Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sunshine, cycling and psychopaths

The clement weather and loads of recent publicity have brought the fair-weather cyclists onto the roads. As a die-hard who likes to ride in the depths of winter with horizontal rain I have mixed feelings about this. It's a good thing that people get out of their cars, take the air and attempt healthy living. On the other hand they don't half get in your way. Now, I've been known to jump the odd red - at a pedestrian crossing with no pedestrians or at a junction I know well enough where the timing of the lights sequence has been grafted into my brain - but recently I have taken to stopping at the red and it feels much better. And now I can see how annoying it is when some idiot cyclist bombs through without a care for their own safety or that of any passing pedestrian. They really should stop. But when they do stop at the lights it really is VERY annoying when you're at the front and some flip-flop wearing (please don't wear sandals when cycling. Do you want to die?) saunterer danders up and pulls in front of you when it's blindingly obvious I'm faster and will only overtake anyway which I don't particularly like doing as it's dangerous. (Sandal wearing cyclists also tend to wear their ill-fitting helmets at a jaunty angle. This is more dangerous than not wearing one. I never wear a helmet and in 20 years of cycling and 3 dozen falls I've never hit my head yet. If a car hits you then you're screwed no matter what, helmet or no helmet)

There is one good spot for overtaking though. This morning I was waiting by the lights at the bottom of Kennington road. Typically every cyclist who came behind pulled in front of me until I was at the back of a group of about 15. When the lights went green off we went. Some guys who fancied themselves set off at a pace and everyone else just sauntered on. Kennington road is just shy of a mile long and 2 lanes so you've got plenty of time to build up. By half way I'd passed everyone. It was great. I felt like Steve Ovett at the back of the pack in the 1500m with one lap to go and slowly but surely just leaving them all for dust. I know it's childish and blokey but I don't care. You've got to take your pleasures where you can find them.

But as for the psychopath... waiting to pull onto Herne Hill, a road with some seriously fast traffic, a man passed in front of me cycling one-handed (not good at the best of times). In the other hand he was holding his daughter! She was sitting on his knee! His leg was going up and down! He had his spare arm wrapped around her waist holding her on! He had NO control! He should go to jail for recklessly endangering his own childs life!

Not much about books but I'm looking forward to this coming into the shop soon.


  1. You are so right about how useless, even dangerous (strangulation), it is to wear a helmet badly. But I beg to differ with you on your view that wearing bicycle helmets is overall useless. A fellow I know recently had difficulties on a curb leading into an underground bicycle/pedestrian passage. He hit the wall at about 20 km/hr. He got up with his helmet in two pieces but no head injuries. Yes, he had a bad cut to his chin, which he had to get stitched together, but that was all. He is convinced the helmet saved his life.

    I‘ve worked a few times on neurological intensive care wards; not as a doctor but as an engineer. You can’t count the times some child or adult was lying there in a coma or with severe head injuries, after a road accident where they were riding bicycles, mopeds, or motorcycles without helmets. Invariably the doctors said they would not have had those injuries or they would not be so severe if they patient had worn a helmet.

    Helmets are like lifejackets for small vessel sailors, they are just an annoying hindrance and very un-sexy for all the normal stuff and the falling in or off or down. But, let me assure you, if the boat jibes unexpectedly and the boom hits you on the head from behind and into the water, you and all the others in the boat will sure be happy you are wearing that lifejacket.

    Now, after saying all this, I must confess that I didn’t wear a helmet for many years. It took a fast moving car side-sweeping me to make me realise how stupid I had been up until then. The only thought that entered my head as I flew through the air was, “Where’s your f**king helmet!” The gods were kind, my bones soft, and I recuperated from the painful experiences quickly. The first thing I did after leaving the hospital was to go out and buy the stupid helmet.

  2. Hi Lia,

    When I was eight I broke my arm falling out of a tree. I spent the night in hospital. When I woke up there was a boy in the bed opposite who had fallen off his bike while virtually still and hit his head on the pavement. He was left a vegetable - life over. So I know of the perils but I'm still convinced that it is up to me to be sensible in negotiating the dangerous streets out there.

    You're friend, to be honest, sounds reckless. 20kph is pretty quick and the kind of speed to be reserved for the open road and not tricky underground passages.

    I think those people that are most vulnerable - children and nervous, novice riders (the bulk of those people in neurological Intensive care wards I would hazard) - should wear helmets, no question. I prefer to rely on my experience and common sense and lack of recklessness. Anticipation of your environment and drivers actions (It helps that I've been driving around London for over 8 years now and know how drivers think) is paramount and can only be learned over years. But at the end of the day it's a simple equation for me. Go slowly or get off if you think it's going to get tricky and only speed up when the road in front is empty. Also, because I don't wear a helmet I'm more conscious of my vulnerability so my senses and concentration are, I think, much sharper.

    Mind you, if I was on a boat I'd definitely wear a life jacket!

    ps You might think I'm even more of an idiot but I've definitely learned how to fall properly. It's instinctive to twist my body in whatever contortion to protect my head as my busted knee and knackered right shoulder and broken ribs will contest.

  3. AnonymousJune 08, 2006

    Unfortunately, it is comments like this which put me off trying to cycle to work. Makes you think 'Oh, God! I'm not great at cycling on the road! I'm going to be surrounded by psychos on bikes and psychos in cars! I'm going to die!!! I'll just stick to the Tube!'

    Everyone's got to start somewhere and you're going to be sauntery and wobbly when you do.

    I'm cycling to work on Monday. First time. I'll be sure to give you plenty of room to overtake if I see you.

  4. 20kph is not that fast -- its only 12.5 mph (I manage over 20 mph on open roads) it is however at the upper limit of cycle helmet effectiveness which are only designed to withstrand impacts of 13 mph (equivalent to falling off a stationary bike when upright) and not collisions with moving vehicles which account for 93% of fatal and serious injuries. There is a good page about it, fron the CTC, here.

    Anonymous: you should read Cyclecraft
    John Franklin's definitive guide to safe cycling. (that would be a case as do as I say not do as I do). Confidence is the key : the safest place to be is in the middle of the road in exactly the same place as a car driver -- that way you get seen. Cycling along in the gutter is not good.

  5. Hi Paul,

    You're right, 20 kph ain't that quick for the road but in an underpass it sure does cut your options. I just walked through the underpass from Lower Marsh to the South Bank and had to avoid a guy going about 20k's on the pavement. One small slip from him and he'd have been toast I'm sure.

    Which lends itself in endorsing your advice to anonymous - MIND THE GAP. Don't go for the little gaps in the gutter at speed. The less space you have to manouevre the less time you have to react. Give yourself space and stare at drivers. Make eye contact with a driver and you know your safe.

    Anonymous, Paul is so right about confidence. I used to live in Hackney in the east of London and cycle to Chelsea in the west. My route took me round the Shoreditch one way (as was then), Old Street Roundabout, Holborn gyratory, Picadilly Circus, Hyde Park Corner and Sloane Square. All pretty hairy but loads of fun when you're going faster than the cars and the ideal way to build confidence.

    Oh, and that bit about do as I say not as I do... erm, guilty m'lud.

    And has anyone noticed the increasing numbers of men between the ages of 24 and 36 riding Track Bikes on the road? No brakes, no gears, no freewheeling. You control your acceleration and braking entirely through the pedals. Which your clipped into. Personally, I think this is lunacy but I guess I'm getting old...

    (Excellent links Paul. Thanks)

  6. By coincidence, a friend of mine sent me this today. No further comment...

    World Naked Bike Ride 2006

    What's this all about?
    This is a worldwide naked protest against the destructive effects of car culture. Celebrate the body and bike as you enjoy the freedom of cycling past London's landmarks with less clothing than usual. We had 250 riders in London last year. This year we are predicting 350+ in London and 120 in Brighton's debut ride!

    Do I have to be nude?
    No! Many ride nude, but if you're shy, shorts, swimwear, crop tops, body-paint, or masks are all fine. It's 'bare as you dare', and no one will pressure you to take off more clothes than you want to. A perfect body is not required either… we come in all shapes and sizes.

    Will I be arrested for nudity?
    Highly unlikely. Police have again recognised our right to protest, and agreed to the Central London route and nudity.

    Saturday 10 June 2006
    BRIGHTON RIDE– Assemble 10am at The Level (a park between Union, Lewes, and Ditchling Road)
    LONDON RIDE– Assemble 3pm at Wellington Arch, Hyde Park Corner, London

    see for details

  7. Naked cycling? This is a disgusting post so stop reading now if you are a family member or anyone who might at some point in the future wish to think of me in a positive light but...

    ...can you imagine the grim state of that saddle after a few sweaty hours peddling around in the sun?


    I walk to work and until today I thought it was less dangerous than cycling but statistically speaking I find I am wrong.

    In a car there are 4 deaths per billion passenger miles. On a bike 39 deaths per billion passenger miles. Walking? 50 deaths per passenger mile!

    (Maybe something to do with the number of miles travelled? Not clever enough to know? Maths types please advise!)

  8. That is 50 deaths per billion passenger miles for walking obviously...