Being a man of a certain age, with the slightly unforgiving joints, but an aspiration to keep at least slightly fit,
I am a weekend cyclist.
I am not a fully-fledged MAMIL (‘middle aged man in lycra’), nor do I attempt anything too gruelling in a large group as part of an intimidating-looking peloton.
It is just a pleasure to enjoy the Berkshire countryside, have the opportunity to enjoy guilt-free coffee and cake en route, and of course with the exercise completed, to have a smidgen of smugness for the rest of the day.
It also gives an insight into the on-going misunderstanding between car drivers and cyclists. As a driver, it is incredibly frustrating to be stuck behind two cyclists alongside each other, enjoying a nice chat as they are oblivious to the fact that they are taking up all the space on one side of the road, causing a queue of traffic to build up behind them.
Equally, cyclists zig-zagging between stationary vehicles before jumping a red light does not exactly enhance their reputation.
There are also aggressive cyclists with scant regard for fellow road users, as they attempt to speed their way to yet another Personal Best.
On the other hand, it is so dangerous for a cyclist to have cars speeding right up behind and then overtaking at breakneck speed with no thought of safe distance.
It is also difficult to overstate how much of a shock it can be to be on the receiving end of unexpected, aggressive beeping of a horn, which itself is more likely to raise the stress levels and increase the risk of accident rather than do the opposite.
It is also incredible how many drivers burst out of a junction having failed to notice an on-coming cyclist.
Maybe we need to reintroduce the 1970’s public information film Think Once, Think Twice. Think Bike, where a no-nonsense gentleman rolls up the sleeve of his roll neck and using his fist and hand to emphasise the point, explains why drivers need to double check before exiting a junction, in case a motorbike is passing.
The principle also applies to cyclists, of course.
What is strange about the mutual antipathy between drivers and cyclists is that so many people are both drivers and cyclists.
There is a famous old saying that you can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.
It is remarkable that there is not greater mutual understanding, given that the individual switching between saddle and driver’s seat must have some recollection of how it feels to be on the other side.
The irony of course is that all road users generally want the same thing, namely, to be able to go safely from A to B with the minimum of fuss.
Why the lack of empathy? I cannot help thinking that this is yet another relatively minor unintended consequence of our social media culture, where people are encouraged
to take sides, amplify differences and foster division, rather than accept that there is much more that unites us rather than divides us.
A world where we can easily find people who agree with our fixed positions and have contempt and fear of people who disagree with us. Searching the word ‘cyclist’ on Twitter, the first few posts include such highly charged terms as ‘very angry’, ‘their powerful backers are destroying London’, ‘male privilege’.
Is it unreasonably idealistic to wish that road users in general have a little more understanding and tolerance of each other?