Drivers’ passengers and cyclists

At the start of May I used up one of my cycling lives when a car turned into me sending me crashing painfully to the cobbled street. It left me shaken, and sufficiently stirred to put my thoughts to – er – blog post. In fact, this was actually the second time this year that reckless driving had resulted in my hitting the deck. February 13th (my birthday, as it happens) a startlingly impatient woman overtook me immediately before a roundabout, then slammed on her brakes – upon seeing a car approaching from the right – veering towards the curb and shutting down all the available road in doing so. On this occasion I faired slightly better: minor bike damage, a bruised arm and a knock on the knee.

Just to complete the hat-trick of  motor vehicle induced falls, last night a pleasant evening ride was brought to an abrupt end in Muswell Hill. I was approaching the roundabout – maybe 200m away – and traffic was moving slowly. I opted to carefully filter on the pavement side between park cars and the queue itself. To pass on the right of the queue would have necessitated crossing onto the wrong side of the road – clearly not an option. As I passed a black Jaguar the rear passenger door burst open into my path: front wheel, chin, shoulder hit the door, leaving me on the tarmac split seconds later. Fortunately the bike was fine; my shoulder is quite painful today, my neck aches and my chin is swollen – fingers crossed a day or two of rest will fix me.

What p*ssed me off was the argument from the driver – thinly veiled in superficial concern for my well-being – that it was my fault for passing on the left of the car. I stood my ground: 1/ I was riding carefully; 2/ the door should not have been opened as they weren’t parked and were in fact in moving traffic; 3/ the passenger did not check behind the car first; 4/ I had to pass on the left for the above reason.

But I was not actually sure whether her assertion that I should be passing on the right was true or not; I took my cycling proficiency in around 1986 so couldn’t quite recall my precise legal standing!

So where do we stand then?

A bicycle is a road-going vehicle within the terms of road regulations and as such is bound by the majority of rules that apply to motor vehicles. There are certain rules which specifically apply to ‘motor’ vehicles – oddly, not using a mobile phone, for one.

The area in this case is ‘Lane Splitting’ (under- or over-taking in a stream of traffic). It’s not a name I’ve actually heard of before and is illegal for cyclists – apparently – in some US States. But in the UK it is perfectly within the rules (for two-wheeled vehicles). I passed my full motorbike license test in 2008 and – once qualified – filtering through slow or stationary traffic is even considered a key advanced motorcyclist skill; safely doing so is clearly imperative, given drivers’ propensity to quickly change lanes in such circumstances and you could be obscured in their blind spot at any time.

I’ve read that there was some uncertainty, in old Highway Code, as to whether cyclists practising Lane Splitting could be prosecuted. Rules 129 and 139 stated that “you should…not change lanes to the left to overtake” and “you should…only overtake on the left if the vehicle in front is signalling to turn right, and there is room to do so…stay in your lane if traffic is moving slowly in queues. If the queue on your right is moving more slowly than you are, you may pass on the left.” It was unclear whether this actually applied to cyclists.

However, the latest version is more clear as it specifically requires drivers to be aware of cyclists. Rule 151 replaces 129: “In slow moving traffic you should…be aware of cyclists and motorcyclists who may be passing on either side.” Therefore this gives cyclists the de facto right to pass on whatever side of the slow moving traffic is safest in order to filter.

Besides the retrospective gratification, this corroborative support for my view on last night’s incident earns me nothing. Nothing, that is, unless my injuries don’t heal by next Sunday’s Ironman Switzerland, in which case I might be reviewing my right to compensation! But – as I wrote in my previous post on this subject – I feel part of the broader cycling fraternity and, as such, if this information helps someone else defend themselves in similar circumstances then I’ll be happy.

Safe cycling.

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Drivers and cyclists

On Saturday 8th May I woke up, made myself a Cafetier and eat a bowl of Country Crisp cereal. Ahead of me was – as usual – a packed weekend of Ironman training. Looking at the bright (if damp) weather and the on-line forecast that conditions would worsen later in the day, I decided I would switch my Saturday to bike first run second. Whilst preparing my gear I checked out the latest sports pages on my phone. I was met with the terrible, sad news that five British professional cyclists had been hit by a driver whilst on a training ride in Belgium (here’s the article). Such news always shocks – in fact, if I’m honest, scares – me. It was only six weeks since elite Ironman Jordan Rapp was involved in a hit and run in the States, very seriously injured and incredibly lucky to survive. Cycling in London is particularly perilous, as illustrated by the ever increasing numbers of Ghost Bicycles standing both as memorials to killed or injured and visual statements to drivers of cyclists’ right to use the roads. Every time I ride somebody causes me to take evasive action whilst they – invariably – continue on oblivious (this applies to pedestrians as well as motor vehicles). Every day a vehicle will pull out from, or into, a side road either without seeing me or – if they physically see me – not registering or valuing my presence as a fellow road user. Startlingly often, drivers cut into space that isn’t there, overtake when there is no room, or even intentionally squeeze my space then gesticulate at me violently when I express annoyance. This – as we all know – is sadly a fact of cycling life; but it’s not right.

So I rolled out of N1 and headed up the very familiar Tottenham High Road. Familiar because it’s my main route to Hertforshire, but also because it is bracketed by the hallowed paving slabs that lead to my beloved Tottenham Hotspur. As I passed Seven Sisters Tesco on the right I overtook a stopped bus, then moved left back into the bus lane to the curb; a silver BMW passed me on my right. Seconds later – having not gone much passed my front wheel – the car turned left. Time slowed down; I braked hard and remember hoping the driver would see me before entering my lane; but in reality his front left wing quickly collided with my front wheel and right leg, sending the bike to the ground and me into the air. I remember landing hard, on the cobbled side road he was aiming for, then leaping to my feet, concerned about how much damage had been done to my bike. The driver got out and was quick to state that he “hadn’t seen me” – despite having just overtaken me.

It’s funny how pain works. It built like a wave in both hands, my left knee, right elbow and below my right shoulder. But it was several minutes later that I saw my right little finger – inside my glove – pointing downwards and inwards, immoveable and oddly numb. The police and ambulance arrived and I spent the rest of the day on a cocktail of drugs and gas (the latter was actually wholly pleasant!). X-rays revealed a dislocated finger which required re-setting (thankfully the bones were intact) and severe knee bruising, but luckily only minor scrapes otherwise. The finger x-ray looked a lot like this image only the middle phalanx was below the proximal phalanx (instead of above).

10 days on and I’m getting increasingly frustrated with my inability to train properly. My finger is stronger (although 2-3 months could pass before full flexibility returns) but I’m still icing my knee to reduce inflammation and fluid on the bursa on the kneecap (Prepatellar Bursitis), nursing a strained coracobrachialis muscle in the upper arm and a bruised elbow. The knee is my main concern as it’s only 2.5 weeks until my first major event (Weymouth) and I can’t see me riding or running this week. I’m swimming to maintain fitness and doing plenty of core (seeing as I have the time). My bike is faring better, despite costing almost £400 to repair (hopefully the driver will settle this though). But I’m constantly questioning whether my Ironman is still on, how much fitness I’m losing and remembering the great form I was in up until 7th May. It’s so gutting.

I realise – though – that I was one of the fortunate ones. Even if the worst happens and my knee doesn’t recover quickly, my loss is merely time. The Ghost Bikes show just how many people are killed in our cities thanks to careless and often dangerous driving. We all make mistakes and accidents do happen; but what makes me mad is that a large percentage of drivers are aware of their reckless risk taking behind the wheel, they know they are living dangerously and that a collision could occur at any time. Moreover, the abuse drivers give to cyclists shows the lack of respect and often contempt they have. “I f’ing hate cyclists” was shouted at a friend once, unprovoked; James Martin, “celebrity cock”, to borrow a phrase from Brad Wiggins, highlighted what’s wrong with the attitude all to clearly in his infamous article in the Mail.

Something has to change. Mandatory tests every X years and advanced driving courses? Yes, if it improves skill levels. But will it make those mindless drives think, and think twice, before manoeuvring?  Will it change the attitude? Okay if one rationally thinks ‘car collision with bike’ they see injuries. But it’s not just the physical pain at the time, as bad as that can be; it’s also what’s lost as a result of the injuries combined with the slow and difficult recovery process for the victim that’s needs to be considered. Reading about the hundreds of small steps and soul-wrenching dedication it can take to recover from serious injuries is a real eye opener. Jordan Rapp’s deep and stirring writing on his blog is one example of how tough this can be. I think the only way to get the message across is to drill this home through whatever means and forums necessary, whilst continuing initiatives like the Ghost Bikes to visually remind drivers of our presence on – and right to share – the road.

Despite serious injuries, Jordan is recovering and putting his life back on track and the British cyclists – Hannah Mayho, Lucy Martin, Katie Colclough, Emma Trott and Sarah Reynolds – are all getting better and will ride another day. It sounds trite, but emerging relatively unscathed from an accident does make you appreciate things more. But it also makes you feel guilty: guilty for feeling lucky; guilty for feeling angry about lost training; guilty for that renewed appreciation for life despite only suffering a relatively minor accident; guilty that you are okay when others are not.