More power to your pedals

An Irishman’s Diary: The view from the saddle

‘If there has been a power shift on the roads, it is cyclists who are the ones likely to get crushed. We are not the ones wrapped in a couple of tonnes of steel and air bags which detach us from our surroundings. Yet it is those who are going to come off safely in a collision – bar perhaps some damage to their car – who I see getting most enraged at the other side’s behaviour. Why do cyclists so enrage motorists?’ Photograph: Getty Images

‘If there has been a power shift on the roads, it is cyclists who are the ones likely to get crushed. We are not the ones wrapped in a couple of tonnes of steel and air bags which detach us from our surroundings. Yet it is those who are going to come off safely in a collision – bar perhaps some damage to their car – who I see getting most enraged at the other side’s behaviour. Why do cyclists so enrage motorists?’ Photograph: Getty Images

Mon, Jun 17, 2013, 00:01

It was a good day. Only one near miss. An impatient driver had pulled directly out in front of me and forced me to break sharply so I didn’t bury my front wheel in the boot of his car. Travel any considerable distance on Dublin’s streets on a bike these days and that’s considered a good result.

Yes, I am one of that arrogant dangerous breed of road users known as a cyclist. Relations between drivers and cyclists are at an all-time low. Take a close look at Dublin’s streets and you can’t fail to notice an increasing number of confrontations between the two groups who are vying for space on the streets. If in doubt, check out the videos on YouTube – most posted by the more militant wing of the cycling fraternity – showing dangerous activities by car, buses and taxis and a fair selection of videos from motorists capturing transgressions by cyclists.

The Bike to Work scheme, economic necessity and a general interest in being more healthy have seen a surge in cycling in the last five years. Cyclists now account for nearly 8 per cent of Dublin City commuters despite the pitiful facilities provided for the activity such as the gutters that pass for cycle tracks.

But there are worrying signs of a backlash. A member of our parliament has suggested the balance of power has swung too far in favour of those of us on two wheels and a noted liberal on this paper showed decided right-wing leanings with a recent column condemning all pedallers for the sins of a few.

I suspect Deputy McGrath and Fintan O’Toole have never experienced that unique feeling of adrenaline that surges through the body when a taxi passes literally an inch away from your handlebars. Or the anger that rises in its place when the same driver responds by leaning out his window and giving you the universal signal for a sex act after you have the cheek to suggest in your own rather colourful terms that he was just a bit close to you.

If there has been a power shift on the roads, it is cyclists who are the ones likely to get crushed. We are not the ones wrapped in a couple of tonnes of steel and air bags which detach us from our surroundings. Yet it is those who are going to come off safely in a collision – bar perhaps some damage to their car – who I see getting most enraged at the other side’s behaviour. Why do cyclists so enrage motorists?

My “favourite” incident of the last decade of daily commuting to work occurred a couple of years ago on a bright summer’s evening of the type we were enjoying lately. Coming down to the quays from Christchurch I became aware of an open-top Saab that was a little too close behind me. The lanes are narrow, so he was unable to overtake me, but heading down the hill I was going more than fast enough to ensure I wasn’t holding him up. At the river the lights turned red as I approached, so I stopped in the area clearly marked for bicycles at the front of the queue. My friend in his Saab pulled up behind him and I looked around as he was blasting Celine Dion out with the hood down (I let his bad taste slide). Having turned around, I felt a bump against my back wheel. I looked around again and the driver smirked at me. Had he just “nudged” me with is front wheel, I asked myself in total disbelief? As the adrenaline started racing he did it again, as he sat there with a half smile on his face looking inscrutable.

Yes, I told him in no uncertain terms what I thought of him, much to the shock of anyone within ear shot. Yes, I cycled slowly in the middle of the lane to block him when the lights changed. But much to my regret, no, I didn’t go the Bridewell Garda station and report him.

I’m none the wiser as to why motorists act so flippantly towards cyclists. But just as I don’t lump Fintan O’Toole in with idiots like the Saab driver, don’t assume all cyclists are self-important pavement hoggers. Some of us just want to get where we are going quickly and cheaply. Without being harassed by motorists.

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