On yer bike: Dan Gordon dons Lycra to sermonise about life on two wheels in Belfast
I’ve crossed to the dark side. No I’m not the new Darth Vader in the latest Star Wars film — I’m riding a bicycle.
I’ve been secretly cycling since last October, occasionally as a commuter but chiefly as a weekend “leisure cyclist”. I’ve been frequenting that netherworld that exists somewhere between unforgiving pedestrians and impatient motorists.
There are a number of factors to blame. Health adverts encouraging exercise. The Giro d’Italia coming here a few years back. The local Gran Fondo legacy event aimed at amateur cyclists and a full-length mirror in a fruit shap. It was a perfect storm and I’m entered for the June Fondo.
I have acquired assorted Lycra garments with the necessary sewn-in padding in the trouser area. An alarming sight on the washing line, the clothing in question provides a welcome degree of protection for a middle-aged man.
As a motorist/pedestrian and relative cycling novice I want to share some sights that have come my way over the past months as I prepare for the road ahead (see what I did there).
Firstly, I have realised all government bodies see cyclists as voters they should be seen to support (but not too much).
Next, motorists view cyclists as arch-enemies to be tolerated at best and thwarted at worst.
Pedestrians see cyclists as reckless, trespassers and two-wheeled wallies.
Cyclists see themselves as ‘the chosen one’ like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. I shall be sermonising from an unrepentant Keanu standpoint.
The good old Belfast Telegraph carried a story about a lamppost being sited in the middle of a pavement as part of a road project in Lurgan. An unwary pedestrian could conceivably walk into it. This is not uncommon when it comes to cycle ways. The Government has provided a network of half-finished, often ill-conceived and in some cases physically dangerous “shared” cycle routes.
Many routes simply stop without warning or contain hazards worthy of a jungle trap in a Rambo film. The reasons for this vary from narrowing roads to accommodating bus stops, driveways/pathways/road intersections and like the Lurgan lamppost — pedestrian crossing poles, traffic lights and even trees being placed in the middle of routes that have been designated as shared cycle pathways.
New routes sharing the pavement like along the A2 Shore Road at first sight seem a fine idea. However as they are sited on one side of the carriageway for large stretches, when cycling at night against the flow of traffic, car headlights dazzle the cyclist.
Dropped kerbs are a great idea for prams, wheelchairs, motability scooters and bicycles. Many of them are too tight to entrances, driveways, homes, public space access and commercial premises. High walls, hedges, terrible sight-lines and vehicles forgetting to make allowances when exiting or entering make many potentially lethal.
Many dog walkers use retractable dog leads invisible to the naked eye or regularly allow their dogs to run ahead uncontrolled. Even when on a lead, dog walkers often haven’t the common sense to put themselves between their animals and the cyclist so unpredictable and lunging dogs are a common problem. I’m not going to mention how many owners allow their animals to foul the pathways — oh, I just did, but then so do they.
Pedestrians arbitrarily change direction or insist on walking in the middle of pathways even when there are “clearish” markings on the ground indicating keep left or right. Joggers wear earphones blasting music so they can’t hear bicycle bells or warning shouts and they too hog the pathways centrally.
Motorists pass too close, cut up bicycles on left turns, deliberately pull in tight kerbside to prevent cyclists passing in slow traffic. They park in cycle lanes, clearways and the wee green bit at traffic lights designed specifically for bicycles.
Yes, there are badly behaved cyclists, but thoughtless pedestrians, dog walkers and motorists easily outnumber them. That’s what I’ve seen.