Being both a driver and a cyclist, and having done my bit for the cycling cause over the last few years, I feel justified in offering the occasional critical observation on the behaviour of cyclists on Britain’s roads.
You don’t have to be Jeremy Clarkson to know that some cyclists ride carelessly. All the clichés are true: if you go for a drive in town, you’re bound to encounter a cyclist talking on a mobile phone, dangerously riding up the left side of a vehicle, riding with earphones in, suddenly veering across the lane to turn right, not having front and rear lights at night, and blasting through a zebra crossing or red light – perhaps all at once!
That said, you’re also bound to encounter careless driving, which is a bigger sin, because a bad driver is in control (or not in control, as the case may be) of a ton of metal, effectively a missile.
However, this ‘take the plank out of your own eye before you point out the mote in mine’ attitude has its downsides, and these are in evidence when it comes to cyclists. Being right can easily spill over into being righteous, and this brings certain unappealing habits.
I’ve noticed that cyclists often – more often than drivers – don’t say, or make a gesture of, ‘thank you’ when you drive courteously in relation to them. For instance, if you slow down to let a cyclist turn in front of you, or to allow a cyclist out of a junction which you are about to turn into, or if you wait behind a parked car to let a cyclist pass in the opposite direction on a narrow street, often the cyclist won’t acknowledge your gesture in the way that most drivers would. I wonder why?
You could argue that cyclists don’t raise a hand of thanks because they don’t want to take a hand off the handlebars. I’m not sure about this explanation. Cyclists momentarily ride one-handed in other contexts – say, when signalling to turn, or, indeed, when rebuking bad drivers (we’ve all done it, even though we shouldn’t). In any case, cyclists could at least smile graciously or mouth ‘thank you’ to a courteous driver, but usually they don’t. They just pass by seemingly in their own world, like a weary soldier with a thousand yard stare, or a rollerskating waitress on a busy night at the diner.
I suspect that righteousness is the reason why cyclists aren’t friendly to friendly drivers. It is as though when cyclists don’t say ‘thank you’ they are thinking, maybe subconsciously, *my mode of transport is more ethical than yours, so drivers like you should always get out my way, and when you do, I don’t owe you any special acknowledgement*.
The flaws in such a dismal attitude are obvious. Under the law, cars and cyclists have an equal right to use the roads. Even ethically a cyclist has no automatic precedence over each and every driver. Yes, sometimes drivers are being lazy. But sometimes they have a good reason for driving – a bad cold, a big load, a long trip, and so on. Drivers are people too, and, like all people, deserve courtesy as a default.
The most perverse thing about the thanklessness of righteous cyclists is that their rudeness on the roads harms the cycling cause, by exacerbating the sense of resentment many people inexplicably feel towards cyclists. Worse still, ungrateful cyclists give those people a genuine reason to be irritated, and therefore supply a veneer of plausibility to the rest of their spurious complaints.
Come on, cyclists, let’s lighten up, and show gratitude towards good drivers. We need to give them all the encouragement we can. And, with a thankful smile on our faces, we’ll drop a big hint about the pleasures of cycling.
A rather cool image I found here: