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A (Cautionary) Winter’s Tale

If you don’t have time to read the whole of this blog, here’s the tall and the short of it.

I used to be an angry driver.

And then I fell in love.

Then I got hit by a car.

And now I am afraid.

Honestly. I try my hardest to be a ‘nice’ person in my life, saving snails, sharing sweeties, holding doors open and giving people that bit extra in my work. But shut me in a car and I’m swearing like the best of them, inventing insults and judging, (so much JUDGING!) other ‘terrible’ drivers. I once heard someone say that “everyone slower than you is an idiot, and everyone faster is a maniac”. I laughed like a drain, knowing inside that that was exactly my attitude.

I’ve never been particularly angry at cyclists, but I’ve met plenty who are, and I appreciate their rage is the same as mine, just directed at a different target. We all want to get home, we all are sick of sitting still in traffic. We are all hungry, and we could all certainly be doing things better with our time.

But, as the nights have already drawn their dark curtain around our afternoons, and the treacherous leaves, turned red for a more sinister purpose than their beauty suggests, slip up feet and tyres, I want to write a short, but heartfelt plea to ask you to take a breath, calm down, and be patient.

Harking back to easy sunny days, I was hit, in my car, by another car, at the end of the summer. I am blessed that I wasn’t injured, nor was anyone else, but it has severely dented my confidence as well as my back wing. I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, but losing my darling cat to a fast car just two weeks later broke my heart and taught me about grief, another thing I am very lucky to have had so little of. And though my car is still driveable, I was so shocked at how vulnerable I was, how a single moment of ‘not seeing’ has led to months of phone calls, stress and frustration with insurance companies. And that was while protected in a ton of metal casing.

What on earth would have happened to a cyclist?

I see the odd whiplash patient in my work, and though ‘whiplash’ is often seen as a dirty word in our profession (care of being overrun by insurance claims in some practices and not helped by the ignorance of some media and politicians) I always try to remember that the person sat in front of me, whether they share it with me, or whether they’re aware of it at all, have had their poor delicate body violently thrown about, and their life in genuine peril for perhaps the first time in their lives, in our cotton-wool world. There are side-rammings, rear-endings, head-on collisions.

Write offs. Whiplash. Wipeouts.

In all these cases, I wonder: what on earth would have happened to a cyclist?

My fiance is a cyclist. He cycles whenever he can, and he loves it. Nothing else will do, for him. I’m a runner, and I do understand that love, that drive, that need, even if the bike holds little allure for me. He has bought us a tandem so he can share his passion and give us adventures together. I love him more than anything. To think of any damage to him makes me feel sick inside, and knowing what I know now of collisions and loss, of the fragility of all our bodies, makes me want to make you think…

Do you love a cyclist?

Your friend, your partner, a sibling, a parent? Or a child, haphazard and over-confident in their independence? A grown up child, hacking through poor weather to get to work and back? Cyclists may annoy drivers, but ‘riding proud’ (i.e. in the middle of the lane, not tucked up against the curb) is actually the best thing they can do for everyone on the road (indeed, it is advised by the authorities) – making sure they are seen, making sure drivers don’t take the liberty of whisking past. Cyclists are also nice people – honestly! The benefits of exercise are undeniable and medically proved, and these fit, calm, caring, enthusiastic people are putting the money where their mouth is… not huddling inside a cozy car like me. And their partners and families are benefiting too – from fewer arguments to better sex.

But just a wind-blast from a close-driving truck can be enough to tip a cyclist’s balance… into the on-coming traffic. In such cases, there are very few write offs. Very few whiplashes. Mostly wipeouts.

So please, please remember to think of these cyclists. You can even sign a petition here to add Cycle Awareness to the current driving theory test (how is it not already on there?!)

Please, hold back your impatience – what is a few moments, less than a minute added to your journey time? You could even do bum squeezes as you wait. Yes – irresponsible cyclists without lights wavering all over the road can make your blood boil. But is it worth risking their life for our impatience? Come to think of it, the risk to you, your passengers, the future course of your life and mental health? All they want is the same as you, as us: to get home, to be warm, to be back in control of their evening, to be among loved ones. But a certain number, this winter, won’t ever make it home. So please, keep your eyes peeled, be kind. Get that warm feeling as you pass them with loads of space, blocking them from impatient drivers behind, protecting them on their journey home.

Think BIKE. You will be saving a life. A life of someone loved.