Cycling – Opinion Piece
by HEATHER BOYLE
This year we celebrated 200 years of the bicycle. Next year we will be celebrating 150 years since the first bike race.
It’s an exciting time for cycling, our cyclists are on top of the world! We had over 20 European and World level podium placements in 2017!
Domestically, we have seen a 700% increase in the number of members in Cycling Ireland in ten years and, from an active travel stance, the latest Census findings tell us that there has been a 42.8% increase in the number of people choosing their bike to commute.
Also, sadly, 2017 has seen 50% increase in the number of cycling fatalities on roads in the Republic of Ireland in a year.
Cycling is a lifetime activity, one of the few sports in which you can participate as an older person, and it’s one of the few sports that encompasses a whole spectrum of societies, communities, and interests.
You want to make someone smile, or break the ice when you meet someone new? Ask them about their first bike!
In my eight years of asking that question in Cycling Ireland, I have never seen someone fail to smile when reminiscing on that first bike ride.
The bike with no brakes, the race around the house, the present from Santa or the hand me down from the hand me downs.
Your first bike is a rite of passage, and cycling it represents something different for everyone, but mostly involves emotions wrapped up in independence, accomplishment and pride.
So why all the hate?
We hear the same old questions, all the time!
“Why don’t you pay road tax?”
“When will you stop breaking red lights?”
“Why do you insist on going two abreast?”
“Why do you always look so smug and arrogant there in your lycra?”
We hear it all the time. Not just in Cycling Ireland, but everywhere. All. The. Time. And it’s boring, it’s tiresome, and it’s, well, uninformed, angry and narrow-minded.
But we can ignore all that, and can chose to not read comments, and choose to not listen to certain radio shows, or read blogs from certain people. We know that a lot of the time these comments are naïve and the stories are click bait.
What really grates at me, really upsets me, is when we see these same comments at the end of another news item announcing a cycling fatality.
How is that okay?
Fifteen cyclists in the Republic of Ireland have lost their lives tin 2017, sixteen including the man who was walking his bike.
Eighteen when you include the cycling fatalities in Northern Ireland.
That’s eighteen families torn apart this Christmas, thirty-six families who will directly feel that impact from the collision between the motorised vehicle and the mechanical one.
We see the reports in the news and mostly we read about them online.
And that’s when it hits you.
Too many Irish people do not see a cyclist as a person.
They read ‘cyclist’ and they somehow deem it appropriate to follow the post with inconsiderate comments about the general behaviour of cyclists on the roads. Fast-forward through the litany of passive aggressive opinions and you will find very few deepest sympathies and very little respect.
That’s when it drives home.
People start by reading a report on a road fatality, the loss of a life, the death of a mother, father, sister, brother or friend, and finish by launching into the cliched chorus of road tax, two abreast, red-light breaking tiresome comments.
It drives it home that for many, a cyclist is another statistic, another topic, another target. A cyclist is not a person.
I like to ask people what they would do if their daughter or son was cycling to school. Would they cycle in front of them, behind them, would they cycle beside them?
Would they let them cycle at all?
Imagine that person in front of you on the road was your daughter, your son, your parent, your partner, what would you do? How patient would you be? How much room would you give them?
Inevitably the answer is that the roads are too dangerous, the environment isn’t suitable, the cars are too fast.
The cars are too fast.
Let us think again about the reporting!
A cyclist has been hit by a car, a van, a truck. We read that a lot, and we wonder if there is anyone responsible for those vehicles?
Where are all the drivers?
Where is the responsibility?
It’s a big one really!
One of the items that we are campaigning for is more information to be provided after collisions occur! If an incident has occurred between a bicycle and a car, what were the circumstances that lead to that situation?
This information is never available in the aftermath of an accident. Without this information we cannot inform cyclists or motorists on how to alter their behaviour, we cannot learn from the tragic fatalities, and we cannot bring about positive change.
We can speculate.
But that’s clearly what everyone else does too. They speculate.
“If cyclists didn’t break red lights there wouldn’t be so many fatalities.”
“If cyclists didn’t cycle on footpaths….”
“If cyclists only paid road tax….”
When we see comments like this after reports on fatal collisions involving cyclists, this is victim blaming.
Would things be different if information was available immediately?
Just before Christmas, just days after another tragic cycling fatality in Kerry, we hear about another fatality in Wexford, involving a car and a HGV.
The car was carrying an Irish American family who were visiting Ireland to attend a funeral. They attempted a U turn on a road and they were hit by the HGV. It was incredibly sad, and in particular it resonated with everyone being so close to Christmas.
On every news story on social media we read heartfelt, sympathetic and thoughtful comments. And rightly so.
Was it because we were given all the information?
Was it because so many of us travel by car we could identify with it more?
Or was it because we saw these occupants as people.
Four people were killed.
They were people.
As cyclists we have a duty to obey the rules of the road. We need to share the road with other users. We must always be respectful both on the road and online! We need to practise what we preach, and be respectful to others.
But sometimes it is difficult!
I want to not get worried every time my husband goes for a ride, even though he’s lit up like a Christmas tree. I want to see my two-year-old son continue to laugh and shriek when he achieves something new on his balance bike. I want his friends to enjoy the same sense of accomplishment and freedom.
This is their rite of passage.
It’s 200 years since the invention of the bicycle. It’s almost 150 years since the beginning of the sport of bike racing.
We need to find a way to move past this battle on the road and online, and start to enjoy the next 200 years.
- Going Dutch-Notes from the Low Countries. January 20, 2018
- A chat on the mat with Heather Boyle January 7, 2018
- MPDL Enforcement – through images January 6, 2018
- Dangerous Overtaking – What’s the problem? December 29, 2017
- How do we solve a problem like ‘close pass’? 🚵🏾♀️🚵♂️🚴🏼♀️ December 23, 2017
- Ireland’s quest for Minimum Passing Distance Law. December 19, 2017
- Media matters 🧐 December 10, 2017
- Misunderstanding & Misinformation Part 3 of 3 – Road Rules/Licencing. December 3, 2017
- Misunderstanding & Misinformation Part 2 – Lawlessness. November 26, 2017
- Mandatory Helmet Law & Hi-Viz — A reply. November 18, 2017
- Misunderstandings & Misinformation (part 1 of 2) 2 abreast cycling November 13, 2017
- But our roads are too narrow.. October 26, 2017
- Camera footage – reporting to Gardaí October 12, 2017