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.