With a little more empathy and understanding, we'd all be happier and safer sharing the roads – especially since with more and more people starting to take up cycling to work, there’s more bicycles than ever on the road.
Sharing the road with cyclists is often seen as a curse by motorists, but it seems like the feeling is mutual. Here’s 10 things cyclists wish drivers understood.
1. We're not meant to ride close to the kerb Cycling and motoring organisations alike advise cyclists to ride a good distance out from the kerb. In certain situations, to stop drivers trying to squeeze past when there isn't room to overtake safely, cyclists will 'take the lane'. That means riding in the centre of the lane. It's not an attempt to wind you up. We're trying to get to our destination safely. We're not in the way of traffic riding like this. We are traffic! If you overtake like the Highway Code says, it won't make any difference if a cyclist takes the lane or not.
2. Bike paths are optional There's no obligation for cyclists to use cycle lanes (on road) or cycle tracks (separate from the carriageway), just as there's no obligation for drivers to use motorways, which were built for them. That's just as well: some bike paths aren't fit for purpose. Cycle lanes can lure you into the gutter or the dangerous edge of roundabouts. Cycle tracks can be narrow, obstructed with street furniture (or parked cars!), or shared with pedestrians. Almost every cycle track gives way to every road it intersects, making progress slow. Where cycle facilities help our journey, we'll use them. Let's both ask the council to provide some good ones. Having said that, motorists must remember there is a penalty for driving in a cycle lane. You can face fines of up to £130 for straying into cycle lanes. You might think this is excessive, but too many lives have been lost already from driving like this, so there has to be stringent measures in place to discourage it.
3. We do pay for the roads It's a myth that 'road tax' pays for the roads. Roads are paid for out of general and local taxation, not Vehicle Excise Duty. Any cyclist who pays tax pays for the roads. As it happens, most adult cyclists in the UK have a car too.
4. Sometimes we wobble or swerve Another reason to give us room on the road is that sometimes we have no choice but to wobble or swerve. A bike has to be balanced and won't always travel in a perfectly straight line. A sudden gust of wind, whether it's a crosswind or the backdraft of a vehicle passing too close, can upset a cyclist's steering. Also a pothole in our path might make us crash if we don't jink around it.
5. We're not telepathic Any road user could say this, and cyclists are no different. Please, let's just communicate with each other. Don't force us to guess: use your indicators. (On a roundabout, by the way, that means signalling left before your exit, not continuing to indicate right.) When you're stepping out of a car that's stopped on the road, check behind before opening your car door. Too many cyclists have been 'doored'. Mirror, signal, manoeuvre.
6. We're moving faster than you think There probably isn't time for you to pull out of that side road when we're coming towards you on the main road. There definitely isn't time for you to overtake us, brake, and turn left into a side road. Cyclists move faster than you think. Most of us commuting to work can comfortably do 15mph and fitter cyclists on road bikes can cruise at 20mph. Downhill we might be travelling at 40mph or more. Factor in this speed. If you wouldn't attempt a manoeuvre when another car is that close, it's probably not safe to attempt it when a cyclist is that close. You're gambling with our safety.
7. Anger is often fear It's frustrating when you're driving, and someone foolishly pulls out on you or cuts you up. Maybe you blare the horn to remonstrate. Imagine what it's like when what's at stake isn't a dented bumper and your no-claims bonus but the very real risk that you'll be heading to hospital in ambulance. In this high-risk situation, your body dumps adrenaline into your system, ready for fight or flight. That's where a cyclist's swearing and the gesticulating comes from. That flash of anger? It's not road rage: it's fear.
8. Close passes are dangerous Highway Code Rule 163 tells drivers to 'give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car'. Horse riders tend to be given space, with drivers passing wide and slow. Cyclists are often passed by cars close enough to touch… with an elbow. This is dangerous: one wobble by us or further misjudgement by you and we're on the tarmac. It's also very intimidating. To any driver who thinks it's safe, try this: go to a railway station and stand inside the yellow line at the platform edge when a high-speed train is passing through. That's what it's like when someone in a car passes too close.
9. That cyclist who annoyed you? We're not them Some road users are idiots. Some of those idiots drive cars, some of them ride bikes. It probably was annoying when you saw that cyclist jumping a red light. It's equally annoying, with more serious potential consequences for others, when drivers exceed the speed limit. But not all cyclists jump red lights and not all drivers speed. Extrapolating from one bad apple creates an antagonistic us-and-them attitude that helps no one. Let us agree that bad road users are bad road users and do our best not to be one.
10. It's other drivers that slow you down Waiting 10 seconds to overtake a cyclist will make no detectable impact on your journey time. Even a whole minute sitting behind us at 15mph won't make you late – unless you left home late. What really slows you down is sitting stationary or near stationary in queues of other cars, when lots of other drivers (other drivers just like you!) are trying to funnel through a limited amount of road space. It might feel frustrating when cyclists blithely filter past, but every cyclist who does this instead of driving is one car fewer in the queue. Cyclists reduce traffic jams.
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