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Hedge-blog: anti-cycling letter to Yorkshire Post

23rd August 2015

The Yorkshire Post today published an anti-cycling letter from M G Bisby, who is described as the chairman of Kildale Parish Meeting, Whitby. The letter calls for amateur cycle races to be banned from public roads.

M G Bisby's letter to the Yorkshire Post

This is the text of the letter:

From: MG Bisby, Chairman, Kildale Parish Meeting, Kildale, Whitby. 

I THINK the majority of people who watched last year’s “Le Tour” were impressed with the racing spectacle, along routes which provided a magnificent backdrop of Yorkshire countryside. The fact that this racing took place on temporarily closed roads – and was efficiently organised, advertised and marshalled – ensured that the general public, and those who lined the route, were kept safe. 

But it beggars belief that the authorities routinely allow amateur cycle races to be conducted on roads in use by the general public. They can be on busy main roads as well as narrow twisting country routes – often busy with farm traffic and tourists’ cars at this time of year. 

Drivers in our locality constantly see cyclists in full kit and mounted on racing cycles riding recklessly or without due care and consideration for other road users. Examples are legion, such as riding three abreast when rounding bends on narrow country roads, speeding out from a road junction in front of passing traffic and often appearing not even to bother to glance in the direction of oncoming traffic. 

Often riding two or more abreast on a narrow country road, they refuse to allow a held- up vehicle or tractor room to pass safely by dropping back into single file. A gentle pip on a horn is usually the cue for rude gestures or verbal abuse. 

I am often struck by the comparison in attitude of the family groups out for a pleasant cycle ride on these same roads. Without any prompting they will drop back into single file to let other road traffic pass and rarely exhibit any reckless or inconsiderate behaviour. 

Cycling accidents continue to rise (in many cases with only the cyclists themselves involved) and often on fast downhill sections, but generally other road users get the blame for any accidents involving cyclists – regardless of any contribution from the riders themselves. 

Such accident statistics will continue to worsen as long as the authorities continue to condone competition cycle racing on busy public roads.

A response to M G Bisby's letter

Is it worthwhile answering these points? Many of the complaints are based on prejudice, and it's doubtful whether logical argument will change the mind of someone so determined to dislike bikes and the people who ride them. However, Chris Boardman recently took the trouble to address similar points in his excellent 'Space - How to Overtake Cyclists' video. I'll take inspiration from Boarders, although I'm not promising to remain quite as zen as him.

1) The stated purpose of the letter is to call for amateur cycle races to be banned, but most of the letter isn't relevant to that - it's just a series of general complaints about people who ride bikes.

2) 'Drivers in our locality constantly see cyclists in full kit and mounted on racing cycles...' I don't understand why people get so irritated about other people's clothes. What people wear to ride bikes is up to them, just as what M G Bisby or anyone else wears to drive a car or go for a walk is their own affair.

'Mounted on racing cycles' is very odd language.

3) '...riding three abreast...riding two or more abreast...a gentle pip on a horn is usually the cue for rude gestures or verbal abuse...I am often struck by the comparison in attitude of the family groups out for a pleasant cycle ride...'

I've rarely seen people ride three abreast when rounding bends. Riding two abreast is legal in most circumstances, and allows bike riders to chat to each other, which they sometimes like to do, because in general they're quite nice people, not monsters. In a similar way, the driver and passenger of a car often sit next to each other and chat. This is explained by Chris Boardman in the video 'Side by Side'.

If cyclists don't immediately move over on country lanes, it may be that they have assessed that it will not be safe to be overtaken at that point - for example because of blind bends or blind rises. In my experience, they are almost always happy to allow an overtake where it's safe. Contrary to what M G Bisby may think, it is no fun having an impatient and irate driver right behind you when cycling.

It may be that some families are more easily bullied out of the way.

The problem with trial by anecdote is that the rest of us weren't there, and we only have one side of the story. Does M G Bisby really gives a 'gentle pip' on the horn, and has it really resulted in rude gestures and verbal abuse? I don't know. I would simply say that when I'm cycling, I almost always know when there's a car behind me; honking the car horn doesn't help; and I'm very happy to let a vehicle pass, except where it would be dangerous. When I'm driving, I understand the issues cyclists face, and I wait until it's safe to pass. I would never consider using the horn, as I realise it would make me sound impatient, and would be unlikely to help the situation in any way.

The same considerations relating to trial by anecdote apply to M G Bisby's claims of reckless behaviour by people riding bikes. We only have the story from his or her perspective, and it's plain from the letter that (s)he doesn't like people riding bikes. No doubt people do sometimes do daft things on bikes, just as they do when they are walking or driving cars, but in general cyclists are pretty careful, because they know that they are vulnerable if they are hit by a vehicle

M G Bisby fails to mention any of the daft things that people do when driving, such as using mobile phones, or even electric shavers. Such distractions are highly dangerous. Many people who ride bikes would also like more drivers to be aware that according to rule 163 of the Highway Code (and the accompanying photo), they should leave plenty of space when overtaking.

The main difference between cycling and driving is: if a person on a bike is in collision with a car, they can be injured or killed; that is generally not true for the driver of the car. Therefore, when you are driving a 1 tonne vehicle, you have a responsibility to take extra care. Other road users will only 'get the blame for any accidents involving cyclists' if they are actually to blame. 

In conclusion

Although his letter takes a scattergun approach to complaining about cycling, the core of M G Bisby's complaint is about being delayed slightly. Being delayed slightly isn't the end of the world. On the other hand, anger and impatience directed at vulnerable road users can result in accident and injury.

The solution is to accept the presence of other people who are using the road legally, and drive calmly, not in a state of agitation. Even better, if M G Bisby were to get a bike and ride it, it may well help him or her see things from a different perspective.

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