I should point out before posting this that I have never yet been knocked off my bike. But in my head, I’ve died a thousand nasty deaths.
Today it was the old cyclist’s friend the driver’s side car door. Ironically enough, I was coming back from Battersea having decided to get back in the saddle, as it were, and take advantage of a brief gap in the rain. I had already endured buffetting head winds, and a bike that feels as though someone has attached ten pound weights to its back wheel. I’d passed a nasty and sobering-looking accident and negotiated four roundabouts safely and was on, as I thought, the home stretch and posibly – fatal mistake – beginning to relax.
In a sense, it was my fault. I’d seen the car pull up behind the van. I’d pulled out far enough to pass the car, but not, crucially, its door. I was signalling right and trying to get further over. It’s always a pain trying to pull out on a bike – I’d already had one lorry blast past me and I was looking over my right shoulder to see if the car behind me was going to do the same or let me into the gap. At that moment I sensed, rather than saw the parked car’s door open and I found myself powering through the tiny gap that remained – something I’d never have managed in cold blood but it’s amazing what adrenaline and the invokation of minor deities can do*.
But then again, why should it be my fault? I know that the proper cyclists say that the price of survival on the roads is eternal vigilance, that anyone will do anything at any time without any warning. But it wasn’t me that flung a car door open into the stream of traffic without looking for the (brightly coloured) cyclist first. Why is it that I have to maintain some sort of ninja-level awareness of everything that’s going on above, below, in front and around me while car drivers can be singing along to the radio and dreaming about what they’ll have for tea – and that’s if they’re not actually on their mobiles, quarrelling with their kids, or putting on their makeup in the rear view mirror?
I saw five or six little kids in high-vis vests being taught to cycle on the roads around our house yesterday. Some sort of council scheme, I think. This is fantastic. Get the kids out on their bikes, get them fit, get them and their parents out of their cars, save the planet, cut pollution and obesity in one fell swoop. But what happens when all these wobbly little kids have got their proficiency badges and want to actually cycle out there for real? If we really have to be the ninja cyclists, constantly alert, just to survive, they aren’t going to last five minutes.
We aren’t going to get more cyclists until the roads out there are safer. The roads aren’t going to get much safer until there are plenty more bikes. What is the answer? I don’t know, I truly don’t. Move to Copenhagen? I’m sorely tempted.
* who is the patron saint of cyclists, by the way? I think I owe him or her a candle or seven.