It may be drivers versus cyclists, but I'll still get on my bike - Gaby Soutar

I’m not sure I’ve missed my morning cycle commute

Pic: Jacek Chabraszewski
Pic: Jacek Chabraszewski

There was the incredible endorphin high from the blast of exercise, but also, at this time of year, the black ice, frozen fingertips, slippery leaves and darkness.

That’s as well as the sense of antipathy from drivers. I was never sure if I imagined it or not, but we are definitely told that Humans in Cars hate Humans on Bikes.

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That sense is compounded by a recent online survey that was carried out in advance of the BBC One Panorama documentary Road Rage: Cars V Bikes, which aired earlier this week.

It revealed that one in three drivers think cyclists shouldn’t be on public roads and just 53 per cent of motorists see them as equal partners. There were also other revelations, including that a quarter of motorists had intentionally passed a cyclist under the safe distance. Grim. Mind you, they only interviewed 12,545 people and perhaps they phoned Jeremy Clarkson a few times by mistake.

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Although our methods might feel divisive, it’s worth acknowledging that travellers are not binary groups. Some of us drive, cycle, run AND walk. Get the bus too. Fly. Pogo. Skateboard.

Or ride on electric scooters - a subject that gets everyone cranky.

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Our thoroughfares can’t be monopolised by anyone, not even cars. And don’t forget, the penny farthing came before the horseless carriage.

Not that I can even class myself as a cyclist anymore. While everyone else took to their bikes during lockdown, my use quickly tapered off.

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It was always an A to B thing, as opposed to a hobby. Rather than a MAMIL (Middle Aged Man in Lycra), I was a WIJIT (Woman in Jeans in Transit).

Since the bone shaker has been in the shed for ages, its spokes are now colonised by spiders and the tyres are like drop scones. It’s a trusty old thing though, bought from Edinburgh Bicycle Coop over 17 years ago. I call her Bertha. She wears a Lidl bell, creaks and is extremely heavy. I was always being told to get a new carbon one, but I’m loyal, so I’ll wait until a wheel falls off.

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When Bertha and I were on the roads, like most cyclists, I became inured to close shaves. Hundreds of cars have passed me at a distance that made me hold my breath.

Whether it was intentional or not, who knows?

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There were also a lot of considerate drivers, though sometimes basic courtesy can feel like a grand favour when you’re on a bike. Thank you, my liege, for not pulping me.

The nasty incidents that have stuck with me include the rumbling lorry that barreled past on Dean Bridge. It was so fast and close that it tipped me in its slipstream. I was like a rowing boat beside an ocean liner. Not a great advert for the company, whose name was emblazoned on the side.

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I emailed them to complain, and they said I wasn’t the first to get in touch about this juggernaut. It’s safe to say that if I ever get into construction, I shall not be requiring their haulage services.

Dogs get very confused when it comes to cyclists. Unless you say ‘hey, pup’, you seem invisible to them, and they’ll often stand length-ways in your path, totally oblivious. I do wonder what’s going on in their fuzzy bonces. I slow down to let them compute. However, I did come over my handlebars, when breaking for a golden Labrador pup that zoomed, like a honey-coloured streak, across the Meadows cycle path.

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Its owner didn’t even notice, they were off in the distance. As often happens, in these times of crisis, a serendipitous medical expert - in this case, a nurse - took me to a bench and checked out my scrapes.

Then there was the time, in winter, when I was knocked off on Queensferry Road. In that year, 108 cyclists were killed on UK highways; it was nearly 109.

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When discussing this kind of incident, you have to qualify that you were doing all the right things while you ‘collided’ with a car. Yes, I had the flashing lights and the ugly luminous jacket that made me resemble a pink highlighter pen. I was in one of the capital’s many badly-designed cycle lanes, and a car, following the one in front, pulled into my path and tipped me under his bonnet. He stopped, then, as I lay in the road, I watched the headlights of other vehicles approaching.

“Oh well, looks like I won’t make my yoga class”, was my mundane thought.

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Thankfully, the traffic stopped, and a kind couple helped me.The driver got out of the motor. His windows were opaque with steam, and so were his specs.

“I just couldn’t see you,” was his old chestnut of a defence.

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Funny that. How strange that he seemed to think that his lack of vision was my responsibility. He may as well have been driving blindfolded.

I never did make it to my yoga class. Instead, once the shock had subsided, I had a therapeutic weep, counted my bruises and told myself I was never cycling again.

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Then I did, the next day, though I dismounted and wheeled my bike past that section of road.

Despite these near-misses, I know that saddling Bertha up would still give me those endorphins. It’s the same happy sensation I’d get, aged ten, when I used to circuit the block incessantly.

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I never understood the concept that we’d all be taught to cycle as kids, but some would eventually dump their bike, along with the recorder or ballet shoes. I thought, once the stabilisers came off, you had a forever skill. It was like spelling or reading.

Maybe it’s time to pump up those tyres.

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