Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No. 1; Class

“..I know my place”

Oh, it’s you. Well, come in, come in. Wipe your feet. I’ll just put some plastic down over the seats. We don’t want to get oil or grease marks on them do we? You know what some cyclists are like. I’ve put on a selection of home made cakes on those doilies and tea in the Harrods container over there on my wife’s executive hostess trolley. Now, let’s have a little chat about class.

The British developed a strange attitude toward class and status through recent decades. In the past everyone knew their place and only spent what they could afford. The bicycle was the mode of transport for getting about as your place of work and shops were nearby anyway.

With relentless marketing from the motoring lobby (Ford made no secret of their product placement in programmes such as The Professionals) and construction of infrastructure hostile to anything without an engine, the car became the affordable, progressive item of desire for the working classes to have. In the village where I was brought up in the 1970’s, the main place of work was an engineering factory about a mile away. Everyone walked or cycled as it was the logical thing to do. By the end of the decade, all but a hardcore minority had moved from bicycle to car. My father worked there, made the same transition and developed heart problems that could have been eased by riding a bicycle more often to a job building camshafts for cars.

I often look at the price tag of a new car and think ‘how many can really afford that’. Of course in our recent times of easy credit, it was easier to burden oneself with the payments over a period of months with the choice of upgrading their car or paying a lump sum to make the car officially theirs. People were always going to go for the upgrade, burdening themselves with more debt and ensuring brand loyalty.

The adverts the customers saw promised quite a lot. They promised empty forests and fire roads or strangely desolate city centres with romantic street lighting. Beaches with empty car parks or country lanes without farm vehicles. Above all they promised aspiration and freedom. Buy this product and suddenly you can become [even more] attractive to the opposite sex. You could free yourself from your supposedly lowly bonds and BE somebody.

If motorists are a bit aggressive, it’s partly because behind those angry, stressful eyes they’re wondering why the Ring Road is full to the brim of other aspiring sexy types looking for that open tundra. Near Ipswich. They will carry on motoring to the death, as they feel that they have paid their way to sit in such misery. They have had to insure it, ensure that it’s roadworthy, fill it with fuel and pay for the amount of emissions its engine size will generate. This, to many motorists, means that they have ‘bought in’ and own the roads. They are part of an exclusive club believing the roads are theirs when they aren’t, that think they can drive how they want when they can’t, and think their journey is more important when it isn’t.

In these supposedly enlightened times, the humble bicycle is still generally regarded in the UK as the poor mans transport, for people that don’t quite fit in or the great unwashed who don’t pay their way. The media, largely reliant on motoring advertising revenues, are happy to maintain the status quo.

Another factor, particularly pertinent as we enter Autumn is the use of hi-viz. To the aspiring classes, an activity requiring a high-viz tabard is something that…well….poorer people do. You don’t need hi-viz in a gym unless you are particularly clumsy, or you’re there to work on the air conditioning. You shouldn’t need it when cycling either, but that debate is for another time.

In recent years, levels of cycling have started to rise in places such as Central London. Although in real terms cycling still has a pitifully low modal share, especially in outer London and the shires, Boris Bikes, Superhighways and even ‘going Dutch’ seemed to be floating around the media in a positive way. Cycling was starting to be discussed which could only be a good thing. To counter this, a new battle front opened up. This time it was sports/leisure cyclists that spent too much money. Enter the MAMIL (Middle Aged Man In Lycra). The papers clearly wanted middle aged men back in golf club bars moaning about immigration and buying sports cars (preferably ones they’ve reviewed).

It would appear that advocates for bicycles and safer streets are not immune to snobbery or weird prejudices either;

Mikael Colville-Andersen is behind the wonderful Copenhagenize blog and was one of the inspirations that led to the creation of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Last week, he came up with the following tweet..

I’m praying he’s using exaggeration for comedic effect here.

To be fair, when I look at the price tag of an e-bike or e-cargo bike, I’m soberly reminded of my working class roots in that they’re generally more expensive than any of the cars I’ve ever owned in the 29 years since passing my driving test. The only exception is the one that’s currently collecting dust and bird poop in my driveway.

However, I kind of have to doff my flat cap to individuals and families that are prepared to go through such commitment and financial outlay in the United Kingdom specifically where nearly everything is stacked against you from volume of traffic to infrastructure designed by Salvador Dali if he had a penchant for Tennents Super. This set against a backdrop of unfathomable anti-bicycle prejudice on public Facebook groups where people express views that Joseph Goebbels might have winced at.

Mikael prefaced that last tweet with the following one…

I felt a bit guilty, white and privileged as all the elements listed in his ‘postcard’ are also in the smartphone I read it on. And the smartphone Mikael used to generate the tweets in the first place.

Again, I pray it’s an attempt at humour, but even so, It’s kind of treating cycling as an inverted snobbish cult and those ‘able-bodied’ people that invest in an e-bike have somehow fallen from the pure faith. I would love to watch him debate with able-bodied but more vulnerable sections of society who have decided to invest in an e-bike as it offered a bit more freedom or maybe just an introduction to the broad church of cycling. E-bikes could offer more security, allowing users to get clear of a potentially dangerous confrontation for example. Or to get away from men taking photos of women for a blog simply because they are riding a bicycle in regular clothing.

The simple fact is that cycling can be as expensive or as cheap as you want it to be without compromising your safety and wellbeing. It doesn’t require membership to a club or cult. It’s an egalitarian, libertarian mode of transport that effortlessly transcends class which is why this Sceptered Isle of ours has so much trouble dealing with it. We seemingly want to return Britain to when it was ‘Great’, yet develop a collective amnesia if it’s pointed out that rates of cycling for transport were far higher in those heady bygone times. We design networks to make the most complicated and expensive mode of transport simple and make the most simple and cheapest mode of transport complicated. We happily turn a blind eye to woodland being destroyed for road schemes regarded as essential, yet will set up pompous protest groups against putting a tarmac strip through woodland which would open it up for all ages and abilities.

The most wonderful thing about the bicycle, human powered or otherwise, is that it loves you just the way you are regardless of social status or credit rating. Just make sure you don’t mix with those pedestrians. Common as muck they are.

The Highway Code (Rules for Cyclists) Updated Edition

Please find below the ‘Rules for Cyclists’ as outlined in The Highway Code adapted by me to give more accuracy (in my humble opinion).

59 Clothing.

You should wear

• a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened. It won’t necessarily help, but will make motorists think they can drive like lunatics around you because you are ‘protected’ and make cycling look much more dangerous than it actually is, putting everybody else off. Motor companies (like Volvo and BMW) actively promote helmet use. Isn’t that a coincidence?!

• appropriate clothes for cycling. Avoid clothes which may get tangled in the chain, or in a wheel or may obscure your lights. Do NOT wear lycra as that is very, very bad and our obese society will judge you for some reason.

• light-coloured or fluorescent clothing which helps other road users to see you in daylight and poor light because normally they can’t be bothered to look for you unless you’re lit up like a Mardi Gras carnival float and visible to a Mars Rover.

• reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) in the dark for that extra nerdy/librarian look. Also, as illustrated in the pictures below, you MUST switch from black to white shoes.

LEFT: Encouraging frothing Tweets & letters to local newspapers.
RIGHT: Still encouraging frothing Tweets & letters to local newspapers as there is no registration plate or “Tax Disc”

60 At night your cycle MUST have white front and red rear lights lit. It MUST also be fitted with a red rear reflector. White front reflectors and spoke reflectors will also help you to be seen. Flashing lights are permitted if you wish to resemble a very small lighthouse but it is recommended that cyclists who are riding in areas without street lighting use a steady front lamp. HOWEVER do not use Mountain Bike lights as people will moan that they are too bright or dynamo lighting as people will moan that they are too dim. People will moan whatever you do, basically. And marvel at the phrase, “I SAW a cyclist with no lights”. [Law RVLR regs 13, 18 & 24)]

How a cyclist should be seen on a main road. Apparently.
(Photo taken from Voyager 2. The cyclist was hit by a motorist making a left turn 3 minutes later)

61 Cycle Routes and Other Facilities.

Use cycle routes, advanced stop lines, cycle boxes and toucan crossings unless at the time it is unsafe to do so. Use of these facilities is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills which you will need lots of because the facilities normally look as though they were designed by someone that kicks mammals for a hobby. But they can make your journey safer IF you are the last person on Earth and even then they are a waste of time and space.

62 Cycle Tracks.

These are normally located away from the road, but may normally be found on footpaths or pavements. Cyclists and pedestrians may be segregated or they may share the same space (unsegregated). When using segregated tracks you MUST keep to the side intended for cyclists until another cyclist approaches when you both suddenly realise it’s too narrow. Take care when passing pedestrians, especially children, older or disabled people. Everyone will drift into the cycle lane for no reason, usually plugged into a phone and/or headphones. Always be prepared to slow down and stop if necessary as they wander about aimlessly. Take care near road junctions as you will have difficulty seeing other road users who will not notice you. If you live outside a major city, expect to see well designed stuff delivered in the 23rd Century as NIMBY’s will oppose it anyway.  [Law HA 1835 sect 72]

63 Cycle Lanes.

These are marked by a white line (which will be entered by ALL other road traffic) along the carriageway. Keep within the lane when practicable through all the sunken drain covers and broken glass. When leaving a cycle lane check before pulling out that it is safe to do so and signal your intention clearly to other road users which will be ignored. Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer if you are in Denmark or The Netherlands or Germany or anywhere else EXCEPT the UK.

64 You MUST NOT cycle on a pavement UNLESS the Council has painted a white bicycle on it. There is a difference APPARENTLY. [Laws HA 1835 sect 72 & R(S)A 1984, sect 129]

65 Bus Lanes.

Most bus lanes may be used by cyclists as indicated on signs. Watch out for people getting on or off a bus. Be very careful when overtaking a bus or leaving a bus lane as you will be entering a busier traffic flow and the bus driver thinks they are at Le Mans. Do not pass between the kerb and a bus when it is at a stop UNLESS you’re unbelievably thin.

66 You should

• keep both hands on the handlebars except when signalling or changing gear or sticking the finger up at yet another example of incompetent driving.

• keep both feet on the pedals UNLESS you are trying to do a really cool trick to impress your friends to justify owning a BMX whilst in your 30’s.

• never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends. You’ll get abuse regardless from motorists that confuse ‘a country drive’ with ‘Paris – Dakar Rally’.

• not ride close behind another vehicle UNLESS it’s slowed down just after overtaking you for a speed camera or police patrol car.

• not carry anything which will affect your balance or may get tangled up with your wheels or chain such as a chainsaw, which MAY be the only thing that stops motorists passing so closely.

• be considerate of other road users, particularly blind and partially sighted pedestrians. Let them know you are there when necessary, for example by ringing your bell if you have one. Try using common courtesy, which is an ancient British craft that died out years ago.

• never mention LTN’s. Never. Yes, we know they are commonplace in other countries and they work. And they have no impact on emergency services response times. And they return children safely to the streets that we effectively banned them from for decades. But just don’t. It only encourages people to attack planters.

67 You should

• look all around before moving away from the kerb, turning or manoeuvring, to make sure it is safe to do so. Give a clear signal to show other road users what you intend to do. This will be ignored.

• look well ahead for obstructions in the road, such as drains, pot-holes and parked vehicles so that you do not have to swerve suddenly to avoid them. Leave plenty of room when passing parked vehicles and watch out for doors being opened or pedestrians stepping into your path, particularly heavy users of mobile phones, the lemmings that they are.

• be aware of traffic coming up behind you. They know not what they are doing.

• take extra care near road humps, narrowings and other traffic calming features . They are supposed to improve road safety. In reality, they turn something as simple and easy as riding a bicycle into some form of gladiatorial combat, designed by the people that devised the course for ‘Extreme Wipeout’.

• take care when overtaking. Wave to queuing stationary traffic and smile to indicate you are passing them safely. This should cheer them up no end.

68 You MUST NOT

• carry a passenger unless your cycle has been built or adapted to carry one. Those carefree days are over, apparently.

• hold onto a moving vehicle or trailer UNLESS you are going for £250 on ‘You’ve been Framed’ or you’re Marty McFly.

• ride in a dangerous, careless or inconsiderate manner. The Daily Mail and talkRADIO think you will anyway but ‘dangerous, careless or inconsiderate’ also describes their take on journalism.

• ride when under the influence of drink or drugs, UNLESS you live in West Sussex as it can help you finally understand the County Council’s approach to cycling. [Law RTA 1988 sects 24, 26, 28, 29 & 30 as amended by RTA 1991]

69 You MUST obey all traffic signs and traffic light signals. That means NOT breaking red lights. The wearing of a replica professional team kit does NOT make you immune from all traffic laws. You know you’re doing wrong because of the self-righteous yet furtive look you always have when you’re doing it. FAILURE to comply means ALL LAW ABIDING CYCLISTS and SOME OTHER PEOPLE I’VE JUST THOUGHT OF have the right to abuse you. [Laws RTA 1988 sect 36 & TSRGD reg 10(1)]

70 When parking your cycle

• find a conspicuous location where you think it can be seen and passers-by will ignore.

• use cycle stands or other cycle parking facilities wherever possible and do NOT let the vandalised bicycle already there with the kicked in wheels put you off in any way.

• do not leave it where it would cause an obstruction or hazard to other road users although they will find some reason to moan whatever you do.

• secure it well so that it will not fall over and become an obstruction or hazard UNLESS outside the Daily Mail offices (Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT) or talkRADIO (The News Building, 1 London Bridge Street, London, SE1 9GF)

71 You MUST NOT cross the stop line when the traffic lights are red. Some junctions have an advanced stop line to enable you to wait and position yourself ahead of other traffic. They will generally have motor vehicles waiting in it. [Laws RTA 1988 sect 36 & TSRGD regs 10 & 36(1)]

Road junctions

72 On the left. When approaching a junction on the left, vehicles will turn in front of you, out of or into the side road. Just before you turn, check for undertaking cyclists or motorcyclists. Do not ride on the inside of vehicles that are signalling or slowing down to turn left despite the fact they just overtook you at speed.

73 Pay particular attention to long vehicles which need a lot of room to manoeuvre at corners. Be aware that drivers may not see you. They may have to move over to the right before turning left. Wait until they have completed the manoeuvre because the rear wheels come very close to the kerb while turning. Do not be tempted to ride in the space between them and the kerb. In fact, if you see a lorry indicating or about to make a turn just STOP for goodness sake. The world is a brighter place with you still in it.

74 On the right. If you are turning right, check the traffic to ensure it is safe, then signal and move to the centre of the road. Allow for Audi & BMW drivers that will still overtake you even in the middle of your manoeuvre. Wait until there is a safe gap in the oncoming traffic and give a final look before completing the turn. It may be safer to wait on the left until there is a safe gap or to dismount and push your cycle across the road. No-one is going to stop as motorists are always in a terrible hurry for some reason.

75 Dual carriageways. Remember that traffic on most dual carriageways moves quicker than the speed limit but it’s acceptable because they are all experts [in their own opinions] and when an accident occurs, it is clearly a problem with the road or the vehicle. When crossing wait for a safe gap and cross each carriageway in turn, like Mark Cavendish on MDMA and Lucozade. Take extra care when crossing slip roads. Bear in mind the Highways Agency don’t actually want you there at all, yet can’t put a proper segregated route in because that involves thinking and doing stuff.

76 Roundabouts can be hazardous ONLY if motorists are about and should be approached with care.

Roundabouts

77 You may feel safer walking your cycle round on the pavement or verge. If you decide to ride round keeping to the left-hand lane you should

• be aware that drivers may not easily see you as they have vehicles with touchscreens now which are far more entertaining & fascinating to look at than the roads they are on. Especially in Guildford.

• take extra care when cycling across exits. You may need to signal right to show you are not leaving the roundabout and that you exist at all.

• watch out for vehicles crossing your path to leave or join the roundabout or do whatever they bloody well like

78 Give plenty of room to long vehicles on the roundabout as they need more space to manoeuvre. Do not ride in the space they need to get round the roundabout. It may be safer to stop and go to a nearby pub to wait until they have cleared the roundabout. And then perhaps a couple of other lorries after that, just to be safe.

Crossing the road

79 Do not ride across equestrian crossings, as they are for horse riders only. Do not ride across a pelican, puffin or zebra crossing. Dismount and wheel your cycle across EVEN if you are wearing a hooded top with the hood up smoking a B&H on a ‘Mountain Bike’.

80 Toucan crossings. These are light-controlled crossings which allow cyclists and pedestrians to share crossing space and cross at the same time. They are push-button operated. Pedestrians and cyclists will see the green signal together. Cyclists are permitted to ride across and will inevitably get in the way of a pedestrian who will write to the local paper because they are a bloody stupid idea.

81 Cycle-only crossings. Very rare outside London. Cycle tracks on opposite sides of the road may be linked by signalled crossings. You may ride across but you MUST NOT cross until the green cycle symbol is showing. Try to ignore the hatred simmering from the motorists you’ve stopped as you’ve added about 3 seconds on to their journey time. Do NOT forget to press the ‘Wait’ button again on the other side as courtesy to other cyclists who may be approaching. Somewhere. [Law TSRGD regs 33(2) & 36(1)]

82 Level crossings/Tramways. Take extra care when crossing the tracks (see Rule 306). You should dismount at level crossings where a ‘cyclist dismount’ sign is displayed. Then feel a little foolish when you see the replacement bus service pulling out from the station car park.