Friday, September 27, 2019

What is a "cyclist"

A question which seems to be getting asked a lot lately, so I thought I would have a go at answering the question. So lets give it a go...

  1. a person who rides a bicycle.

There you go, debate over. If someone who rides a bike is referred to as a cyclist, regardless of what they are doing, or what context the statement was made in... A cyclist is a person who ride a bicycle.

OK, I know it isn't really that clear cut, certainly not for some.

Recently a lot of offence seems to have been taken by the masses about the generic term "cyclist". A favourite of the media, with headlines such as "cyclist headbutts pedestrian", "cyclists causing mayhem on the roads" etc. As generalisations go, I don't personally see "cyclist" as a negative term, and am happy to be called one, even while the idiots wheelieing into oncoming traffic are also referred to as cyclists. After all, we both ride bicycles.

The term motorist of course is acceptable to many, especially when using it in a derogatory fashion. "Selfish motorists", "entitled motorists" etc. Terms batted about daily by the hardcore on social media.

The terms I have more issue with are "pro-cycling". I tend to read this as those in support of cycling, however the status of the term appears to have been elevated to one meaning more fanatical, than supportive of. Over the past few years, mainly due to the anonymity of social media, and the safety blanket of screens and keyboards, there are those who have sprung out of the woodwork to let the world know what is right, and what is wrong.
The general breakdown of this is, cyclist is right, motorist is wrong. What they say is right, what you say (even if you say the same thing in different words), is wrong.

Now to be clear here, before the bitching starts, and the frantic spreading and misquoting / mis-representation of what I am saying begins, I am a cyclist. I am someone who regularly uses a bicycle on London's roads, commuting and for leisure. In rush-hour and in the early hours of the morning. In the enclosed spaces of Richmond Park, or the closed roads of Ride London.. I think you get the picture, I am a cyclist.

There have been a few examples of these new extremes people go to, all in order to make their point, and be right.
A year or so ago I posted a picture of a jacket I use for commuting in the winter, made by Proviz. Nice reflective panels for standing out clearly with the smallest source of light shining on it. I posted a comparison picture of it next to a black jersey I have, using the flash to create a light source to demonstrate its reflective qualities.
The internet lost its shit!

I was empowering arrogant motorists, suggesting cyclists are solely responsible for their own safety, and somehow freeing motorists of their responsibility to look out for cyclists and other road users. I was demanding that cyclists spend their hard earned money, dress like the tin man or a robot, to save the entitled motorists from having to watch out for vulnerable road uses.
In fact my point was, (and still is) there is no harm in wearing a sensible choice of clothing in the darker months, to make yourself visible to motorists, with the view of the sooner they see you, the sooner they can start to give you space.

One of the examples I was given was, when you see a cyclist at the last minute, and question what they are wearing and why they were so hard to pick out, "you saw them didn't you"! Yup simple as that, seeing someone at the last moment is good enough, and if you actually make the effort, and look hard enough, you WILL see them, eventually.
A secondary argument offered was, if cyclists should wear hi-vis, all cars be painted in hi-vis colours. Well, I suppose if you want to be stupid about it, having the roads filled with reflective cars would indeed make them more visible. But that isn't the point that we are trying to get to here. The idea is to make the cyclist visible to the motorist. After all, the cyclist is the vulnerable one in this story, and on a free moving road, is also generally the slower moving vehicle, so more likely to be approached at speed.

After a while the animosity towards me grew to such a point, I did something I rarely do, and muted the topic. The post was being retweeted with all sorts of stupid headlines about what I was demanding cyclists did. Lots of tweets from complete strangers questioning my mental capacity, my ability to use the roads on a bike or in a car, and my attitude towards cyclists. Somehow I was anti-cycling, while riding 5-7,000 miles on the roads a year. Go figure! A danger to other road users, sending the wrong message, blah, blah, blah. All this from people who claim to be "pro-cycling" and standing up for the rights of the cyclist. Well if that is how you speak to strangers, with such anger and vitriol, then please do not claim to speak for me.

Going back to the whole title of this blog for a minute, the term "cyclist". It is strange how the title is OK to use when it is by someone speaking about cycling to a motorist, or someone else who is being berated by a "pro-cyclist" on social media. "Cyclists are vulnerable", "give cyclists space"... etc. But if a motorist makes a comment about a cyclist jumping a red light, pulling into their path or something similar, it is a sweeping generalisation, and should not be used that way. How dare a motorist make such a statement about a person riding a bike. It is all very confusing to me, especially as both a cyclist and motorist. More the former than the latter these days, but quite experienced at both.

Which brings me to another example of how cyclists can turn on one another (a bit like you could say I am doing here actually) about something that is of mutual benefit. Especially when simply asking a question about something you saw on the road. Cycling home the other night I saw a cyclist come into conflict with a motorist. From what I can tell, the cyclist, who had been riding behind me, decided to pass me, moving out wide of me, at the same time as a car was beginning to pass him. For me, the suggestion to avoid this would be the cyclist checking his shoulder before moving out.
However finding himself along side the car, and about 4-6 ft from the kerb, the cyclist decided to express his disapproval at the motorist, by remaining along side, gesturing to the motorist, before banging on the front wing of the car.
Personally, finding myself this close to a car, my first reaction would be to move away, followed by making my feelings known. If the opportunity arose to speak to the driver, I would do so.

So I posted a clip from my Cycliq on Instagram, and asked "Close pass or taking the piss? Was the car too close? Was the cyclist right to hit the car?"

Simple question, no statement or assumptions, just asking other peoples opinions of what I had seen.
Of course, someone always comes along and takes things out of context. I was asking a question, so getting replies like these irritates me somewhat.
"You're showing a serious and dangerous driving offence and asking if it's ok. I seriously hope you don't drive a car."
You just saw the driver of a ton of metal threaten flesh and blood and you're asking if hitting the car was appropriate? Driving like that is an offence for a reason."

No, actually Judge frickin Judy, I am just throwing it out there. But for some reason, for asking opinions of others, I am a danger on the roads, don't know the law, and should be ashamed of myself.
Like the Proviz jacket tweet, sometimes a general comment seems to set off a reaction in the brains of some people, who's instant response is to openly and viciously attack the person making the comment. This certainly seems to be the trend at the moment.

Take a moment scan through social media, and you will find posts and tweets from people who almost seem to have nothing better to do that trawl through Twitter, searching "cyclist" and getting offended about how the term is too much of a generalisation, and suggests all cyclists are the same. When in most cases, if you take a second to digest what has been written, that is not the case at all.
In a lot of cases the tweets which receive the attention of these people has never mentioned the person, or anyone they follow. Instead it has been selected after some careful trawling, and singled out for a multi pronged attack. Re-tweeting the post, with an alarmist comment, it is open season for the "pro-cycling" people out there. A simple "grrr cyclists, one rode straight out in front of me" is turned into "all cyclists should be banned from the road with immediate effect".

Now I have to say, this is very two sided and a very broad scope. There are plenty of anti-cycling motorists out there too. Those who want to see cyclists off their roads, stating all sorts of rubbish about road tax, etc. We know they are out there, they pop up all the time, and are full of negativity. Many pro-cyclists will tell you that these people have no right to be on the road, should be banned, and are a danger. The latter I am inclined to agree with. Bad attitudes towards a collective group of people, regardless of how similar or dissimilar is a bad thing. Both ways! Negative Nancy's like these are the biggest issue within the whole conversation between road users.

It is all a bloody nightmare. Those with the loudest voices also seem to be those with the most extreme views. Such is the feeling on social media these days, those with the voices of reason are quickly shouted down ( I mean people like you and I Paul !!! lol). Once you have been set upon by these cretins once or twice, you actually become reluctant to have your say. And so the voice of reason fades away, and only the shouty angry ones get a say anymore.
From an outside perspective, with no knowledge of how these things wear away at the more reasonable people out there, it appears that all cyclists have a bad attitude towards motorists, make unreasonable demands such as "ban cars", and are aggressive towards anyone who tries to question them.

While writing this I have popped onto Twitter, seen quite an amusing post about a pedestrian thanking a cyclist for stopping at a crossing, started to type a jovial reply, then deleted it, as it would no doubt have caused controversy for some unknown reason. Silenced by my own people, beaten down by "cyclists". It's a shame really, I like a positive discussion, but when the conversation is guaranteed to turn nasty within a few replies, I am not even going to both.

A few more weeks ago, I posted a video of a lovely lady cycling across a crossing, into the stationary traffic, between vehicles, and pop straight out in my path. Only to throw me a dirty look.

Posting it on Instagram, saying that riding like this, and attitudes like this are what give cyclists a bad name, I was once again set upon on Twitter. Promoting hatred towards cyclists, generalising etc.
The thing I was generalising about was how people who do not particularly like cyclists react to one bad experience. Almost in a single move, explaining why some feel the generalisation of the term "cyclist" is so hated by some. Used only as a description of the mode of transport the person in the incident was using, much like pedestrian, motorist, motorcyclist etc, it is somehow taken as a derogatory term, rather than a descriptive term. Not wishing in this instance to be associated with people who ride bicycles in a stupid and dangerous manner, offence is expressed at daring to use the term. They are simply a person using a bicycle. Huh! so a cyclist then?

So to recap... Cyclist - a person who rides a bicycle (like a pro, or like a twat)
Not a derogatory term, just a description of how that person was travelling at the time of your interaction or observation.

To all you brave little keyboard warriors out there who have taken it upon yourselves to speak on other cyclists (or what ever you identify as), if your first response is to call names, rally the troops, and stir up hatred towards a complete stranger on the internet, you are an idiot, and you do not represent me in any way whatsoever.
If you want to be constructive, listen, give balanced and polite responses, don't feel you have the right to judge someone because you disagree with their opinions. If you really don't like their opinions, say your bit, and leave it.

As things stand, road infrastructure is poor, but slowly improving in some places. Cars are not about to be banned from the roads any time soon, and we have certain areas where we will be in close proximity with other road users. Don't try and be a hero.

Like anything in life, the summary of this entry is simple, a small number of people ruin it for the masses. That small number of people also have the loudest voices, and create a negative attitude towards the rest of the group. It seems that it is human nature to be caught up in this destructive cycle, and appears that is not about to change any time soon.

Quick footnote to add...
If you think that someone pulling a wheelie on a busy road, into oncoming traffic isn't stupid or dangerous, our opinions differ vastly. If you think having someone like this pull into your path, and cause you to take action, is OK, again, we have a different view of OK.

Reading a tweet the other day, someone suggested that a pushbike doing a wheelie into the path of an oncoming car causing it to swerve or brake hard was no big deal, and the "poor motorist" would "just have to brake".. Yet I am sure if a car turned into the path of  such a person, causing them to brake on their bicycle, the situation would be very different. Dangerous driving, aggressive motorist etc.

How does that work? You can't have one set of rules in one direction and them be polar opposites for situations in the other direction. There are small exceptions to this of course, but in general, any road user causing any other road user to take sudden action, be it change of speed or direction is in the wrong, period.

Using the excuses that "they are only kids, its better than then being stuck indoors on an X-Box, or out on a street corner" is just plain stupid. If they were playing chicken, running across busy roads, would that be OK too? After all, its physical activity, even if it does cause accidents.

Right I have rambled enough, and totally lost my way, I'm done here.

Out of the blue...

Today 27th September, marks one year to the day of me coming across one of the most horrific accident scenes I have seen in years. It was already an hour or more after the accident, but the scene was still pretty chaotic. Those involved in the accident itself had been transported away, but the scene was very fresh, and the investigation in its very early stages.

Heading to the doctors that morning, I had seen on social media that there were reports of an accident right by the surgery, so I decided to walk. On arriving at the junction of Kirkdale and Wells Park Road, I couldn't believe my eyes. The completely mangled remains of a motorcycle, and a damaged van, mid way into the side road. The collision had clearly been a heavy one.

Standing around while I was waiting for the doctors appointment time to come around, I saw the officers trying to get an ID on the motorcyclist, and then make contact with their place of work, and with friends or family. A naturally hard time for all.

Being my usual self, I took a number of pictures of the scene, trying to avoid anything which would cause alarm or distress to anyone, and not wishing to be gorish. Posting one on social media, and stating where the accident was, the image was soon picked up by local media. Used as part of their story, I followed the updates on the situation to see if there was any news about the motorcyclist.

Early reports suggested very serious injuries, broken legs and arms and all sorts of speciation. A media report a little later stated a serious condition but nothing much more.

As with most things, the media soon dropped the story, nothing more was said.

So, a year later and its today, Friday 27th September 2019. Late last night (actually now but by the time I publish this will be the 27th) I received a Facebook message request. Anyone using social media will know, getting a random request is nothing unusual. Usually you just read it, block and delete, but this one seemed genuine. Reading the message, it was from a lady by the name of Alessandra. Complete with a link to a media story about an accident. At first glance I wasn't sure I remembered it, but reading on, it was one of the stories written using my image.

Now I know some will be thinking, "you people who take pictures of accidents sicken me", and to a degree I agree, it can be a horrible thing to do, but bear with me on this...

Alessandra was asking if it was me who took the picture and if I witnessed it or had any more information on the matter. Obviously I had not witnessed it but had more pictures, thanks to cloud back-up on Google Photos. Scrolling back through my history, there they were.

It turns out Alessandra was the lady riding the motorcycle that day, and was trying to piece together what had happened that day. Having spent ten days in a coma after the accident, she has very little recollection of that day at all, let alone any idea what happened or what the scene looked like. So was trying to get more images and info to piece things together a little better.

My first reaction was to be embarrassed and apologetic about taking pictures of the scene. However I soon realised she was happy to see them, so that was a relief. On speaking a little more, it appears she has had one heck of a year. Spending months in hospital, having a number of surgeries, and healing from multiple broken bones. I can't imagine for a second what that must be like.

It is one of those strange moments in my life where I feel my actions actually had a purpose that day, and I really hope that they have helped her in even the smallest possible way.

I wish you a great recovery Alessandra, and thank you for not being mad at me for taking the pictures. Thank you for reaching out to me.

If anyone else has any images or memories of that accident that they wish to share with Alessandra, please get in touch and I will be sure to pass them on to her, or put you in touch.

The world is a weird and wonderful place at times, and today I am feeling so happy to have heard from her, and know that she made it through.

The images below are some of the images shared with Alessandra. I have her permission to post this information and these images. Please be aware one of the images shows the wreckage of the bike. I hope this doesn't cause anyone any upset.