Five things I hate about cycling: Cars

Its taken a month, but I have finally completed my exhaustive analysis of everything wrong with cycling. After hills, sweating, roads and punctures, all that remains is my very least favourite thing about cycling: Cars.

The problem

Cyclist about to be crushed by two carsRisk is an interesting phenomenom in our society. On the one hand, environmental health can shut you down if you make a sandwich without washing lettuce; on the other, there’s no legal barrier to sitting on a flimsy metal frame with half inch wheels, doing 30 mph on uneven tarmac as lorries overtake you at 70, with a feeble layer of polystyrene as your sole protection.

When doing 13 mph down my road, I’m not too worried about lorries, but I am very concerned about the lady in the Corsa who hasn’t looked in her wingmirror, and is about to open her door. Or the chap who overtook me on a high street, then turned left, causing me to crash into the side of his car. And I say I’m not too worried about lorries, but I don’t love it when they force you off the road into a ditch and you lose a front tooth.

The root of the problem is that cars are large, fast vehicles with limited visibility, often driven by impatient people. As a cyclist, its easy to despise the more obnoxious drivers, and paint them all with the same brush. Certainly, the operator of the car that hooted me last month whilst I was traversing a free flowing, highly dangerous roundabout fully deserves a slap.

However, we do need a little perspective; after all, many of us cyclists are drivers at other times, and all of us know how easy it is to forget to look in the mirrors before turning left, how easy it is to miss the cyclist hidden behind a truck, or in line with the sun.

Last week I pulled out at a cross roads after very carefully trying to assess if there was a bike coming down the hill. Despite my best efforts, there was a cyclist, who I very nearly brained. Whilst his not wearing a helmet implies there was little brain to risk, the point remains: cyclists are vulnerable, and, ultimately, feeling vulnerable is not the same as having fun.


I actually tried to come up with a realistic solution to the problem here.

The biggest issue is that not only are bikes very vulnerable, they are also vastly in the minority. Multiple studies show that the more people there are walking and cycling, the safer it becomes. In Amsterdam, you are twice as likely to be murdered as killed cycling. Overall, in Denmark and Holland, countries with much higher rates of cycling, you are three times less likely to die when riding.

So, the best way to make the roads less dangerous, less terrifying and thus less offputting to cyclists is to get more of us out there. Which probably means I should write a 5 things I love about cycling series…

Thanks for reading. This is the last article in my Five things I hate about cycling series. Read the rest here

9 thoughts on “Five things I hate about cycling: Cars

  1. It’s an interesting one. Alert cyclists can see and react to cars much better than the other way round. You do get some bad, inconsiderate drivers, but as a cyclist, I always make sure I know where cars are around me. There aren’t many occasions when I am in a spot where it would be difficult for me to either see a car, or for a car behind to see me.

    Cyclists should always cycle a metre away from the nearest object (takes parked cars out of the equation, gives room to move to the inside) and when I’m going past a junction, I always look straight at the driver’s eyes if there’s someone there – that way, you can see if they have seen you or not.

    Obviously, sometimes people will just pull out in front of you or cut you up, but some cyclists don’t help themselves. The most common problem is by cycling too close to the kerb, and thus not allowing oneself space to move inside if a car overtakes to close to them. And when it comes to helmets, I fall more on the “no helmet” side these days…

    1. I agree, its a lot easier for us to be alert than the other way round. I am most scared at the end of a long cycle, going back up to Crookes – because I’m just too physically exhausted to be so constantly alert.

      Agreed, the evidence on helmets is patchy at best. It definitely shows a mild help if you fall off your bike at 10mph onto your head. It shows less value if a truck hits you at 60, impaling you on your handlebars. I still wear mine though, but that’s mostly because it makes me look sexy…

  2. There’s certainly correlation between numbers of people cycling and lower injury rates to cyclists, but if I was going to infer a causal relation it’d be the exact opposite to the one you suggested: there are lower injury rates, so more people ride — it’s certainly the case that the infrastructure in Denmark and the Netherlands is far more friendly to cyclists. I have to admit I’ve not ponied up for the article you linked to, but the abstract doesn’t make it clear whether this factor is taken into consideration.

    Anyway, thanks for an interesting blog. I’ve subscribed to your RSS feed.

    1. From a quick look, it appears to me that they have been unable to decide the causal relationship directly in one way or the other, but rather think that the two are highly related: that “a range of policies to encourage people to walk and bicycle and make them safer” have simultaneously led to an increase in bicycle use and a decrease in risk.

      I forwarded you the PDF of that article, so you can decide if I’m wrong on that one for yourself. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Getting more people cycling is key to, umm, getting more people cycling.

    A bit chicken and egg, but it’s worked for other countries that had car centric transport policies and became much friendlier to bikes.

    Here’s what we’d love to see:

    – Better cycling infrastructure
    – Improved perception of cyclists from the media, the public and those in power

    Anyway, nice post! Keep it up.

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