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Car vs Bike – The British At War

This week I have been mostly watching the Tirreno-Adriatico CYCLING Stage Race live from sunny Italy. When I mentioned this elsewhere, a car and motoring colleague was slightly horrified. What was I thinking of? Well, back in the day I participated in and wrote about both road cycling and mountain biking; at least until falling off became too painful. The point is, I can see both sides of the battle for our roads between cars and bikes.

On the very day that I am writing this a British rider – Steve Cummings from the Wirral – achieved a sensational stage win of the above mentioned race to great acclaim. I can guarantee to you that it will not be reported on British news media with the obvious exception of the cycling press. In other European news with other nationalities a victory such as this would be one of the top stories of the day.

The reason for this is simple and is because our ‘authorities’ pay only lip service to what in other Euro-nations is part of the national road infrastructure. Our councils and government departments talk the talk but struggle to walk the walk.

On an early stage of the Italian race we were in a typically lovely resort town with the race culminating on the coastal road. This was a well established avenue that is a dual-carriageway, has pavements either side AND a custom cycle path; thus clearly separating the different factions. Most European countries do this because the bike as transport and bike racing have been as big a part of national identity as their peculiar taste in food. They have an intrinsic understanding of cyclists’ needs so much so that the car and bike exist in harmony.

Once, British bikes were a part of our lives too but largely because cars were expensive and it just made sense for work and play. Now most of us can afford some sort of motor and cycling has become just another leisure activity. It’s good fun too; you see so much more cycling through the countryside than you ever will from your metal box. Sadly, lazy, short term, cheapest option government at national and local levels fail to understand this over the decades and design new roads with both cars and bikes in mind.

The result? The rise of the cycling Nazi. The ever increasing use of bikes on pavements, long since ignored by Britain’s last remaining coppers. The increasing number of fatalities and injuries caused by bad riding or bad driving. The rise of the road rage incident. The game that has generated using the latest generation cameras to show up our shortcomings as riders and drivers. The list of things that are wrong is long indeed.

The worst aspect is the cycling fanatic: the person who thinks that, as a cyclist, he is somehow owed something. These people believe that as they are clean and green they are somehow special – and remember, I am on their side. I have been subject to abuse by a biker despite the fact the incident was caused by his belief that he owned the road. It’s a thorny subject.

We don’t have a café culture in the same way as our European neighbours so similarly we do not have an inherent cycling culture. The result is that we try to invent one, piecemeal. Yes we have bike shops with some great rides and clothing stock for people who believe you can never have enough Lycra in your life but what we lack is understanding or the will to come up with a viable national strategy.

This is borne out by the laughable – and I mean laughable – attempts by the various highway agencies to accommodate bikes. We’ve all seen the joke five metre cycle lanes, put in not to protect cyclists but to meet some tiresome Euro-directive. They then claim to be doing what they can for cyclists. Alternatively you get the mad mayoral mania of some swivel-eyed lunatic (a city near me qualifies for this) for whom the car is the work of the devil himself and who tries to expunge it from the world with ‘naked streets’ or ‘shared space’ ideals (see here) that may work in Brussels or Copenhagen but will just cause chaos here.

The cycling fraternity has a point. It also has a few things to answer for. Most drivers are considerate but object to what they see as favouritism. In the next few days car owners are very likely to get stung – again – by our oily chancellor. If we though that money would go towards a better road infrastructure that separates cars from bikes we might be more accepting but it won’t will it? The buck stops in Whitehall. Geoff Maxted