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.

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