Reeling in political breakaway on cycling issue a worthy exercise

Time to focus minds on preventing lethal free-for-alls on public roads not closed off

Cyclists make their way past Dunluce Castle, on the Antrim coast, Northern Ireland, to celebrate the arrival of the Giro d’Italia cyclists. Photograph: Peter Morrison/AP

Cyclists make their way past Dunluce Castle, on the Antrim coast, Northern Ireland, to celebrate the arrival of the Giro d’Italia cyclists. Photograph: Peter Morrison/AP

Mon, May 5, 2014, 06:00

The Giro D’Italia starts this Friday from the Titanic Museum in Belfast. And it’s too easy to rip the pee. There’s no gain in flippant one-way-ticket gags or pink tutti-frutti puns about grey tribal-fanatic land. It’s like shooting meluzzo in a barile. And if we want there could actually be more of a context to cycling’s latest Grand Tour excursion to Ireland than the usual corporate buck-fest.

The sport’s second-most famous race is spending a couple of days in the North of Ireland, with a third stage finishing in Dublin on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if forecasts of spectators coming out in droves prove correct, as will projections about increased tourism to our benighted rock. But at least reports of 400kms of road closures over the weekend sound logistically impressive.

However, a much more immediate traffic consequence of this rigorously corralled La Corsa Rosa is likely to be some very sweaty faces on our open roads long after Dan Martin & Co have headed for the Amalfi coast.

There’s nothing like a high-profile race rolling across screens to get us clambering on to bikes. In fact a combination of summer heat, flabby guilt and Sean Kelly muttering about “handlebaaars” appears to have a Pavlov impact on otherwise sensible people who normally can be relied upon to stay well clear of Lycra.

And while that might be aesthetically dubious, in absolutist terms it’s hard to argue against the pursuit of good health. Happiness is a bugger to argue with too. But happiness at a cost of someone else’s unhappiness is a lot easier to pick apart, no matter how sound the theory behind it.

Peddle power on the Emerald Isle
A lot of grandiose claims are being made for the Giro’s potential impact here, although it’s hard not to suspect most of it will come down to a bunch of tourist board suits pointing to increased B&B occupancy rates. However, it provides an opportunity to focus minds on the broad context of cycling in Ireland beyond the tiresome “them and us” headline-grabbing crap between cyclists and drivers as to which are the bigger eejits.

In reality there’s no simple two-wheels-good and four-wheels-bad division: the mode of transport doesn’t matter: if the world could run on eejitry we would have an inexhaustible energy supply. Just because you pay car tax doesn’t entitle you to the road, just as indulging in carbon-free movement is no entitlement to monopolise smug righteousness.

However, it is interesting how the debate around cycling invariably revolves around cities and towns, accompanied by urban myths of crusty cyclists careering through traffic lights before flicking the finger at frothing commuters just aching to get a bike into the sights of their huge armour-plated Nazi phallic symbols.

In fact the reality is that cycling nirvana is an open road, out in the country.

If you live on a geographical billiard table this doesn’t affect you but panting cyclists are a near-everyday sight for anyone living at any kind of altitude: which is okay, in the sense that it’s a pain in the arse sometimes if you’re stuck behind them in a car. But pains in the arse are as ubiquitous as eejits– it’s like the song says, what cannot be cured must be endured. And of course every cyclist’s hair-trigger response is that they are, like, you know, entitled.

There’s a lot of entitlement about cycling which is hardly surprising considering there is an innate vulnerability about being perched on a tiny frame on a public road. Any driver doubting that should swap sides and feel the singe of a behind-the-wheel hero intent on getting through a tiny gap as quickly as possible.

Peloton purists
What cyclists should not be entitled to though is the freedom to treat country roads as some exclusive velodrome to exercise peloton fantasies.

These same roads convey people for purposes other than two-wheeled workouts before a return to the urban rat race. There is a sense that that might startle some within cycling, especially when large numbers are released en masse into rural areas, often in charity events which are becoming more and more common.

No one wants to be a spoilsport and no one wants to be mean. But someone is going to be seriously hurt some day. Allowing huge trains of cyclists to fill up narrow roads, and insisting on their entitlement to ride abreast while doing so, often resulting in lengthy traffic jams is an accident waiting to happen.

The inevitable consequences is traffic Russian roulette with angry drivers, tired of chugging in first gear, resorting to taking chances against on-coming traffic and weaving between bikes at dangerous proximity and speed.

Of course that’s wrong. But cyclists expecting some sort of perfection in terms of driver habits are expecting too much. Anyone waiting that is destined to wait forever. And it’s hardly like every cyclist is a paragon of probity either. In fact, far from any image of victimhood, when it comes bad manners there are some in the public peloton who could teach a course.

Apparently the various tourist bodies have put in about €6 million to bring the Giro to Ireland but forget any Tour grandiosity: that will be money well spent if minds focus on the more mundane matters of preventing potentially lethal free-for-alls on public roads that aren’t closed off. It really isn’t funny.

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