It’s not often I venture up to the Smoke, but for the Christmas festivities an exception had to be made. Mind you, visits to any kind of city are a Romney rarity. There are just too many people. As for London, I am the proverbial ‘rabbit in a headlight’. One thing that did strike me was the sheer number of cyclists everywhere. People drawn from just about all walks of life could be found riding a bike. It is amazing. Initially you get the impression that we’ve taken over, petrol has run out and the roads are ours. Sadly this Utopian scenario is rudely shattered by the mass of motorised traffic that spends most of the time stationary waiting for the traffic lights to allow them a few precious feet of progress.
If the amount of vehicles willing to waste their time and resources to travel through this congestion wasn’t demoralising enough, then the mindless idiots on bicycles who weave in and out of this hubbub at night without any lighting makes a bicyclist of the old school like me hang my head in shame. Initial euphoria generated by the numbers of cyclists traversing the metropolis, and other cities I assume, is very quickly dispelled by this behaviour. Sure, it’s a dog eat dog world out there and, if one is to make progress through the congestion of our cities, then a little bit of initiative and free riding is required, and indeed probably a necessity if you intend to make a living as a courier.
But how much tolerance can we expect from the public that share our roads when they witness our cavalier attitude towards not only our safety but theirs? Cycling as a means of transport has exploded in the last few years due to a number of reasons. Congestion and the rising cost of public transport are just two, yet if this is to carry on there also has to be a huge shift in the way that cycling as a means of transport is perceived by the general public. We now enjoy a status on the road that even 15 years ago would have been unthinkable, so why is it that, having achieved almost equality with other road users, some of us now want to flaunt our independence, anonymity and relative freedom like a flag-waving matador?
Appalled by what I witnessed and sickened by a small minority of riders who, come darkness, must feel they are somehow invulnerable and that their actions irreproachable, I decided on a little experiment to test their resolve. So, selecting a suitable thoroughfare, fairly busy but not too well lit, I put into action my plan, which was to mimic the clumsy merchant banker, perhaps under the influence of Christmas cheer, who simply steps unsteadily into the road, and see what happens. Of the 10 unlit bandits I selected, two almost ended up under a bus, three locked up and nearly hit the deck, three somehow avoided me without difficulty, one took to the pavement, and one had the temerity to assault me. Thankfully a cabby who’d been watching the proceedings rescued me before this chap could inflict too much injury.
Chatting with the taxi driver once things had calmed down, I noticed that his dashboard was covered in neat lines composed of those sticky labels that are placed on supermarket apples. Seeing my confusion, he explained that each one represented an ‘incident or conflict of interest with a cyclist’ as he put it. I left him chuckling away, but really what do we do as regards these people? Do we accept that the National Health will deal with the aftermath of their actions and the government increases Income Tax by a penny, do we ride up beside them and tell them the stupidity of their ways [You already know the answer to that one. See above – ed.] and that their cavalier attitude will sooner or later prompt some nincompoop in Brussels to demand that we all ride round with lights on regardless of day or night, or do we accept it’s a free country and anything goes?