Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Maybe it's the Giro d'Italia, but suddenly it's easier to be a cyclist here

Chain reaction: the Giro d'Italia effect changed attitudes towards cyclists

If you want to get me onto a bicycle, just dangle an Ulster Fry off the front of it. Not literally, just the promise of one at the end of an arduous journey is enough to get me strapping on my helmet. That's how my husband managed to get me onto my bicycle for the first time in a while – by promising that our trip would end in an establishment that serves a good breakfast.

I like cycling, but I absolutely hate doing it in Belfast. The heavy traffic terrifies me – and new government stats saying that you're 23 times more likely to die on a bike than a car don't help either.

I grew up bombing along country roads, where I felt safe and free on my bike. Despite living in Belfast for many years, I've never been able to adjust to the completely different experience of pedalling in the city. I'm simply too scared.

Although there's not a cycle lane or tow path my husband doesn't know, there are times when you have to take your life in your hands on a bike by taking your place among the cars and lorries. I find the stress of that just isn't worth the joy of cycling.

My husband isn't even slightly bothered by the traffic, and neither is our daughter, who sits happily in a covered trailer attached to the back of his bike. I felt sick the first time I saw them in action – she looked so vulnerable out there. But I've never had the heart to ban their fun, and can only pray that bad luck never comes their way.

The whole 'drivers versus cyclists' debate has been re-opened by a new Department of Environment campaign, which says that the number of cyclists badly hurt on our roads has more than doubled in the last 10 years. It's baffling that they're portrayed as two completely mutually exclusive groups who absolutely hate each other. Most drivers have been on a bike and most push bikers are drivers too. There are bad drivers and bad cyclists, good drivers and good cyclists.

I've seen it all on the roads – whether behind a steering wheel or handlebars.

My husband tells some shocking stories of how he has been treated on a bike, including having someone try to run him off the road when he clearly had a small child on board.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the driver then pulled over to scream abuse at them. Regardless of what side of the debate you sit on, the fact remains that it's the cyclists who are significantly more vulnerable in the event of a collision.

So it was with all this fear and tension in mind that I reluctantly set off on a cycle at the weekend, spurred on by the prospect of my fry.

The traffic was lighter with it being Easter, but I did notice something was different.

Maybe it's the DoE campaign or maybe not, but there's no doubt in my mind that drivers were more courteous and showed great care and consideration to us.

Maybe with the Giro d'Italia imminent, drivers here have come to the slow realisation that cyclists aren't always the pests of our roads. Or maybe it was because we clearly had a child with us. I don't know, but for the first time ever in Belfast, as a cyclist I didn't feel like my life was in persistent danger.

So I survived long enough to get my breakfast – and I survived the cycle home, which was mainly uphill and saw us pelted with hailstones.

I got off the bike walking like John Wayne but thinking: "Actually, I quite enjoyed that."

I might do it again – and I might not need to be bribed next time.

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