July 21, 2017

Cycling on the road – why the ‘them and us’ attitude needs to stop

Cycling path

Let me be clear, I’m not here to persuade you to become a keen cyclist or cycling advocate. Instead, I’m going to share some of my recent experiences, in the hope that by the end of it you might reconsider your current standpoint. My hope being that you’ll come away with a more respectful attitude to all road users, especially the most vulnerable ones.

How road users see each other - my personal experience

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently with friends and family who are keen cyclists as well as those who have never, and probably won’t ever, ride a bike. It has been very interesting to compare the interactions and opinions of cyclists and non-cyclists when considering people riding on the road.

My mother is a great example of someone who doesn’t cycle. The chance of getting her out on two wheels is very slim but she knows that my brother and I are really into cycling. I have been out in the car with mum a few times recently and her responses to cyclists have been great. She is extremely patient and only overtakes cyclists when it is safe and she can allow them plenty of space. I’m almost certain that she drives so sensibly around cyclists because she knows that, on another day, it could be my brother and I out on our bikes. I imagine she hopes we would be overtaken by motorists in the same, patient, and considerate manner.

Other friends and family (who shall remain nameless!) are generally unsympathetic towards cyclists, seeing them as something of an inconvenience. There is a certain element of jest when I am with them in the car or out walking because some of the passing comments are in good humour or designed to provoke a response. Nevertheless, they are reinforcing obvious clichés.

It is not uncommon for motorists to “tut” when they come across cyclists; they believe that cyclists cause delays to their journey. As a result, I have seen friends and family overtake them when they couldn’t be sure about what might be coming in the opposite direction, or where it is a tight squeeze to overtake.

I have also heard people give their view on cyclists not wearing a helmet. We all know that wearing a helmet is a matter of personal choice, something that is unlikely to change in the immediate future. While I wear a helmet, I respect the right of others to choose not to and think it should stay this way.

Take the time to consider the other party’s position

Personally, I try to avoid main roads because I find cycling more enjoyable on quieter roads, away from busy traffic. Unfortunately, for many this is not always possible on longer routes, or when commuting.

If you are a motorist frustrated by cyclists, it’s worth keeping in mind that there could be more to the story than the short-term impact on your journey. Cyclists might be helping to reduce congestion in your local area; they might be contributing, in their own way, to improving parking availability in your area; they could be trying to keep fit, thereby reducing the burden on your local NHS; they might be contributing towards a better local environment both in terms of pollution, number of vehicles on the road, or simply by creating a more ‘continental feel’; they might even be boosting the local economy by arriving to work feeling far more energetic and productive than they might be, had they commuted by different means.

If there is mutual respect between motorists and cyclists, there should be no reason we cannot co-exist without major issues.

Of course, there is always going to be an element of human error, so it won’t eradicate road accidents completely; but hopefully, by being patient and considerate, a number of avoidable accidents involving cyclists could be reduced.

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