Nearly Killed

Let’s not mince words: today I was nearly hit by a Range Rover travelling at speed around a blind bend on a narrow lane. Range Rovers being as they are – high, square – it could easily have killed me. I heard and saw her/him before s/he was aware of me, took the few remaining inches of tarmac to the left and squeezed by – handlebars in the hedge; s/he swerved but too late to be of any use to me.

I could go on about moronic Range Rover drivers but that’s surely a tautology. I was riding in the Windsor area and, this being Ascot week, the roads were filled with the bloatocracy in those ‘top end’ vehicles that, everything aside, are just plain pug-ugly: the very expensive Mercs and BMWs; those hopeless Porsche 4WD efforts and, inevitably, lots of Range Rovers. The percentage of them that are driven badly is always far higher than other classes of vehicle, and that includes ‘white vans’. These are vehicles that can hold the rich and corpulent comfortably but have no other merits. Money doesn’t buy taste. As someone else said, if you want proof that God despises money, look at who he gives most of it to.

But anyway, I could rant on and on about all that but sod it – it would only blight my day and possibly yours too. So, instead, here’s a picture of some trees in summer – a quiet lane just perfect for cycling. If you ever find ‘Codgertation’ falls silent and it transpires I’ve been wiped out while cycling, find a way of planting a decent sized tree or two for me.

Beech trees in summer

Plant a tree for me

Cyclists: Saving A Loved One’s Life

Yesterday, I watched an ambulance, blues lights flashing, struggle to get through heavy traffic in central Reading. I don’t know what emergency they were hurrying to: a heart attack perhaps. Quite possibly, seconds and minutes lost on the over-crowded roads will have made a difference to whoever they were trying to get to.

If more people were cycling, there would be less traffic. Ambulances would be able to get to emergencies a lot more quickly.

If you’re not the person in need of the ambulance, it might be someone you know – relative, friend, loved-one.

And if you cycle yourself, you will be healthier than if you don’t. You’ll probably be less likely to have a heart attack.

So, why not cycle whenever you can? And whether you’re cycling or not, why not always look upon every cyclist you come across as a good thing, making the roads that little bit less congested, and ambulances that little bit more able to come quickly to the help of someone you care about? You’d have to be daft not to.

Some things are just so starkly simple … it seems faintly ludicrous that you have to say them.

Good Chaos

There have been a lot of cyclists killed on the roads of London lately. I am not a road safety expert, and I don’t know the circumstances of the deaths. Nevertheless, these fatalities make me, as much as anyone else, wonder about what’s to be done to make cycling safer.

It seems a lot of the cycling-safety-related debate, when coming from the cyclist side of things, hinges on cycling lane provision. There’s any amount of evidence that shows that government, local or national, either can’t or won’t do anything sensible on that front.

Setting the question of cycle lane provision aside, on a couple of short-ish, too-cold-and-windy-to-be-much-fun-rides this week, what I found myself wondering about was what would make cycling safer anyway.

I think we know that in the big scheme of things, the more cyclists there are on the streets, the safer cycling becomes. Other road users get used to cyclists; cyclists become a larger presence collectively.

I used to live in Oxford where there are cyclists galore and I still visit occasionally, mainly for gigs on the Cowley Road. It was often hectic when I lived there; nowadays whenever I’ve been there, it’s chaos. There are cyclists all over the show, pedestrians criss-crossing everywhere and all sorts of motor vehicles, large and small, trying to pick a way through it all. However you’re travelling, you ain’t going anywhere in a hurry.

It can appear, if not intimidating, then certainly a bit daunting. But once you get used to it all, accept that you’re going to have to go slow, and go with the flow, it’s OK. To the best of my knowledge, Oxford’s certainly no worse than anywhere else for cycling fatalities per mile ridden and I’d be happy to bet it’s probably a lot better.

And so, I found myself wondering whether we’re approaching this issue from the wrong angle. Perhaps, rather than segregation and close management, what we need is more uncertainty – in effect, less of a feeling of ‘right of way’ on any road user’s part and as a result more caution.

(Of course there’ll always be idiots who get frustrated by that, but you’ll get idiots whatever system you have in place.)

To bear this out, just local to me in Reading, a busy slalom of a through-road with lots of parked cars on it (Rotherfield Way) has recently been resurfaced and hasn’t (to date) had its central white lanes repainted. This, it seems, is a good thing: people I know who live there say it has slowed drivers down. And, interestingly, I gather there are moves afoot for the centre of Caversham to also create ‘uncertainty’, with exactly the same aim.

So, perhaps some ‘managed chaos’ might be an inexpensive, achievable way forward; let’s make all road users have to think.

Learn From Mother?

Riding between Reading and Windsor yesterday, I saw two Wood Pigeons sharing a verge with a couple of rabbits. I saw a Magpie very obviously hunting for eggs or young birds by a country hedge. The other day I saw a polecat or similar with a baby rabbit in its mouth. Today the Swallows were swooping overhead and flying magnificently – marvellous to witness, unless you’re one of the innumerable insects they’re snatching out of the sky. The other day Charli saw a Sparrowhawk carry off a young Starling. The Starlings in my garden very obviously work together as a group – finding comparative safety in numbers but also, it seems, working co-operatively in scouting for food. A while back I saw several Red Kites sharing a fresh fox carcass. This afternoon I saw a Crow chasing off a Red Kite and the Red Kite responding with a quick twist and a flash of two outstretched talons.

Back on the roads, today and on any number of other rides, the huge majority of people I interacted with while cycling were absolutely fine. That’s despite the blunt reality being that by-and-large, as a cyclist, you’ll often cause drivers to have to slow down – you’re an obstacle, however briefly.

What I was wondering was what’s the natural instinct – the base instinct of the human animal? We’re all too aware of ‘road rage’, whether directed at cyclists by drivers or driver versus driver. But as all those recent wildlife observations demonstration, if you look at ‘Mother Nature’ there’s little comfort to be found: nature is just dispassionate and as brutal as the basic requirements of life – food and procreation – requires; no more, no less.

So, is human anger or at best impatience perhaps our natural state? After all, an impediment to progress, however small, is just that. There’s little or no gain to be had, in the short term at least, from tolerating impediments. Once upon a time that would have amounted to tolerating impediments to survival. Presumably, we wouldn’t need laws to enforce tolerance if tolerance had been our natural state.

If we are, as it were, naturally predisposed to being angry towards impediments, it’s no excuse for intolerance or impatience or rage or dangerous driving or anything similar. All it might mean is that we should perhaps be grateful that on the whole, most people, most of the time, are able to rise above what’s ‘natural’. We should probably also be wary of anyone invoking ‘natural’ as if it’s inherently A Good Thing. We should probably be lauding triumphs over nature.

Killing Children

The other afternoon I was passing a village primary school at the end of the school day – going home time. This one happened to be in South Oxfordshire but I’m sure it’s not unique.

As I rode by there were just a handful of children walking home with one or more parents; none walking alone. Most were being picked up by mothers in Chelsea tractors – large pseudo-off-road vehicles. They are gas-guzzlers – we all know that – so they’re doing nothing for the future. They’re too wide for the lanes they’re being driven down, so they’re at best annoying and at worst dangerous for any fellow road users. The height of the front bumpers on these things makes them particularly dangerous if they hit a pedestrian – they’re more likely to kill than a normal car. Typically, children are the victims in pedestrian-vehicle collisions.

The typical refrain of the drivers of these things is “But I feel safer in it”. That they’re making the world more dangerous, including for their children’s contemporaries, doesn’t cross their mind. That they’re helping to make life in the world less sustainable, less hospitable, for their children in coming years presumably doesn’t occur to them either.

And the banal but no less real thought occurs that that’s the rub: we are all too easily only able to see the very small picture. Our world is one where it’s all about how the individual feels and acts.

Sooner or later the outside world will encroach on the individual. A Chelsea tractor driven by a safe-feeling mother will kill another mother’s kid, but that will be easily understood and palmed off as a one-off, an accident, even though, like most accidents, it could have been avoided if someone had cared enough. And sooner or later the whole world will encroach on the individual when the consequences of climate change start to really bite, but by then it will be too late even if that does prompt any realisation on the part of the individual about their position in society, in the wider scheme of things. Hey ho.

England Being English

Blue skies, white clouds, green trees and lambs in the field

England being English

A good long ride on the 16th, largely south of Reading, and with fairly decent weather too – nothing to complain about. It’s not that warm and it’s very unsettled, but of late England is starting to look, well, quite English – it’s starting to be richly green (though some trees are still to get going); there are lambs in the fields, fluffy white clouds against (occasional) blue skies …

And today’s ride up towards Wallingford was reasonable enough too, albeit with greyer skies. Two drivers caught my eye. Both would be listed as ‘normal’ under the R.U.M. categorization, but they both looked thoroughly harassed and miserable as I waved my run-of-the-mill acknowledgements to them. I could imagine they were miserable with me, the irritating cyclist slowing their progress for a few seconds, but in truth the way lines on their faces were so ingrained suggested they weren’t happy bunnies at the best of times. And so, perhaps, I ought be feeling sorry for them rather than thinking of them as miserable sods.

The second chap, particularly, looked thoroughly unhappy … perhaps he was. He was in a new, towards-the-top-of-the-range Audi, late middle-aged, pulling out from one of those expensive not quite ‘gated community’, not quite sheltered accommodation but nearly type of developments … Perhaps it’s all gone sour for him. Perhaps he’d hoped for a nice, secure-feeling retirement but it’s turned out to be terrifically dull. Perhaps he earned his deep-seated unhappiness working hard to buy all that he has, only to find it’s not what he wanted. I passed him. He had to wait behind me for a few yards before a crossroads; he hung back politely; I looked back to wave my thanks; he looked at me blankly and I turned left, he turned right.

R.U.M. Categories and The TK Challenge