There has been much excitement in certain cycling circles resulting from the victory of a Briton in the Tour de France. Many have been asking what this victory means for British utility cycling? Well, not a lot really. British cyclesport however, will likely see a sharp increase in uptake, followed by a similarly sharp decrease to a level slightly above where it was before, as people are inspired to give road cycling a try before discovering conditions for cyclists on British roads are about as hospitable as the surface of Venus. For those who are about to become cyclists for the next few weeks (and those few who will stick with it in spite of the conditions) I thought I’d prepare a post to ease your transition into the reality of cycling in the UK.
Never mind the studies, or the laws of physics, you and your bike are the most dangerous things on the road. If they find out you’ve started cycling, expect friends, family and co-workers to regale you with stories of how a cyclist once caused them to have to swerve and almost kill a child pedestrian whilst they were innocently driving past a primary school at 80 mph, or how they are frequently inconvenienced by cyclists riding two or even three abreast everywhere they go.
Also, expect to be reprimanded by strangers for not paying road tax, even though no one has for over seventy years. Those significant contributions made to the roads through council tax and PAYE? Forget about them, they count got nothing if you’re on a bike. As for traffic lights, it really doesn’t matter if you stop at reds or not, either way you will definitely be hearing a lot about how you and every other cyclist on the road run every red light.
Rules of the road
You may feel you are already familiar with the way roads work, perhaps from previous experiences driving a car. However, there are important differences which you need to be aware of when using these same roads on a bike. Give way lines work differently when cycling. Whilst you might expect a motorist to give way to you if they are pulling out of a side road whilst you are driving a car, they will not do if you are on a bike. Be careful, they will not necessarily know you are new to cycling.
Cycle infrastructure is extremely varied in the UK, but there are minimum standards for poor quality which must be met. The three most common types of cycle infrastructure you will most encounter are mandatory cycle lanes, advisory cycle lanes and footway conversions. Mandatory cycle lanes aren’t actually mandatory, the mandatory refers to motorists who must only park in these lanes if it’s really important. Advisory cycle lanes are actually a bit of a red herring, they are in fact merely a clever way for the government to dispose of the excess white paint Britain was forced to accept as part Britain’s exit from the exchange rate mechanism in the 90s. They actually have nothing to do with cycling at all, actually functioning as parking for cars. Footway conversions are exactly that; pavements which have received no engineering treatment but upon which it is legal to cycle. However, it is important to be aware that their primary function is car parking.
The punishment for failing to use all of these types of cycle infrastructure is the same, intimidation and verbal abuse. However, if you do use these facilities, exercise extreme caution as they may later trap you and force you to take a route which heads away from where you were actually planning to go. At present there is not known engineering solution to this problem.
You are likely to hear a lot about how cycling is very, very dangerous. Not dangerous enough for motorists to be expected to moderate their behaviour of course, or for the engineering measures required to moderate their behaviour to be widely accepted. Cycling is dangerous in a special way which requires the use of a special polystyrene talisman which is to be strapped to the head at all times whilst using the bike. Choosing not to do so will be regarded as morally reprehensible in certain quarters (generally the same ones where speeding fines are seen as a violation of basic human rights).
Riding a bicycle confers near-invisibility on the cyclist. Never forget it is your responsibility to dress up in the most hideously gaudy colours possible. At night, in addition to regular lights remember to strap a light cannon to your head for good measure. If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in a collision with a motor vehicle, regardless of the circumstances, it will always be your fault.
Selling your new bike
If common sense prevails and you decide that cycling in the current conditions is simply not for you, do not sell your bike just yet. There will be thousands of others just like you trying to sell their new bikes too. The excess of supply will drive down prices and you are likely to get a very poor return on your investment. Hang on to your investment for a few months until the glut of cheap road bikes has been cleared before listing it on eBay. Don’t leave it in the shed too long though, fashions move on quickly in sport cycling and if you leave it too long, you might as well wait until it’s vintage.
For those handful of the quick and the brave for whom good sense does not prevail, congratulations for you are truly exceptional. Just don’t let that fact prevent you from giving your full support to the measures desperately needed to make all kinds of cycling accessible to the rest of the population.