Cyclists vs drivers | opinion

27 January 2017
 by 
, CarsGuide

Tim Robson and Andrew Chesterton share their opinions of drivers and cyclists from opposite sides of the fence.

Roads are built for cars, right? True, but you’ll also find that it’s technically still legal to herd livestock down some of the busiest thoroughfares in Australia. So safely sharing the road with a few cyclists shouldn’t be a problem.

Wrong. The biggest beef on our streets exists between drivers and cyclists. With the pursuit of road cycling growing in popularity to arguably greater levels than ever, the divide between riders and drivers is following the same trajectory.

CarsGuide.com.au contributors and seasoned motoring journalists Tim Robson and Andrew Chesterton represent either side of the argument, with Robbo having clocked up three decades on the pedals and Chesto at least half that copping aggro from behind the wheel.

There’s no definitive answer, but both acknowledge that a collision between more than a tonne of metal and a bicycle is never going to end well.

Top five worst driving habits | a cyclist's view

By Tim Robson

I've been a cyclist, off-road and on, for the better part of 30 years, and it's a pastime – okay, a passion, that at times clashes with my day job as a motoring journo.

My transition to road cycling came later in life because part of the appeal of mountain biking was the distinct lack of vehicular traffic. Living, as I was, in Sydney, one of the most cyclist-unfriendly cities in the world, it was an easy decision to take.

After a decade of on-road riding, though, I reckon I'm uniquely placed to highlight a few habits drivers – and riders – of all persuasions could stand to lose when it comes to encountering a cyclist on the road. Here's five of my most noteworthy.

1.  Lack of patience

It's no secret we've seemingly all got fewer and fewer hours in a day to get more and more done – and those days frequently extend into the weekend as the demands of kid's sport and social lives force us into a quasi-commute on a Saturday or Sunday.

But honestly, waiting five more seconds as you wait for a bike rider to clear a narrow section of road, or to make that right turn safely, will not affect your world in the least. A moment of misjudgement on your part trying to brush past, however, could have life-changing consequences to the rider if they're knocked off.

Whether you agree with it or not, the law is the law, and cyclists are part of the traffic flow. Do we do silly things on occasion? Absolutely. Is your driving perfect? Mine sure isn't, and I've tested more than 1000 cars in my career.

Take a breath, count to 10, breathe again and you'll be past. Trust me. We're not doing it to you on purpose.

2.  Not paying attention

Part and parcel of my road ride must-dos is scanning parked cars for a couple of things. One; drivers inside, getting ready to hop out without looking over their shoulder, and two; pedestrians (or even the occupants of the car I'm passing) hustling out between the parked vehicles to cross the road or get into the car.

I once came within millimetres of cleaning up a harried mum who, clutching her crying baby, charged out from between two cars and almost directly into my path. Thankfully, I'd washed off a lot of speed because of the sheer volume of cars parked along this particular strip, but man… no winners there.

We can see you talking on your mobile, or when your chin is on your chest as you send that vital text.

Driving a car is relatively simple, so adding jobs – checking phones, supervising kids etc – comes all too easily. The onus is on all of us to look out for each other – and if that means taking an extra second to hang up from a call before flinging open your driver's door, or walking an extra 20 metres to cross at the lights, we owe it to each other to stay in the moment when we're around traffic.

Oh, and we can see you talking on your mobile, or when your chin is on your chest as you send that vital text to your bae about that loaf of sourdough you forgot. Stop it.

3.  Racing to make a left turn

Judging the speed of other vehicles can be tricky, and it's even more difficult with cyclists. The overall smaller size of a bike and rider makes judging distances harder, and speeds, too, are tougher to call.

I cannot count the number of times a car has brushed past me at pace, only to brake hard, indicate late and dive into the street on my left, leaving me with (hopefully) enough road to follow them around the turn lest I smash into their left rear door. It's not fun.

Figuring out whether to turn left in front of or behind a cyclist is no different to judging an overtaking manoeuvre; if in doubt, just wait a moment. Don't commit to a move that could end in disaster for another road user.

Oh, and look a cyclist in the eyes before committing to a right turn in front of them. Most will give you a clear 'NO' signal if the gap is too tight.

4.    Being too courteous

It sounds odd to complain about a driver being too nice, but sometimes an overt act of kindness puts the driver or rider in harm's way, when the opposite is the intention.

The new laws requiring drivers to give space to cyclists – a metre under 60km/h and 1.5m over 60 – are pretty new, and everyone is still getting used to them. As a rider, I'm pleased to say that the majority of drivers are heeding the rule changes – but some heed them too much, veering over double lines into oncoming traffic in an attempt to obey the law and putting themselves in real danger.

You wouldn't pass a bus or truck over double lines without leaving adequate space, would you?

While it's legal to cross double lines to pass a rider after indicating, it needs to be done with safety at front of mind.

If you can't pass a cyclist safely, please sit back and wait until you can. You wouldn't pass a bus or truck over double lines without leaving adequate space, would you? Don't run the risk.

5.  Lack of empathy

Possibly the most annoying – or saddening – habit of a small percentage of drivers is not looking at the cyclist as something more. I've never, ever had someone stroll past me while I'm walking on a footpath and call me a 'stupid %%%', or throw a half-full glass bottle of soft drink at me.

None of us are perfect… but we are all someone who's important to someone else. If you're getting cranky with a cyclist, please… just think for a second before acting out.

A fender bender in a car is an exercise for insurance companies. Hitting a cyclist, even accidentally, can land you in jail, and the rider – someone's mum or dad, brother or sister or best friend – in hospital… or in the morgue.

It's getting better out there, in my experience, but there's still work to do on both sides of the fence. Let's all pledge to not annoy each other in 2017!

Top five worst cyclist habits | a driver's view

By Andrew Chesterton

There are two obvious issues with concocting a list of cyclists' five most annoying habits. The first, of course, is trimming that extensive list to just five. But the second is defending the lycra-shredding outrage any criticism of the two-wheeled menace stalking Australia's roads, footpaths and (only very occasionally) bike paths inevitably flames.

Mention, for example, that bicycles are something children play on, and as such have as much place on our fast-moving highways as someone riding a trampoline to work, and the cycling community will be as frothed as their Saturday morning cappuccinos with outrage.

But before you set fire to the comments section, it needs to be made clear that this isn't an attack on the people sitting atop those bicycles. We're certain they are all perfectly normal and lovely people when they're driving or walking. But squeezing into that tight-fitting lycra must cut off the oxygen that feeds the reasonable part of their brains, transforming our neighbours, colleagues and friends into two-wheeled rage monsters incapable of human emotion.

So in the interest of the broader, non-riding public, allow us to present the following list in the slim hope that a cyclist should read it and see the error of their ways. 

1.  All that Lycra

There's a reason you don't see hordes of helmet-wearing, race suit-clad drivers buzzing around a table piled high with cappuccinos at your local cafe every weekend. And that's because most drivers understand that their vehicle is largely a mode of transport, and that not every trip is an attempt to set a Nurburgring lap record. 

But this hasn't yet sunk in with the two-wheeled masses, all of whom insist on dressing like it's the final stage of the Tour de France to ride the 950m from their house to their local cafe, where they herd around the counter like a gang of the world's least-intimidating superheroes before clip-clopping slowly to their table in their riding shoes.

Every motorist knows the feeling of being stuck behind a cyclist on a single-lane road.

What's worse, those fetching Lycra suits seem to be available in an extensive array of sizes ranging from extra, extra small all the way to extra small - sizes that are woefully incapable of preserving any shred of decency, and that leave the rider's sensitive bits straining against the over-stretched fabric like the world's most grotesque magic eye puzzle, giving new and horrible meaning to the term 'smashed avo.'

2.  The infuriating overtake

Every motorised motorist knows the feeling of being stuck behind a cyclist on a single-lane road, waiting patiently kilometre after endless kilometre for a safe place to overtake, finally finding one just in time to be stopped at a red light.

Now, any reasonable person would think "this kind-hearted motorist has just waited 25 minutes to safely get around me, and is clearly capable of travelling much faster than me, so I will wait behind them at the lights so they can take off at speed and disappear into the horizon while I continue to puff and sweat my way home."

But bicyclists are not reasonable people. And so they will always - always - pull in front of you before they 'accelerate' away when the light turns green so you can repeat the same merry dance again.

3.  Riding on the road, or footpath, even when there’s a bike path

Imagine the outrage if, on a whim, I simply pulled into a bike lane or onto a footpath to dodge a traffic snarl. And yet, on one particularly busy Sydney stretch which is well served by bike paths, lycra-bulging bicyclists will jump from the road to the bike lane to the footpath so they can dodge red lights, traffic or roadworks. 

I pay rego, and it doesn't give me the right to ride a pogo stick down the freeway in the fast lane.

But the road deal is simple. Either you have a right to be there, and behave accordingly, or you don't. But only cyclists cherry-pick the road rules as and when they suit them. Red lights? Stop signs? One-way streets? All are considered optional by our two-wheeled friends. But suggest they should carry some sort of identification or registration (like every other road user) to ensure they comply with the road rules and outrage erupts across the country.

4.  The eco-smugness

Here's the deal, you're not saving the planet by parking your V8 4WD for two hours on a Sunday morning so you can sweat your way slowly to the local cafe. Then there's the constant, mind-numbing sharing of their endeavours (when did you last log onto social media to see someone post "just knocked off a five kilometre drive"? Exactly).

5.  The attitude

There’s just so much that comes under this heading that it’s hard to know where to start, but basically cyclists seem to be furiously angry and put upon people. Cover them in Lycra and they become rage monsters; shaking their fists and screaming expletives at any motorist who dares to use the road (which was designed, let’s not forget, to convey motorised vehicles) anywhere near them.

Then there's the endless excuses, like "but I pay my car registration, so I have every right to use the road." Bollocks. I pay rego, and it doesn't give me the right to ride a pogo stick down the freeway in the fast lane.

And if you criticise them, particularly in any online forum, they will respond with the kind of furious bile normally associated with hate groups. Don't believe me? Check the comments.

Comments