There’s a reason that fewer women than men seem to ride their bikes in the UK. As explained in Beauty & The Bike , it’s the infrastructure – we’re expected to just mix in with the traffic, and it often just doesn’t feel safe, whatever the official statistics say.
Warning: sweeping generalisations ahead.
The thing is, men have an inbuilt "advantage" in such situations – full of testosterone, we seem predisposed to assert ourselves & if necessary seek confrontation. Women on the other hand take a more sensible, pragmatic approach to the whole thing, and are more likely to weigh up the risks with a cool and rational head. When faced with the prospect of dealing with the UK’s idiot drivers, they’re more likely to decide that it’s a fight just not worth it – driving is the safer option.
I experienced this with Daughter at the weekend. We were riding on the tandem back from Tynemouth along the sea front. Approaching the roundabout at the Park Hotel , and intending to take the second exit, we took the primary postion in the right hand lane, alongside another bike. As we pulled onto the roundabout, and past the first exit, a silver 4×4 was pulling alongside us on the left – the driver was trying to undertake us on a roundabout. To his right, the driver had me, while the other cyclist was now in front of him.
Without thinking, I just shouted the ever-useful, "Oi!", and gave the pedals a bit more oomph to get us in front of this eejit. As we left the roundabout, we were alongside the other cyclist, and in good humour, I joked about the cheek of some drivers. He agreed that they seem to find new ways of stupid driving every day. And we carried on our way home.
It was just one of those incidents that gets my eyebrows riased, and a couple of shakes of the head before it’s forgotten.
The thing is, when we got home, Daughter was pretty upset – not at the stoopid behaviour of the driver, but at the fact that I’d shouted at them. This had raised her antennae to danger, and the possibility of some sort of conflict comming our way.
I hadn’t seen it that way – maybe with the Ironman training at the moment I’m so pumped on adrenaline & endorphins that my capacity for rational thought is impaired – but to my mind, it’d been more of an
"Oi! We’re right here next to you"
rather than an
"Oi! Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough".
So I explained this to Daughter, and how we weren’t in any real danger, and how it was a really good example of why you always need to keep aware of everything around you when you ride on the road – effectively doing the thinking for the drivers.
The trouble is, as long as this kind of vigilence is needed, we’re never going to persuade the majority of the population – those who aren’t macho adrenaline junkies – that riding a bike for everyday transport is a perfectly sensible and normal thing to do.
We can provide all the BikeAbility training, hi-viz vests, helmets and maps of "safe" cycle routes in the world. But when it comes down to it, really,
It’s about the infrastructure, stupid.
If you get to talk to anyone expecting your vote in the next week or so, make sure you tell them that.