As Easy As Riding A Bike)
A few days ago, I was descending a hill towards a t-junction – a hill steep enough for me to be cycling at over 20mph. I could see a queue of ten or so cars already waiting at the junction ahead of me, waiting to join the busy main road – a habitual queue at this particular junction. Just as I begin to think about applying the brakes as the tail-end of the queue approaches, a dark, large BMW SUV appears on my right hand side. I shake my head slightly at this pointless overtake, and tuck in behind it. But before I even have a chance to dwell on this irritating bit of driving, another car appears on my right hand side – a grey-ish VW Golf this time – and as well as being pointless, this overtake is actually dangerous, into overcoming traffic, so close that the driver is forced to chop sharply back to the left, before immediately applying the brakes to join the queue.
This kind of behaviour is so familiar, it even has a name, and an abbreviation – Must Get In Front, or MGIF, tunnel-vision on the part of drivers who feel they simply have to overtake regardless of the road context, and despite the fact the overtake actually serves no purpose at all.
Naturally enough, a matter of seconds later, I am sailing past these drivers on their right, filtering to the front of the queue. I slow slightly as I pass the driver of the Golf’s open window – a driver who turns out be a young man – to say ‘well, that was pointless.’ I know that comments like this are rarely constructive, and so it proved in this case. Almost without missing a beat, the driver yelled after me
‘You should be wearing a helmet!’
By this point I was approaching the main road, some distance away, and the stupidity of the comment really didn’t suggest it was worthwhile ‘engaging’ further. I went merrily on my way, dwelling on the thought process behind such an outburst, and a response I could have made. As is always the way, the perfect response arrived a few minutes later, on a quiet lane a mile away.
‘Oh? So you care about my safety?’
Laden with sarcasm, because of course this driver didn’t care about my safety – if he did, he wouldn’t have engaged in a lunatic piece of driving that put him, the oncoming driver and most of all me in danger, yet gained him absolutely nothing at all. So why did he tell me to wear a helmet?
Because I was in his way. Because he was fuming about me, and because he was angry at me, and when you don’t like someone and what they’re doing – in this case, riding a bike on a road, in front of a driver who wants to ‘make progress’ – you look for reasons to object to them, and what they are doing. A lack of helmet was the most obviously objectionable thing about me.
Doubtless if I had been wearing a helmet, this driver would have told me to ‘pay road tax’, or to have a number plate, or to wear a bright yellow tabard. But none of these demands is actually about safety. It’s about punishing people cycling around, in the hope that they’ll get out the way, or go away completely. However much safety equipment I wear, however much tax I pay, however trained and competent I am – even if I’m displaying a massive identification plate with my name and address on my back – I will still be a source of irritation, and people will still look for that next restriction or rule to lumber me with, in the hope that I eventually disappear.
I was already coming to this conclusion – this post was already half-formed in my drafts the day after this incident – when the deluge of reaction to the Charlie Alliston case arrived. Note that this prosecution hinged fairly straightforwardly on the absence of a front brake. The prosecution case was that (rightly or wrongly) Alliston would have been to avoid the collision with a front brake. But the absence of a front brake is something which is already illegal, and will remain illegal. There’s no need to pass a new law requiring the riders of fixed wheel bikes to have a front brake, because… that law already exists.