Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Why weekend Wigginses and motorists need to get along

High-profile events such as the Women's Cycling Tour have boosted health and fitness levels in the c

High-profile events such as the Women's Cycling Tour have boosted health and fitness levels in the county. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Into Colchester on the bike to take a guitar for minor repairs. Well, it can’t all be dazzling premieres, high-profile networking occasions or book launches, can it? In fact, mostly it’s just me on a bike.

Lately, I prefer weekday rides to cycling at weekends. I’ve also returned to using roads nearly as much as I do cycle-routes. The best cyclists remain the wiry grizzled old road-dogs who’ve been on the roads for years. Often, you’ll notice that they’re still riding the same drop-handlebar racers, maintained lovingly over decades. They’ll whip past you at speed on country lanes, often disappearing like UFOs, before you’ve even fully registered their presence.

Then, there’s the new breed, the Weekend Wigginses. Bradley Wiggins did an awful lot in 2012, for the cause of cycling. The trouble is that he also spawned a tribe of imitators, who, in some cases, have brought the manners of the A12 to the quiet lanes and by-ways.

Comically, these fellows will often appear rather on the buxom side, having managed to shoe-horn themselves into those Lycra baby-gros. MAMILS, I believe is the acronym: middle-aged men in Lycra. It’s not a good look.

I watched, a few evenings ago, as a squadron of them thundered down onto Wivenhoe quayside, most of them sporting all the kit. Everything but the bell.

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I’m beginning to see it from the side of the motorists, lately. There needs to be a new etiquette written for cyclists. I don’t think half of them even know the old one, which was drilled into youngsters of my generation.

It wasn’t difficult. It involved using hand-signals and a bell, looking where you were going, being polite to other road-users and using your common sense.

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For instance, if you’re in single-lane traffic and you’re holding up a bus or lorry, the chances are that you’re also holding up a lot of vehicles behind him. So, why not slow down, get briefly up onto the pavement, wave the vehicle past and let them all go on their way?

The bus driver and his passengers will be delighted, the car drivers will no longer be snorting impatiently behind and then, when the cavalcade’s passed by, you can go quietly on your way, having successfully committed yet another random act of common courtesy. Everybody wins.

Quite apart from anything else, I’ve recently become aware that certain drivers have become rather hostile towards cyclists. There are times when I begin to understand why this is.

I have witnessed in Colchester High Street on several occasions, someone – usually a youngish male – casually riding his bike one-handed on a busy pavement amidst the shoppers while talking on his phone. Forty years ago, if I’d have behaved similarly, my feet wouldn’t have touched. I would either have been pushed off, or nicked. At what point did riding a bike on a crowded pavement become acceptable?

A few weeks ago I was shown an internet video. It had been posted up as an example of how badly drivers will behave towards cyclists. I watched as a London cyclist took righteous umbrage with an Audi driver who’d moved into a designated cycle section at the traffic lights.

The cyclist approached the car shouting at the driver. The driver sped off. The lights changed. The cyclist pedalled furiously after the car, catching up with the car driver. This time, footage showed the cyclist gesturing threateningly at the car window and roaring obscenities at the vehicle’s occupants.

Suddenly a passenger emerged from the car and hung an effortless right hook on the cyclist. He did this in such a way as to indicate that he’d previously had experience of such matters. The cyclist fell down briefly before springing rapidly up again.

He had, in old parlance, been “given a tap” rather than put out of business. Nonetheless, he did not attempt to pursue his grievance further. The lights changed and car sped off again. The cyclist was lucky. A more hot-headed adversary might have employed a baseball bat – or worse.

Even I found it hard to sympathise with the cyclist. Described by the newspaper reporting the incident as “road rage”, the rage had obviously been that of the cyclist’s. I wanted to say to him, “Look. Cars are bigger and more robust than bicycles. Their occupants are armoured by steel panels, while you only have soft fabric around you. Also, you cannot possibly know anything about the nature of those people inside that car. Leave it, at least for now.”

There now are many more cars on the road than there have been in the past.

I would prefer that their drivers thought of me and my fellow cyclists as being reasonably harmless, not as a bloody nuisance or worse, a potential threat. But I would also like them to realise that for every cyclist on the road there’s one less car clogging it up. A pedestrian or cyclist, a friend of mine once said, takes up the space of a match, whereas a person driving a car take takes up that of a matchbox.

Our problem here, once again, is simply one of over-crowding. Rather than seeing each other as adversaries, cyclists and drivers are going to have to learn to get along rather better than we currently do.

While our roads are so crowded and meanly-maintained, a few unexpected acts of courtesy on either side will never go amiss.

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