A lot of people whinge about cyclists. They complain that we don’t pay rego; get in the way of cars; think we’re morally superior; wear Lycra; treat red lights as yield signs; have tip-tap shoes; and take up space at cafes.
Cyclists are also accused of being aggressive road users. If cycling is supposed to be such fun, why are bike riders so shouty?
I must confess I have, at times, been a bellicose bicyclist.
I didn’t start out that way, but I can remember the day things shifted. I was riding my new racer on Sydney’s northern beaches. A glance at the bike computer told me I was doing 35km/h on the flat and it felt like I was flying.
A minute later, I really was flying. A car driver waiting to cross my direction of travel at an intersection had accelerated without warning. My bike collided head-on with her SUV, and I slid across the bonnet and the windscreen before landing on the road.
If I had died that day, my last utterance would have been “WHOA!” – hardly a contender for a dictionary of quotations. Instead, I was supremely fortunate; all I had was a tweaked neck, a flayed shoulder and a bruised hand. I was also lucky that an off-duty police officer behind the driver was ready to testify that I had right of way. My bike was bent in two.
And what did the driver say? “I didn’t see you.”
It’s a phrase so familiar to cyclists that it has its own acronym, SMIDSY: “Sorry, mate, I didn’t see ya.”
Well, my body healed, and insurance replaced my bike. I was soon back on the road - and as nervous as a kitten in a room full of rottweilers.
There were positives from my crash. I now never fully trust a motorist to give me the right of way - which has spared me an accident several times. Also, I got my new bike in yellow, as the original choice of black was a bad one.
But in the months that followed, I shouted at a lot of cars. Mostly, this was at drivers whose actions were making me nervous. But I was scared, and this fear was translating into short-fused fury.
The problem is that the stakes are so different for cyclists and motorists. If a car and a bike collide, the motorist goes to the panel-beaters. The cyclist winds up in hospital; or a wheelchair; or the morgue.
But motorists often don’t understand that what they see as a happy outcome – “whew, that was close!” – is a near-death experience for a vulnerable road user. And that’s why the cyclist is ranting.
After a while, I calmed down again. I realised aggression wasn’t helping anyone, least of all me. I smile at fellow road users, I wave to say thanks, and if someone nearly wipes me out, I try have a calm, polite chat with them if I get a chance. Mostly, they are genuinely sorry.
I also ask myself: why are motorists so angry about cyclists? Let’s face it, with all the traffic lights, the buses, the jaywalking pedestrians, the T3 lanes and above all, the other cars, cyclists are pretty low on the list of things that get in their way. And it's very hard for a cyclist to put a motorist in hospital.
Still, I truly believe things are improving on our roads, despite the efforts of shock jocks, TV news, politicians and a certain cricketer. It’s actually not a war zone out there, and 99 out of 100 people – motorists and cyclists – are trying to do the right thing.
It helps that more and more people are joining the two-wheeled revolution. In years to come, we’ll hopefully be wondering what all the fuss was about. Meanwhile, don’t SMIDSY me, and I promise I won’t shout at you.
How do you stay calm on the road? Has an incident changed the way you ride?