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Neil Fitton - My love of two wheels

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

I love my cycling and during lockdown it has been the perfect time for me to fall in love with my bike(s) again, rides on quiet roads and through the amazing countryside of Surrey where I live have been amazing. I have a few bikes (9) and therefore I have one for every type of riding I need, My road bike is sublime with its very lightweight 7kgs and electronic shifting it is amazing to ride (maybe not up hills because I weigh 100kgs !!!) The lanes have been devoid of cars for the most part and there have been many more people out on their bikes getting their daily exercise, always a friendly wave or a “morning” (I’m usually still saying that at 3 in the afternoon ). My other go to bike is my Cyclocross bike/Gravel Bike, this is like a beefed up road bike with a wider and more grippy tyre that allows me to take it off road, while this isn’t up to the abuse I can give my mountain bikes (like I say I have 9 bikes), it is perfect for the forest trails, tracks, bridal ways and green lanes that dot the area around me and if I have to spend some time on the road then it’s not a slog with those fat tyres!!

Getting out into the woods again has been so peaceful and I have seen groups of deer, foxes, and lots of squirrels and even a couple getting a little amorous (not all together obviously that would be weird!). This type of bike gives amazing freedom to roam and take the road less travelled. I have seen families digging bikes out of sheds to all ride together along the towpaths and green lanes around me, and after putting a post on our local Facebook group offering help to make sure they are road safe or need looking at I had many responses and have put a few supermarket bikes back together and made them rideable. Long may this cycle revolution continue,

The government have promised to give £2bn to cycling infrastructure which at first glance seems amazing except this is over 5yrs and is no more than was pledged previously BUT they have promised to speed up the process and start work immediately on some projects. When I heard this I thought about how we could improve cycling on our roads and encourage more people to cycle and it all boils down to safety and the perception of safety while riding on our UK roads….so what can we do?

All road users need to be aware of what is and isn’t acceptable while riding or driving, there are idiots and even deliberately dangerous road users out there but on the whole they do seem to be the minority….actually, lets caveat that! If you live in London or a big city you will regularly see cyclists jumping red lights and this is just unacceptable and this is always the ‘go to’ response I get whenever I ask the question about cyclists and I can’t argue with them, this one thing is incredibly dangerous and creates a very unfair perception of the bulk of cyclists using the roads so in a not ‘tit for tat’ approach to this I will not mention the many times I see drivers jump red lights, use their phones, speed dangerously or do crazy overtaking manoeuvres or pull out without looking.

I wanted to dispel a few myths that get thrown at me over the years of cycling and many of you will know these…

1) You don’t pay Road Tax …. Well yeah, I do, I pay my taxes and this is where money for the roads comes from, General Taxation. If you meant I don’t pay VED (the old tax disc) then well that is an emissions tax based on how polluting your vehicle is and so of course I don’t pay that (unless it was based on sweat then I would be paying a fortune!) but neither do a lot of vehicles, My Citroen Cactus is £0 VED does that mean I have less right to be on the road or actually does it mean I should have more rights? AND even because I do have a car and have paid the tax on it does that not mean while I am riding my bike (removing my car from adding to the traffic problem) by rights my tax should apply to my bike.

2) You aren’t insured, well no I’m not insured per se (I actually do have 3rd party insurance through my bike insurance) but I don’t have to be. If I damaged your car while riding my bike well then I would do what I could to ensure I covered some level of cost, but remember you also have insurance that covers damage to your car from a 3rd party and yes it may put up your premiums but I’m guessing this is a really small problem compared to the amount of times it happens and also to the amount of uninsured drivers on the roads (there are thought to be around 1 million of them in the UK)

3) Riding two abreast ….. Can of worms here, I get abuse regularly from drivers who think this is one of the most serious breaches of the law of the road. I have spittle flecked, plumb faced drivers screaming at me through their side window as they pass (not looking where they are going but at me!) SINGLE FILE SINGLE FILE!!!!. I try and point out to them if I happen to catch up with them at the next junction or traffic light having delayed their journey by maybe 10 or 15 minutes …. sorry 10 or 15 seconds! That it is perfectly legal and is in the highway code that cyclist can and are allowed to ride two abreast when it’s safe to do so and it is only an advisory rule that single file should be used at other times.

Now why does this cause such ire from drivers, well I think I has something to do with the perception that we are taking up the road and therefore they can’t pass. Shall we break this one down a little! As a cyclist I already ride to the left of the road, to be safe from danger I ride (as is described in the highway code) I ride approx. 3ft/1m from the edge of the road to avoid drains, debris and dead animals (that car drivers tend to leave there) this part of the road is also often the worse part as it has been impacted by cars the most (this is where your wheels go and damage the surface) this distance allows me to take avoiding action should there be a potholes or other obstacles and means I don’t have to swerve too much, SO If the average road is 3m wide and the average car is approx. 1.8m and I am riding 1m from the edge of the road and you are supposed to give me at least 1m of passing space then we are already at 3.8m putting you passed the central lines and therefore in the lane of oncoming traffic ….. are you getting my point yet!!

When you try and pass me with oncoming traffic you are already putting me in danger so if I am riding two abreast with another rider we may take an extra 0.5m of the lane meaning you still can’t pass safely if another car is coming and therefore I am not delaying your journey any more than if I was riding alone unless you just don’t care if you get close to me and also putting the oncoming driver in danger. There are many more and I would be happy to discuss any of them with you, but before your blood boils over think about the amount of times in a day if you are a regular driver another drivers cuts you off, fails to indicate, stops suddenly, swerves while on their phone, pulls out of a junction, speeds past you or drives up your ass! Then think about the amount of times a cyclist does these things and you may find that the problem lies with tin boxes. OK enough of a rant, I want to start to wrap up with some positive energy.

If more people cycled there would be less cars on the road for those that can’t or won’t cycles causing less traffic problems and less pollution, if we encouraged children to cycle to school we would have fewer parents doing the school run clogging the roads and also getting kids to do some much needed exercise. If we encouraged parents and families to go riding more often we would get parents to do more exercise, if we turned our workplaces and cities into cycle friendly places we would free up public transport, reduce pollution and improve the mental health of those that commute by bike. When we see more people cycling in our towns and countryside, we will start to see a culture of tolerance for all road users and not see it as a sense of entitlement.

The biggest barrier I have always seen to more people cycling is that it is too dangerous to ride on the roads, all I say to you is get on your bike and ride, don’t worry about the driver behind you just ensure you are riding safely and let them worry about avoiding you on the whole most drivers will give you all the space you need and aren’t out to kill you ! and if you are a driver that thinks cyclists shouldn’t be on the road I want you to imagine that it was your son or daughter, brother, best friend or wife and they said they were scared to ride on the road because of the attitude you had to the safety of a cyclist, what if you heard your neighbour had been hit by a car while cycling or their child was knocked down you would be shocked and upset for them, so next time you think that you are being held up by 2 or even 10 cyclist riding together just think it’s only a slight delay (probably less time than the temporary traffic lights or the accident shutting one lane of the road ahead) think about those people could all be in front of you in their cars delaying you….take a deep breath have patience and give them the space they deserve and remember they have every right to be there as do you.

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