all get reported, probably because the embarrassed cyclist doesn't want people to think of them as the fool they are.
Cyclists also seem to find it hard to understand what a red light means, I have seen so many near misses out of the bus window at traffic lights. A cyclist will come steaming past us (Red Light Jumping or RLJ) as we roll to a stop, and nearly get side-swiped by a car coming towards the lights from the left as they change. Combinations of two or more bad road habits are all it takes to guarantee a road traffic incident.
The worst example of stupidity I have seen recently on this subject has to be when I saw a cyclist on a road coming towards me in full proffessional gear, pointy helmet, shorts and all. Despite all of his expensive stretched latex and nylon strapping, he was using both hands completely off the handlebars to send a text message as he stared intently at the screen of his expensive looking phone. He was also wearing earphones, at first I thought he was changing tracks but he clearly had a separate mp3 player hooked up to his headgear.
Can Cyclist Listen To Music Whilst Cycling In Safety?
With products like the Soundwalk Audio MP3 Cycling Speaker Vest, or Slipstreamz Cycling Earwear for Headphones out there I'm not sure if this Bad Idea is going to end without government intervention. These products are trying to market themselves as safety devices, as in you won't have to wear earphones to listen to your music. You don't have to listen to your music on your bike in the first place surely, music is distracting no matter how it is blasted at your ears.
So dear reader I leave it up to you to spread the word to the people who are still putting their lives, and the lives of innocent others, in danger. Proclaim (loudly, earphones/headphones remember!) to them that it is indeed a "Bad Idea!", with optional mime of taking off a pair of headphones.