At a couple of months shy of 18, cycling home one day from college in Hove, I was hit by a Police car. More accurately, I cycled directly into the vehicle. I did so because cycling in a straight line on a straight road where I had complete right of way seemed like the right thing to do, and felt safe. I was told after the event, by a Police officer trying desperately not to get sued, that his partner (the driver) had responded to the driver of another vehicle about to overtake me, who had waved them across into a side-road. It was apparently not the norm to react in this way to such hand signals, in case a driver had not properly checked that the coast (so to speak) was clear, lest there were, for instance, a pedal cyclist hugging the curb out of sight of the Police driver. However, on this occasion making an exception, the Police turned hard right in front of me, I smashed into the side of their car and was catapulted over the roof, landing firmly on my rear. The front wheel of my cycle was massively buckled, and the frame internally damaged. Sussex Police bought me a replacement bike and that evening I was taken home in a Police van, worrying my dad as we pulled up outside the house – but at least I wasn’t in cuffs.

Since that watershed incident 20-odd years ago I continue most days to experience attempts on my life – some admittedly more earnest than others – as I bike with caution and confidence, assertiveness and prudence, to work or back home. It feels necessary to note a handful of these instances while the impressions are still fresh – raw, one might say – not because I hope to impress anyone with mundane tales of commuting, but to highlight just how utterly moronic drivers can be. Maybe after articulating it all, I’ll side with the manslaughter muthafukkas I meet every day in East Finchley and Hampstead, instead of being so caught up in my own selfish desire to not die. So here goes.

Generally, people are pretty nonchalant about trying to kill me. There’s a casualness to the attempts on my life that smacks of resignation – like they don’t really want to do it, but they’re going to clock the cyclist, calculate my speed and trajectory, and then, seeing that we’re bound to collide without some nifty intervention from me, move off gently from stationary anyway, mainly to see what will happen. A prime example of such dispassionate cruising for jail-time occurred just today in Muswell Hill, when a lady in a Mercedes Smart (ahem, not smart enough!) Car pulled gently across my path, forcing me to brake hard and swerve. She didn’t acknowledge me and didn’t look back. Perhaps she didn’t even notice me, which would be odd if not alarming, since it was broad daylight and I was wearing a bright white t-shirt with a high-visibility backpack cover and was cycling towards her in the centre of her field of vision, rather fast. Luckily there was nothing overtaking me, and the road was dry, so my braking and leaning worked and I survived, feeling slighted but mostly just meh.

The closest I have come in my 38-and-a-bit years to a serious cycling injury occurred just this past winter as I was cycling downhill along Frognal in Hampstead, a route I have frequented for six years. I was riding quite fast, despite the rain, confident (essential on the road, or you get in everyone’s way and annoy them into spite) that I was relatively safe, owing to my high-vis attire, priority on the road, and sensible, visible road position just left of centre, bolstered by the knowledge that I was not closely followed thanks to my cyclist’s attenuation to sound not dissimilarly honed to that of a professional audio engineer. It was thus that I saw no reason to slow down or stop when a car in front of me on the other side of the road started signaling the driver’s intention to turn right. In 27 years of biking I had not encountered a situation where a motorist in such a position would fail to account for my speed, right of way, eye-catching electric blue helmet, and pull out in front of me anyway. But pull out, the guy did. This driver, by all accounts (well, by mine) a complete dick, stared at me, then waited until I was but a few metres from his vehicle before turning right in my obvious path – without speed or apology, using instead stupidity and funereal slowness, his minivan the backdrop to my life flashing before me. Thanks to the lubrication of the road by the steady downpour and the cold, when I applied the back brake and half my bike swerved to the right, I maintained the same forward speed, experience keeping me upright and fate intervening so I missed the car’s rear bumper by less than an inch. I expected, in the split second that everything slowed down in my brain, to wind up underneath a car that morning, perhaps distributed across the high middle class thoroughfare, causing, I’d hope, quite the ruckus. I arrived at work angry, and was wired the whole day, shaken, and scared to ride home, which of course I did later anyway.

The top spot to date, though, for sheer unrepentant, brutish driving muthafukkery, goes to the driver and passenger of a soiled white van who cut me up (figuratively) this week at the Spaniards Inn bottleneck atop Hampstead Heath. I was heading downhill, gathering speed, when this van pulled out from the right, heading to the car park on my left. I braked very hard (again, dry road!) and leant back so as not to fly over the handlebars. As the van revved noisily inches from my face, both occupants shouted at me in dissonant unison, “go fuck yourself!!” As well as being a don’t-give-a-damn attempt to run me down, or at least to really piss me off, this seemed a bizarre and malicious provocation from two of Britain’s finest moron minds. Why did the occupants of white Ford Transit van, registration number PF03 RRZ (FYI), behave in this aggressive and threatening manner, rather than, for instance, just waiting their turn in the traffic? Who gained anything from this?!

Perhaps, then, it was collaborators of this unhappy couple who attempted to take me out this afternoon (only minutes before the Smart Car woman took her pop). At the mini roundabout, also in Hampstead, where Jack Straw’s Castle once stood, having signaled my intention to turn and without anyone to my right to prevent such a move, I accelerated hard out of the way of those idling in the road to my left. As the supreme idiots emerged from the left in their Vauxhall, they did so, I’ll concede, with some urgency, but then stopped abruptly in front of me when they spotted that the traffic (equally visible from their prior vantage point 50 feet behind them) prevented them from going any further. I braked hard, giving them a “thumbs up” and a grin (it was too hot for middle fingers today, and besides, everyone makes mistakes), and the driver shouted to me as I curled around his car, “you’re welcome, mate”. Now, mates we’ll not be, but a twat he most definitely is. I mean, why couldn’t he just have said “sorry”? Why try to make out that I’m wrong? Is it pride or stupidity or guilt? Does motoring do this to people? Does the sarcastically named “rush” hour make drivers behave like pricks? Are these people like this in other areas of their lives? The inconsiderate, mindless driving is one thing; but to blame it on a vulnerable, two-wheeled cyclist as I again escape with my life in their wake is another. I am increasingly less inclined to believe what that Policeman told me over 20 years ago – that this behaviour is not the anticipated norm. I suggest, moreover, that it totally is, that my fellow road users are all cunts, and that you’d all run me over if you could. Am I wrong?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: