Uneasy Rider

I’m not the most relaxed person at the best of times as you have probably worked out by now. Anxiety is my enemy. And recently I have become overly anxious when out on the bike. So much so that it is now holding me back, taking away the enjoyment I once had. And why this anxiety? The actions of (an increasing) minority of drivers who seemingly feel the road is theirs.

When I was growing up and started cycling my parents told me to stick to the lanes. Keep off the main roads, they said, the lanes will be safer. So I’ve continued cycling with this in mind, trying to keep my routes to lesser used roads. But the problem is these roads are not so lesser used now. They have become short cuts, rat runs. And a growing number of drivers, often in expensive, powerful cars drive in a way which shows little consideration for other road users. They seem in a rush, unwilling to accept a cyclists right to space on the road, unable to wait to pass when it is safe to do so or in providing a safe space between them and me. Too often on some routes it feels like a battle.

So if you are reading this as a non-cyclist wondering what the issue is, take a look at the highway code. When passing, a motorist should:

162 Before overtaking you should make sure

  • the road is sufficiently clear ahead

  • road users are not beginning to overtake you

  • there is a suitable gap in front of the road user you plan to overtake

163 Overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so. You should

  • not get too close to the vehicle you intend to overtake
  • use your mirrors, signal when it is safe to do so, take a quick sideways glance if necessary into the blind spot area and then start to move out
  • not assume that you can simply follow a vehicle ahead which is overtaking; there may only be enough room for one vehicle
  • move quickly past the vehicle you are overtaking, once you have started to overtake. Allow plenty of room. Move back to the left as soon as you can but do not cut in
  • take extra care at night and in poor visibility when it is harder to judge speed and distance
  • give way to oncoming vehicles before passing parked vehicles or other obstructions on your side of the road
  • give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you  would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211-215)

The Freight Transport Association in association with the Institute for Advanced Motoring and London Cycling Campaign published a cycling code which states that cyclists:

“Your road position should not be less than one metre from the kerb and should be further out if it is not safe for a vehicle to pass. If someone does pass you inconsiderately then you have more room to get out of harm’s way. Keeping away from the gutter will enable drivers to see you and also help you miss the drain covers and debris on the side of the road too”

Together, these should provide a safe environment for us to share the roads. But unfortunately it doens’t. In the last week I have had 2 incidents which highlight this. They didn’t happen in London, they didn’t involve HGVs and they certainly didn’t involve advanced motorists. In both cases motorists overtook me inappropriately: in the first I was cycling down a single track lane and having waited on my back wheel the motorist overtook forcing me onto the grass verge, the second saw the motorist overtake me without sufficient clearance and with oncoming vehicles in the adjacent side of the carriageway. In both cases I shouted after the drivers and despite their apparent hurry to pass me both stopped to take offence. Neither seemed to appreciate their responsibility as drivers just their right to use the road.

It saddens me whilst at the same time making me more anxious to partake of a hobby that has given me pleasure and distraction in the past. It makes me think twice (if not more) about heading out. And the second incident almost brought me to tears and turn home. I’m an uneasy rider. I’m not asking for special treatment for anyone, just a bit of give and take, a bit of respect for responsibilities so we can all use the roads in some safety (as I’ve outlined before). It seems that this is beyond a selfish few and my unease is a hidden consequence of their ignorance.


The Best is yet to come

Following yesterday’s post, I was interested to read a story in today’s Guardian about Ulster rugby’s European Cup semi-final and in particular that of their hooker Rory Best. Once again I could empathise with his story. Best is Ireland’s most capped hooker but he’s had his fair share of disappointments and set backs as the article reveals. In fact, some of the setbacks have contributed to thoughts of quitting:

…there was a time when I was enjoying it more than rugby. I wasn’t looking forward to games. It just wasn’t as fun as it used to be.

I know these feelings. I have the same about my own job. I even have the same thoughts about heading out on the bike as well. For best, the game – his job – had become all-consuming:

if we lost it would have destroyed me for the whole weekend. I couldn’t let it go.

I know how he feels, I can almost hear the inner dialogue that must have been going on in Best’s head. I’ve been there too.

But it’s not a story of doom and gloom. In fact, it’s a heartening story of how you can have different focusses in life, how these can provide distractions (if that is the right word) and how together they provide balance in life. As Best says:

When I get home now I drive to the farm, the gate closes behind me and, apart from my throwing, that’s rugby over with. I’m not as wound up.

And, as well as the usually quoted life balancing elements of family, farming plays its role. A European Cup final is for many rugby players a pinnacle of their career but not necessarily for Best:

The week of the final coincides with the prestigious Balmoral Show where Best hopes his prize bull, Logie Lustre, will conquer all in the Aberdeen Angus category. In an ideal world he would be up at 5.30am to wield the black soap and brush down the beast ahead of a different type of sporting contest.

Sounds like a handful to me but it seems to keep Rory Best happy and balanced. There’s definitely something for me to learn from that.

Stop questioning and let me get on



Somedays I feel something very similar.

Put Down Again

Well that stirred up a few comments then. When I wrote my last post I was anticipating a response but not quite the response I received. Thank you to those of you who provided some technical insight around horse racing and particularly the welfare of horses. Whilst I understand the logic for the decisions made, I remain sceptical as to why in a multi-million pound industry the easy way out is ll too often followed. That debate will rumble on and it is not the heart of the issue that I was highlighting. Revisiting the post I can see I’d put the emphasis on the wrong detail. So let’s try again.

In Put Down, I was trying to highlight the way in which disposability seems all too easy in life unless there is some value in the thing which might be disposed and at the same time the almost arbitrary way in which that value is bestowed.  My urge to write it was from personal reflection. In all honesty, many is the time that I feel on the scrapheap myself.  Having pursued a traditional career I often now feel rudderless, put to one side – sometimes in cotton wool, sometimes in a bin liner – and given up for, if not useless then could have been better. A host of contextual factors shape this but I can’t help feeling in a last chance saloon far too often.  What do I do now? How do I reshape my life?

This is a theme – a series of recurrent questions – that has sprung up remarkably often this week. Yesterday I read Daniel Friebe’s interview with Italian cyclist Ivan Basso (unfortunately only available in hard copy in this month’s Procycling magazine). Some of you will know that Basso was the next Italian Grand Tour star until his admission to associating with the wrong “sports doctors” led to a 2 year ban. Coming back from that ban he has shown glimmers of the form which gave rise to those great expectations but has all too often failed to reach those heights again. Put aside your views on doping, riders who have doped and the appropriate length of punishment, there is something more important here. He is 34. His best years are arguably behind him. He made a misdemeanour, paid the penalty and now has a second chance. Basso comes across as a character shaped by his past, as a rider who won the Giro d’Italia, who’d finished second in the Tour de France. A rider who was expected to fulfill his career by taking the big prizes.  That he hasn’t, that time is running out, that he seems ill at ease with what that means was a familiar tale to me reflecting on my own position. Friebe outlines in the article a series of choices which Basso might make, reshaping his career in a variety of ways – again, familiar territory – but Basso seems most at ease talking not about cycling but his new project owning a Blueberry farm. A lesson for me and others (though he does have some resource to fall back on).

Today, Barcelona FC announced that their coach, Pep Guardiola, announced what had been long anticipated: he was leaving his post as manager. Guardiola is 41. He’s been manager of the Barcelona for 4 seasons. In that time he’s won the Spanish cup once, the Spanish league three times, the European Cup twice and the World Club Championship twice. An enormously successful though short managerial career. In various media outlets there was speculation about impact of the job on his life, Sid Lowe’s article spelling it out quite clearly. And today enough was enough. Why? Because Barcelona isn’t so much a football club, its an all consuming passion, a quasi-flag bearer for an autonomous region/wannabe nation. It’s motto is “Més que un club” – More than a club. And for Guardiola the vultures have been circling – they’ve lost the league title to bitter rival Real Madrid at the Camp Nou, then they lost a supposedly unlossable European Cup Semi-final to faltering Chelsea.  As is so common in football as elsewhere, memories are often short and despite past glories there is the expectation of more to come. Yet for Guardiola I can’t help feeling that there is major personal question of what to do next. He hit the heights so young, what is there left to do? Where does he go from here?

Where this takes us I am not quite sure. For me, the reflection on these two is prompted by the similarities of the environment in which I am, where world class has been the baseline, where the job is almost expected to be your life and where deviation from these parameters is seen as odd. For those looking in from the outside making a change, moving  and changing career seems like the obvious course of action. Being in that position is somewhat different with all the inherent pressures, both real and self-created. Yet there still remains the question of what to do. Feelings of low, diminished or little worth in one position can be a brake on moving forward, undermining confidence and seemingly limiting choices. And whilst work isn’t everything, unfortunately most of us have to and it therefore becomes a prominent feature of life. Admittedly improving life balance would help but being happy (happier) in work would help.

So whilst my initial post was about our disposable attitude to so many things in life, it was really underpinned by my own anxieties and fears. Hopefully this made some sense.

Put down

So the dust has settled slightly but Saturday’s Grand National caused a bit of a stir. My knowledge of horse racing is somewhat limited – I know the idea is to get over fences and reach the line first and what’s more the rider needs to stay on his steed.  What has caused the furore is the “death” of horses in this race. But let’s examine this a little more.

In this year’s National 2 horses “died” after falling at fences.  In both cases the horses broke legs.  The falls were described as “fatal” in many places. Look in a bit more detail though and you’ll see reference to the horses being “destroyed”. That’s quite a jump, if you excuse the pun. Why should a broken leg be so bad that a horse has to be destroyed?

A non-fatal bone break - Cancellara's collarbone

Let’s put it another way. In this year’s Tour of Flanders, Fabian Cancellara “fell” in the feedzone – cycling’s nearest equivalent to the melee of Beechers Brook – breaking his collarbone in four places, ending his races and potentially placing his season’s aims in jeopardy. Was the green screen brought out on the Flemish roads whilst Spartacus was “put out of his misery”? No. Once helped off the tarmac he was flown back to Switzerland, operated on and allegedly back on the bike on a static trainer by Tuesday.  A slight difference as you can see.

The debate about the Grand National is then not simply the one propagated in the media about the course and its obstacles. The ease with which the decision is made to put down/destroy a horse has failed to feature in this debate.  A leg break requires attention and care but should not be fatal, begging the question that this decision is one of cost and value rather than welfare. Yet even this seems illogical given that one of the horses involved was Synchronised, winner of  the Cheltenham Gold Cup and a horse with supposed pedigree. Why destroy a horse that has the potential to be bred and earn further money? The mind boggles.

What this episode shows is that the focus of so many debates is misplaced. In this case focussing on the features of the race course without sufficient acknowledgement of the cost driven decisions of owners drives a skewed set of solutions to remedy the problem.

He broke his toe, was he put down?

But deeper still it indicates the focus on costs over welfare.  JP McManus may be devestated at the loss of his horse, but he had a choice. Whilst he viewed it solely for making money he chose to cut his losses.  Whilst in some walks of life a broken metatarsal is pampered and cosseted, where in others more debilitating problems – especially stress and depression – are at best overlooked and at worst seen as weaknesses. Unfortunately in so many cases it comes down to whether the benefits outweigh the costs.  It is all about asset management, a simple cost-benefit analysis. If the weakness is too costly, however short-sighted the decision might seem, the asset becomes a liability and it put down on the scrapheap. Welfare and alternative value is too often ignored. And whilst this is the case too many “assets” will be written off, consigned to the scrapheap. What does this mean in the longer-term?