Robert Hanks: The Cycling Column

Don't be driven away by drivers
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Indy Lifestyle Online

You may have come across the news story the other weekend about British cycling Olympic hopefuls saying that they are being forced to train abroad because they are fed up with being abused by British drivers.

I'm not sure this is a news story at all. Continental Europe has always been where the cycling action is, and ambitious British racers have headed off to Belgium and France to train and compete for years. And abusive drivers are a fact of life in this country - every cyclist has a fund of stories about loutish drivers.

My most recent story happened a few weeks ago when I was out with my friend Alan, on his Specialized Sirrus. A van was parked across the marked cycle lane, so Alan poked his nose around it. A car coming in the opposite direction braked sharply.

The driver wound down the window and started shrieking about bloody cyclists going the wrong way down a one-way street. Alan and I pointed out we had followed signs and road-markings that indicated the street was two-way for cyclists, to which the driver replied that it was his mistake, and he hoped we would accept an apology for his intemperate language.

No, of course he didn't, he gave us a crisp "Bollocks to ya" and drove off, proving once again how free some drivers feel to heap abuse on cyclists.

As we all know, some cyclists ask for it, jumping red lights, going the wrong way down genuinely one-way streets, and so forth. Edmund King of the RAC seized on this, telling the Sunday Times: "Some of the Lycra louts can be more abusive than white van men." Well, some of them have sharp tongues, no doubt, and which of us hasn't let rip the odd obscenity now and then? A few cyclists go even further, kicking cars and breaking wing-mirrors. But Mr King missed two essential distinctions.

First, much of the abuse cyclists get from motorists is utterly gratuitous. Emma Davies Jones, who competed in the Athens Olympics, told the Sunday Times: "You see some of the nutters on the road when you're on your bike [in the UK] and they'll shout, swear and swerve the car at you."

Which leads to the second distinction: abusive cyclists can't really hurt drivers; abusive drivers sometimes kill cyclists.

Ten years ago, one of the cleverest and funniest people I knew, Tom Gedrich, was killed on his bike after a row with a taxi-driver, who then deliberately swerved at him: Tom lost control, fell off, and died after three days in a coma. The fact that the taxi-driver went to jail wasn't much consolation to anybody.

In this country, unlike most of Europe, there are still motorists who regard cyclists as intruders on the roads. But the only way to change that is just to keep on riding. Sooner or later, they'll get used to us.

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