What a frustrating penultimate Pledge day.
I leave home in the morning feeling lopsided after my left pannier has finally given up the ghost and my lunch and waterproofs are crammed into the Permanent one on the right along with its usual contents.
At the first mini-hill, my chain falls off for the umpteenth time in the last few days.
Then I find myself at the receiving end of another cyclist’s sarcasm for doing something that baffles me when others do it. Coming out of the underpass at Junction 3, I’m taking that potentially treacherous bend downhill towards the waterside path (where I and many others slipped on invisible ice that day in January) as wide as possible, on the path that is marked for cyclists, which is the one on my right. Very slowly. I see the other cyclist coming, from an area with no separate cycle path and therefore, quite rightly, to the left of it from his perspective. I see that he sees me, and in that split second to decide what to do, my early morning brain goes for staying my course rather than engaging in the typical “ooh, ooh, which way should we go” dance, thinking the other person would just go where they felt like as such creatures usually seem to. I think I felt like I was an almost stationary object for him to go around – not an unusual thing to encounter in this shared usage area. Unfortunately, this was not one of those fanciful/pragmatic types, oh no; this was someone who, unlike me at that particular moment, had not given up on applying Highway Code pedantry to the cycle path.
But he doesn’t just stake his legitimate claim to that side of the path – he also deems the appropriate response to my attempt at an awkwardly apologetic face to be the question “Are you foreign?“. I don’t think it was a genuine enquiry – he didn’t seem like a UKIP type, or like he was trying to make excuses for me.
As it happens, I am “foreign”, and grew up in a country where people drive on the “wrong” side of the road. But as I’ve lived in this country for over twenty years and learned to drive here, that’s hardly the point.
Things like this make compulsory cycling tests sound good to me – then we’d all be singing from the same hymn sheet. I’m aware that there are plenty of arguments against (aside from the practical issues listed in the link, there is the fact that as it stands, cycling is a more accessible form of transportation than driving in that it is much less dependent on income, literacy etc, which a more regimented system would compromise). Countries with higher levels of cycling/better infrastructure may have fewer such issues as the cycling culture is perhaps more homogeneous there – though it’s not all rosy for Dutch cyclists. One way or another though, clear rules understood by all whether or not they also happen to be a car driver would be nice.
It’s certainly taught me that next time another cyclist makes a mistake “at me”, I should try to state some facts in a friendly manner rather than mock them as I did that lady (my own jibe was “You didn’t see me, no?“, knowing full well she had). Generally speaking, it’s better to be nice to people when you know nothing about them or what kind of day they’re having, which unfortunately is easy to forget when we are inconvenienced.